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Held Up at Third

Public forum on indoor baseball complex draws large opposition crowd.

Dorian Delaney summed up the feelings of approximately 150 people at a public forum for a proposed indoor baseball complex in Cabin John Regional Park.

“Leave the park as it is,” she said.

The proposal involves building a 24,000 square foot indoor baseball complex near ballfields five and six, on top of a handball and volleyball court, in Cabin John Regional Park in Potomac.

Delaney, a resident of a nearby Condominium complex, has been spearheading an effort by residents of several area buildings to stop the construction of the facility.

The facility was proposed several years ago in response to a perceived need for additional baseball facilities in the county, particularly an increasing demand on ballfields. There are currently two indoor baseball facilities in Rockville and one in Gaithersburg.

“It wasn’t our idea for this facility,” said Mimi Brodsky-Kress, of Montgomery Lane, LLC, the developer.

Park and Planning issued a “Request for Proposals” (RFP) for an indoor baseball facility in 2001, even though an indoor baseball facility is not a part of the park’s six-year Capital Improvement Plan because the county did not plan to pay for such a facility. An indoor baseball facility had not previously been identified as a priority by the parks department.

In this case, the county issued the request for proposals as the result of an unsolicited proposal from the Hakopian Baseball Academy to construct such a facility. Instead of simply granting projects to a single company making a proposal, Park and Planning issues a request for proposals.

“[It is] because there is some, overarching, at least perceived, benefit’” said Terry Brooks of Park and Planning.

The Hakopian Baseball Academy did not respond to the RFP. Hakopian did not return the Almanac’s calls by its press deadline. Montgomery Lane was the only company which replied to the RFP.

If constructed, Montgomery Lane would bear the entire cost of building the facility, an estimated $1.6 million.

In the RFP a facility was proposed at Cabin John or at one of two spots in Olney. The Cabin John facility was the only one considered by Montgomery Lane as a result of favorable demographics.

After the previous two meetings, the facility had been scheduled for review by the Planning Board, but was withdrawn by the developer. “They weren’t going to recommend approval,” said Phil Leibovitz of Montgomery Lane.

Brooks said that planning staff wanted certain information, and that the developers decided to withdraw their proposal.

To date, the county has not invested any money in the project and no agreements have been made.

Two other meetings had been held about the project in the winter, but both were sparsely attended. This meeting however drew residents from all of the area condo complexes, and if some of them were in favor of the facility, they kept quiet about it.

Only one speaker, Tom Wotring of B-CC Baseball spoke in favor of the facility.

“The Hitting Streak [an indoor baseball facility in Rockville] doesn’t have the ability to do the kind of repetition that baseball players need to get better,” Wotring said.

While those against the facility had leveled accusations of impropriety at B-CC Baseball, Park and Planning and Montgomery Lane, Wotring was worried about B-CC’s players. “Just don’t make the kids the bad guys,” he said. He was booed after suggesting that any of the residents faulted the children.

Residents made several points while expressing their frustrations about the proposed building.

Many spoke about preserving the green space.

“This little space of greenery is a meadow,” said resident Gloria Edynak.

One of the speakers, Bob Koch, was the developer for several of the condo complexes. He thought that development in the area was reaching its peak.

“The blend of parkland has reached a saturation point,” he said.

Other concerns were about the wisdom of the business deal from the county’s perspective. The proposed rent paid by the facility would start at $5,000 per year for approximately an acre of parkland, with gradual increases as the lease progresses. Over the course of the lease, the developer would pay approximately $2 million in rent to the county.

These numbers are proposals, a starting point for negotiations if the county decided to proceed with the project.

Several of the residents questioned the numbers.

“You cannot tell me you can allow $5,000 a year in rent. This is just not a good business deal for the county,” said resident Ed Stelzer, citing the role of citizens as taxpayers. “We are Park and Planning. We are the Montgomery County Council. I want maximum dollars coming back to us.”

The question of fair business practices was brought up by an area businessman likely to be affected.

Giving land to this project at such a low rate amounts to a government subsidy, said Mike Mahoney, owner of the Hitting Streak, a private indoor baseball facility in Rockville.

“If he’s going to get 24,000 square feet, give me 13,030 [the size of the Hitting Streak],” Mahoney said. “Come compete with me. Give me free land, give him free land and we’ll see who wins.”

Opponents of the facility also attacked the environmental impact a large, impervious surface could have. “We’re extremely concerned about the potential environmental impact on the Cabin John Creek,” said Kirsten Emiqholz, of the Friends of the Cabin John Creek Watershed. “The impact would be felt throughout the entire park.”

The three representatives of Montgomery Lane huddled in a small part of the room, their heads together as they talked about the different concerns raised.

“This is the first reaction we’ve had to this,” said Leibovitz. “Don’t think for a minute that we have not heard everything here.”

The developers may get another chance to hear the same arguments. The condo associations are united in their plans to present the same arguments to Park and Planning at its hearing July 31. “It’s going to be trench warfare,” Delaney said.