The public hearing about the indoor baseball facility was characterized by theatrics.
Opponents of the indoor baseball facility, including one who performed a clown act drowned out by the crowd’s laughter, were bussed in from Bethesda.
Proponents brought their preteen sons to the meeting in baseball uniforms.
Early, the crowd of well over 100 people cheered and booed as speakers gave their presentations, but once Park and Planning Chair Derick Berlage threatened to clear the room, the raucous crowd calmed.
During a presentation prior to the public testimony, Park and Planning staff recommended denial of the project.
“The developer, Montgomery Lane, LLC did not provide a sufficient market study,” said Terry Brooks of Park and Planning. According to Brooks, the market study queried only 55 people, too small a sample group to give meaningful conclusions.
Patty Barney, treasurer for the Commission, found that the facility did not seem fiscally viable. “The financial analysis did not support the project,” Barney said.
She explained that planners used different estimates in their financial analysis. Drawing upon the Commission’s experience with the SoccerPlex in Germantown, Barney stated that developers tend to be too optimistic. “Their revenue projections tend to be overly aggressive,” Barney said
The developers and tenants argued that such a facility is needed and financially viable.
“I’ve been embarrassed to find youth baseball and softball far superior to ours around the country,” said Bruce Adams, a representative of Bethesda-Chevy Chase Baseball (B-CC). “We need an indoor training facility.”
“With this tenant, on this piece of land, we know this project can work,” said Mimi Brodsky-Kress of Montgomery Lane. Brodsky-Kress stated that the market study was really the responsibility of Park and Planning, and the need should have been assessed before the Commission decided to issue a request for proposals for the construction of the facility.
Most of the public comment was opposed to the facility, and most of those opposed to the facility arrived together on busses.
Two of the opponents who came on their own were delegates Jean Cryor (R-15) and Kathleen Dumais (D-15).
Cryor acknowledged that there is a need for something, but said this facility is not the answer.
“We have a problem, but we don’t have a solution for it,” Cryor said. She is also concerned about the potential loss of parkland. “Parkland is not going to come back,” Cryor said.
Dumais echoed those comments and added said that such a facility is not needed in this area.
“According to the Master Plan that ballfield needs in the Potomac area (which includes Cabin John Regional Park) have been met. Therefore, I would submit that an indoor facility at Cabin John is unnecessary,” Dumais said.
Other objections to the facility centered around the opponents assertion that the facility would not be financially viable, will not address the need for more ballfields in the county and will aggravate the parking and traffic problems in an area already congested due to the proximity of Montgomery Mall.
Additionally they said that it would hurt the local businesspeople who already operate three similar, although substantially smaller facilities, in the county.
“They’ll drive out of business the private enterprises,” said Norman Knopf, attorney for People for the Preservation of Parks, a group formed by residents of the condo complexes surrounding the proposed site, who are opposed to the facility.
Another concern was the idea of building a fee-based facility on public land.
“Giving over our valued parkland to a commercial enterprise who will charge fees to provide a service that benefits a few citizens who can pay is not only unfair … it violates the public trust in the Planning Commission to steward our public lands,” said Ginny Barnes of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association.
Proponents of the facility are searching for parity. They assert that the county already operates similar facilities for other major sports and activities.
“Swimmers and soccer players already have facilities. Our baseball and softball players deserve no less,” Adams said.
“Baseball is the only major sport in Montgomery County that does not have the facilities to play year-round,” said Richard Lundregan of B-CC.
Proponents are also confident in the demand for the facility.
“I have yet to speak to anyone about this proposal who doesn’t support the idea,” Lundregan said.
Representatives of other sports are also in favor of building it.
“We definitely need an indoor area here in Cabin John,” said Howard Offit of the Lacrosse League.
Young baseball players do not have access to needed facilities, said many proponents.
“There is no place in Montgomery County where our youth can adequately train and develop all the skills necessary to become the very best baseball players they can be,” said Tom Wotring, of B-CC.
“If you look at the regional rankings of top baseball and softball teams by The Washington Post, you will find few teams from Montgomery County,” Adams said.
Other supporters addressed the financial concerns. Benjamin Boyd, president of B-CC noted that the organization currently has a budget of over $1.5 million. “I think B-CC has the ability and credibility,” he said.
Boyd also addressed the belief that B-CC would use all of the best times.
“B-CC does not intend, nor can we afford, to monopolize the time at this facility,” he said.