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Whose Field? Who Uses It?

Looming juggernaut develops over use of Lewinsville Park field.

Soccer balls made be black and white, but the issue of whether McLean Youth Soccer can charge for athletic field use and what should be done on the issue in the future is anything but black and white. An investigation by the Fairfax County Park Authority revealed that MYS has been soliciting donations as a quid pro quo for use of Field 2 at Lewinsville Park in McLean. Some members of MYS however, contend the agreement between FCPA and MYS allows the group to obtain monies from third parties.

Field 2 has been singled out because it recently received significant upgrades, including artificial turf and lights. MYS had also made an agreement with Marymount University, a private entity, for use of the field by its college teams. The monies from Marymount would be used to partially pay for the improvements made by MYS to the field. However, the park is owned by the county and paid for with tax payer dollars with the intent that residents paying for the park have primary use.

ON MARCH 9 FCPA Director Michael Kane sent a letter to Ted Kinghorn, then the MYS chairman, spelling out the allegations and demanding MYS cease the activities in question.

The letter reads, “It has come to the Park Authority’s attention that McLean Youth Soccer (MYS) has been charging fees for the use of Field 2 at Lewinsville Park by soliciting and accepting donations specifically in exchange for use of the field. These actions by MYS are in direct violation of the agreement dated January 17, 2003 between MYS and the Park Authority ...” The letter goes on to state that Kinghorn, and MYS, were told on Jan. 13 that those actions were “not acceptable under the terms of the agreement” between MYS and FCPA that govern the use of the fields at Lewinsville Park.

Kane then gave MYS 30 days, which expire on April 9, to “provide a cure for this violation. At a minimum, the Park Authority requires MYS to cure that breath of the agreement by doing the following...” Immediately cease and desist from soliciting and accepting donations for the field, refund all contributions received for the field, submit to a Park Authority audit of the financial donations to the field, and adopt a formal resolution during a public session stating MYS will never charge fees or accept donations specifically for the field again.

Kane warns, “If the violation is not cured as set forth above, I will recommend to the Park Authority Board that it terminate the agreement as provided in Section 20.”

GUY CARON, the head of the Field Committee for MYS, said they are working with FCPA to remedy the situation satisfactorily. “We want to make sure whatever misunderstanding there was before doesn’t happen anymore. That’s underway now.”

Caron says members of MYS’ board have met with FCPA officials and are working together with the County to develop a mutually satisfactory outcome. A Memorandum of Understanding is being created between the two entities that is designed to address the different interpretations of the agreement over the fields at Lewinsville Park. “It will clarify the language and explain it. Some people may have read it one way and some read it another,” said Caron.

Not everyone involved with MYS feels there is anything to be cured. MYS member Kleyton Parkhurst sent a letter on Monday to all the members of the FCPA Board of Directors, the MYS Board of Directors and Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois contending that FCPA has historically supported the collection of monies for the field.

“In the agreement between FCPA and MYS dated 17 January 2004, it is clear that FCPA is supportive of MYS obtaining monies from a third party (Marymount) to partially offset the expense of the field improvements at LP2. A primary purpose of the Agreement, in fact, is to set forth the terms and conditions by which MYS may allocate a portion of its assigned field hours in return for a capital contribution by Marymount to ‘defray the cost of the Project’ (Section 11),” wrote Parkhurst.

He goes on to state, “Clearly, the Fairfax County government is in support and agreement of MYS’ right to collect monies from third parties to defray the Project costs, and the Agreement is written in this spirit.”

AT THIS JUNCTURE, a third party enters the melee to question the motivations of the other two. Jack Hannon has filed several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to track what FCPA knew about MYS activities and when they knew it. Hundreds upon hundreds of pages of letters, e-mails and notes on meetings led him to question how quickly FCPA moved on the issue after being alerted to the quid pro quo donation trend.

“The issue was first raised in November. It seems like the investigation was not very diligent at that time,” said Hannon. He says that Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Gerry Connolly then became involved and the investigation was re-launched. “There’s no documentation of what Connolly did but they were back on it. Better late than never, I guess,” said Hannon.

