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Woodlawn Little League — Safe At Home

Ceremony marks opening of season, new home to Little Leaguers.

Even rain and cloudy skies could not put a damper on the enthusiasm at the reopening of Woodlawn Little League ballfields this past Saturday morning. After all, it almost didn't happen.

At the end of last season, Fort Belvoir, on whose land the fields have existed for the past 35 years, announced that they would no longer be available to WLL. The rationale was that the land was needed as part of Fort Belvoir's new Residential Communities Initiative [RCI] project to upgrade the Post's housing.

Although the fields, located along Pole Road across from Woodlawn Village, have always been on Fort Belvoir property, all upkeep and improvements have been done by WLL volunteers over the years with no military investment. The three 60-foot and one 90-foot diamonds serve as home to 29 teams with 300 players.

After months of negotiations and the intervention of not only Mount Vernon and Lee District Supervisors Gerald Hyland (D) and Dana Kauffman (D), respectively, but also U.S. Rep. Thomas M.Davis III (R-11) and both Virginia Senators George Allen (R) and John Warner (R), a land swap was agreed upon. It provided for the Army to gain 21 acres of Fairfax County land for the 12 acre Little League site.

As stated by Doug Jones, director, WLL Public Relations, at the commencement of Saturday's ceremonies, "This was government at its best. It's a win-win situation."

WLL president Carmen Trummer, told the parents and supporters present, "We didn't know if we would be starting here this year. But here we are." This is the 39th anniversary of the league which was initiated in 1965.

"It was a pleasure to work with the Army and Senator Allen in bringing about this solution," Davis said. He thanked both the parents and coaches for their support throughout the year-long struggle.

"This is one of the best things in this area," Allen said when he came to the microphone wearing a black and white leather racing jacket touting the state slogan "Virginia Is For Lovers." In acknowledging his love of sports, Allen said, "This area is sports."

REFERRING TO THE struggle to save the fields, Allen emphasized, "When Doug [Jones] said we need help, I knew how important it was. And I also want to thank Fort Belvoir for their help and support in resolving this issue."

William Parsons, director, Community Activities for Fort Belvoir, buttressed both Davis' and Allen's remarks stating, "We are thrilled there was a solution. It truly is a win-win for everyone." This was seconded by Jones who told the crowd, "We have always had a special relationship with the Army."

At a meeting of the County Park Authority last winter, a resolution and memorandum of agreement were adopted to exchange 21 acres, known as the Berman Tract, for the McNaughton Memorial Ballfields. At that meeting Hyland stated, "This exchange is a remarkable example of cooperation between Federal and County government. I believe the exchange is not only in the best interest of the citizens of Fairfax County and the Army but also, and most importantly, for our young people."

In a letter last October to the Authority, Davis urged them to approve the exchange which he described as a benefit to "both the housing needs of the military and the quality of life issues for the surrounding community." He also noted, at that time, the deal had been crafted "through countless meetings in my office and at the Pentagon."

Davis pointed out, "This league has not only served military dependents, but many nonmilitary "at risk" children from the surrounding community as well."

Doug Peterson, senior right-of-way agent, Park Authority, responded, "This is a rare opportunity to add ball fields to our inventory. They are very scarce throughout the County."

IN ANSWER TO some complaints that the Army was getting to much acreage in exchange, Hyland emphasized at last winter's signing, "Only about 12 or 13 acres of the Berman Tract are actually usable. The sweat equity [put in by the volunteers to maintain and improve the fields over the years] is the only reason the Army is willing to consider this."

The Berman Tract is actually 28 acres but only 21 were exchanged. Seven acres were retained by the County as a buffer zone for Huntley Meadows Park. A 100-foot conservation buffer has also been retained along the eastern boundary.

In assessing property of the two sites, Peterson noted the Berman Tract had been purchased in 1999 through a bond issue. It's value was assessed at $4.9 million. There are 13 usable acres at $450,000 per acre, minus off site development costs of $900,000, according to Peterson. Seven acres are being retained; five acres are consumed by the buffer; and three acres are unusable due to topography.

The value of the 12 acre ballfield site is also estimated at approximately $4.9 million. Subtracting 2.7 acres for a buffer, leaves 9.3 acres valued at $450,000 per acre. Value of improvements has been estimated at approximately $800,000.

Other considerations incorporated into the swap included: Dedicated Pole Road right-of-way on the Berman Tract; Continued use of water and electric at reduced Belvoir rates; and commitment for use of off-site stormwater management facilities, if needed.

The Berman Tract is currently undeveloped with existing wetland areas. Vehicular access and utilities are from Shirley or Lawrence streets. Its original anticipated use was active recreational, according to the County.

Trummer summarized the benefit of the swap stating, "The ballfields are a complex of families. Children can come here and feel safe."