After a closed executive session Monday, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to appeal a Sept. 16 decision by the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) that would require public hearings before Marymount University, a private college in Arlington County, could have limited but exclusive use of a soccer field at Lewinsville Park.
In return, Marymount reportedly agreed to pay for an artificial surface at the field, although their agreement with McLean Youth Soccer has been kept secret by both parties.
The field was finished last week, with soccer games played on it over the weekend.
“THE BOARD had no choice but to appeal,” said Dranesville District Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn, who made the motion that the county attorney file a lawsuit challenging the BZA.
“That ruling will have a devastating effect on the use of our parks. It would basically say no private group could use any parks.
“The problem from the BZA is their decision would almost force us to shut the park system down,” Mendelsohn said.
“Their definition [of the term ‘public use’] flies in the face of what the [Fairfax County] Park Authority does in all of its parks.”
Mendelsohn said he has not seen the tape of the BZA’s two-hour hearing on Sept. 16, or reviewed their discussion before they voted 7-0 to over turn a ruling by Zoning Administrator Jane Gwin. She denied the West Lewinsville Heights Citizens Association’s argument that a special exception to the zoning ordinance should be required before a group such as Marymount could be granted “public use” of a Fairfax County park.
The zoning ordinance specifies that public use must be "exclusive," and BZA members characterized that word as disallowing even Marymount's intention to use 9.4 percent of the playing time assigned to MYS.
It would be used for soccer and lacrosse practices and games in return for Marymount footing the bill for artificial turf at the 38-acre park on Chain Bridge Road.
Mendelsohn said he doesn’t know who will be held accountable for the bill for the artificial turf that was installed at the park over the summer.
Its cost is estimated at more than $500,000.
With the election for Dranesville District supervisor just five weeks away, Mendelsohn dismissed speculation that the appeal was filed to avoid an instance in which Dranesville Planning Commissioner Joan DuBois, who is also the Republican candidate for supervisor, would have to vote the issue of Marymount’s use up or down.
“It couldn’t get to the Planning Commission this year, regardless,” Mendelsohn said. “Even if we expedited the heck out of it, it wouldn’t get there till early next year. It has nothing to do with politics.”
DuBois was the honoree at a political “meet and greet” held by McLean Youth Soccer (MYS) Chairman Ted Kinghorn over the summer. She and Mendelsohn both attended the Sept. 30 dedication of the new turf field.
A private agreement between MYS and Marymount that enabled the college’s soccer and lacrosse teams to practice and play at Lewinsville Park for up to 300 hours of time assigned to MYS.
But because both Marymount and MYS are private, non profit corporations, neither has to reveal the details of the financial arrangement between them.
Since April, 2002, when Kinghorn first proposed the deal in a letter to Dranesville Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn, Marymount officials have declined public comment and have been silent on the issue of the field use.
Kinghorn, who operates a Washington lobbying firm, is a former executive assistant to Strom Thurmond, the Republican Senator from South Carolina who died last summer.
John Foust, the Democrat seeking the Dranesville Supervisor’s office in the Nov. 4 election, is a former MYS soccer coach.
At the BZA hearing, several former MYS board members, coaches and current parents spoke against the shared use agreement with Marymount
An appeal to the Fairfax County Circuit Court could be just the beginning of litigation stemming from use of the field at Lewinsville Park.
If the Circuit Court overturns the BZA, the West Lewinsville Heights Citizens Association could appeal to the Circuit Court of Appeals and after that, to the Virginia Supreme Court.
County Attorney David Bobzien’s office will handle the appeal for the Board of Supervisors, but the BZA must hire its own attorney, Mendelsohn said. The Board of Supervisors, however, must pay the BZA’s legal bills, he said.
“We have a whole string of appeals, most of them in my district, pending against BZA decisions that we think are outside their authority,” said Mendelsohn, himself an attorney for the firm of Piper, Rudnick.
Most have not yet been resolved, Mendelsohn said.
In the meantime, he said, the BZA’s ruling will stand “until it is overturned,” Mendelsohn said.
“I don’t think the FCPA will wait” for the ruling. They could proceed with the application for a special exception to the zoning ordinance that would allow Marymount to use the field at Lewinsville Park, which would require public hearings before both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.
No public hearing was held on the question of Marymount, a private college in Arlington County, using a Fairfax County park at certain times when other citizens would be denied use.
“The other alternative is [that] we just change the ordinance,” Mendelsohn said. “That is another thing we could do. It deals with exclusivity,” he said.
“Think of all the groups that use parks, all the tournaments, and all the people that use picnic areas,” Mendelsohn said.
“Think about the groups that rent picnic pavilions. Are we now going to say they can’t do it either? They are all members of the public.”
“I would argue that anyone could walk on that field [at Lewinsville Park] and use it when it is not reserved,” he said.
DURING THE SEPT. 16 BZA hearing, McLean Citizens Association parks and environment committee chairman Frank Crandall said the agreement between MYS and the FCPA violates a county policy, enforced by the Department of Community and Recreation Services, that two-thirds of the members of groups using public parks be residents of Fairfax County.
Marymount, a private college in Arlington County, had 2,200 undergraduates last year. They came from 43 states and 86 countries, according to a college recruiting brochure.
Mendelsohn said MYS “has been putting a lot of money into fields. They have been raising a lot of money, somehow,” he said.
“The same people [opposed to their use of the field] will argue that even if they pay for it, they should’ve have exclusive use of it. This is a field that is now going to be used for the public,” he said.
Jan Perriello, president of the McLean Citizens Association, said the group has passed “at least two resolutions” in support of the WLHCA’s stance.”
“The FCPA did not hold the usual public hearings on the issue of these fields, and the Board of Supervisors said they didn’t have to,” Perriello said.
“The BZA supported us and said the Board of Supervisors erred.
“We are not happy that Stu Mendelsohn, our supervisor, would sponsor the motion to have the county attorney challenge the BZA decision.
“The effect is it will delay the public hearing that the BZA ruled should have taken place.”
“However this ends, someone has to pay for it,” Perriello said. “The field is [already] there.”
“If the sublease [to Marymount] is not allowed, I don’t know whether the financial obligation [for the artificial turf] would be on Fairfax County or MYS,” she said.
“We have not been privy to the agreement between MYS and Marymount. We don’t know that the [financial] arrangements will be.”