Hannon is the president of the West Lewinsville Heights Citizen’s Association. Residents within the HOA’s boundaries have been impacted by the field through increased use, the addition of lights and the development of the artificial turf field.

In one FOIA e-mail obtained by Hannon, members of MYS appear to be discussing how to continue to collect fees in light of the FCPA directive not to solicit money in exchange for play time. Richard Maresco wrote to several members, “It seems we should standardize our policy internally for these kinds of field request opportunities. Ever since the completion of LP2, these offers have started and I think they will only increase. Obviously, we would not publicize our policy or modify occasionally according to the user but these guidelines will allow for quicker/cleaner decisions.”

That same morning David Stevenson replied, “Can’t agree with you more Rich. We did discuss this at the Field Committee and have developed such a procedure but we all must be careful about the price issue. The County has made it clear that we cannot charge for field usage. We have to make it part of our registration process or just ask for a donation and allow free use.”

Hannon said of the practice of charging for the field, “I don’t think they have the slightest defense to their conduct. They were clearly under an edict not to charge for that field.”

CARON COUNTERS that the field is a novelty in the County and that MYS deserves some leeway because it's on a learning curve regarding that field. “The intent of the people was well intended and to be within that agreement [with FCPA]. Yes, there was some small sum but the intent was pure. The Park Authority has a different view and that’s now being resolved,” said Caron.

“This field is a novelty in our county and there are many, many people wanting to use it. All through the winter people were able to use it. I’d say 25 to 30 teams, about 600 kids. The demand for this field is enormous. We are learning every day but this is still new. We’re only going to get better. We are going to work it out together. We’re learning about how to manage this thing and be positive about it,” said Caron.

Parkhurst concurred saying, “You have to remember, the scheduling is a hellacious task and one that’s unpaid.” He further maintains that “MYS is allowed to collect for field use.”

HANNON APPEARS unwilling to accept the MYS’ position that the use of the field and how to fund it are an organic evolution that will right itself over time. “These guys are masters of the great white wash. There’s a great deal of difference between a paragraph about charging for a T-shirt and charging for the fields. I don’t think there’s any validity to their argument,” said Hannon.

Some residents of the area around Lewinsville Park maintain that MYS still hasn’t been moved to action and is giving preference to teams that don’t meet the residency requirement. “It’s obvious that this is still going on,” said Hannon. According to Hannon, within the last two weeks adult teams appearing to be from D.C. were playing on the field when it could have been used by local teams.

Caron counters, “I have made sure for the coming spring that our teams will have the opportunity to come practice with the more professional teams. We’ve made agreements with McLean High School to let them practice there as well. We often aren’t on the field’s in the evenings so we have some teams there, like the Arab Emirates.

“Yes, the McLean United Arab Emirates. They aren’t a youth team but we found that very funny,” said Hannon.

“THIS HAS BEEN blown out of proportion to a certain degree on all sides,” said Caron. “I also think we could have done better and we are working on that.”

“We are trying to work with the county. It’s just better that we resolve it privately first then come out and say, here’s the agreement,” said Caron.

FCPA officials did not return calls for comment on the status of their demands. Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois (R) said that she is monitoring the talks between the two and that the discussions so far “have been positive.” She is confident that a satisfactory result for all parties will be reached shortly. “I think this particular problem is solved,” said DuBois.

It bears noting that there are two legal battles being fought regarding the field that have yet to be played out. There is a case involving a decision of the Board of Zoning and Appeals that is being challenged by the county. The BZA ruled in favor of a group of homeowners against the FCPA that there should have been a public hearing process regarding Marymount's use of the field, according to resident Barbara Bodson. The county recently asked for a delay until June 23 on that issue.

The builders of the field, LandTex Group, are also suing MYS for non-payment and MYS is suing LandTex for defective construction of Field 2 at Lewinsville Park, according to Hannon.