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McLean's Turf Wars

McLean Citizens Association Board members have mixed feelings on synthetic turf fields.

Mike Clancy may not have gotten exactly what he wanted at the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) Board of Directors meeting, but he certainly got his point across — that he wants more synthetic turf fields in McLean as soon as possible.

"This has been so long overdue, and so many years in the making... we need to be committed to move forward on this, and we need to get behind this and support the kids," said Clancy, whose son plays for McLean Youth Soccer.

On Wednesday, Sept. 6, the McLean Citizens Association Board of Directors gathered at the McLean Community Center for its first monthly meeting since July. A resolution on the association's position on synthetic turf fields was up for discussion, and it was a topic that generated a lengthy debate. Clancy was vocal in his disapproval of the resolution, as he viewed it as an attempt to impede the installation of synthetic turf fields in the McLean area.

On June 5, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to place a $150 million bond proposal on the Nov. 7 ballot. This bond proposal designates $10 million of that money to be put toward the installation of synthetic turf fields throughout the county — presumably with the goal of at least one field per magisterial district. Field 2 of Lewinsville Park in McLean is a synthetic turf field, and it is one that has caused a great deal of controversy among residents.

With the advent of another artificial turf field on the horizon, the McLean Citizens Association Environment, Parks and Recreation committee has spent the last few months putting together a resolution which essentially asks that the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) be subject to a public hearing process prior to the installation of synthetic turf fields. Currently, the Park Authority is only required to hold a public hearing when lights are installed on a field.

"Synthetic turf fields are not considered to be a significant change," said Judy Pedersen, a public information officer with the Fairfax County Park Authority.

HOWEVER, the Environment, Parks and Recreation committee based the request for a public hearing on a number of factors, one of them being that the higher usage permitted by synthetic turf results in a change of character in the parks where they are installed. Environment, Parks and Recreation committee co-chair Paul Wieland noted that increased usage means increased noise for neighbors of the field.

"Lewinsville Park has been drastically affected by this," said Wieland.

Liz Rothrock, a member of the West Lewinsville Heights Citizens Association, said that the installation of synthetic turf on Field 2 at Lewinsville Park has resulted in athletic games on a daily, year-round basis.

"They play on Christmas, they play on New Year's, when it snows, they take a shovel and move the snow and play," said Rothrock. "It's lost its community feel and has more of a sports arena feel now."

Mike Clancy argues that this does not make sense as McLean Youth Soccer only uses the field during soccer season.

"The kids are not out there 365 days a year," said Clancy.

Clancy does agree with the current mandate that the installation of lights require a public hearing.

"The usage issue comes down to lighting, and the whole issue with Lewinsville has to do with lighting," said Clancy. "They can't play at night without lights... I think we should just simply endorse the fields and provide that if the County plans to put lighting in, then yes, there should be a public hearing."

MEMBERS of the Environment, Parks and Recreation committee maintain that increased usage is only one concern with synthetic turf.

"When you get rain water and the top dressing of gravel and rubber washes out... it runs right down the swales and into our streams," said committee co-chair Frank Crandall. "There is some question as to how much of this stuff may be leaching through."

Subsequently, part of the McLean Citizens Association resolution asks that Fairfax County also take the time to thoroughly investigate the environmental impact of artificial turf fields, and take measures to counteract any negative repercussions.

The committee also expressed concern in the resolution about the safety hazards posed by high temperatures of synthetic turf, and recommends that the county engage in ongoing studies on the matter.

"The health issues don't form a make or break issue... but if they don't look at it the county has the substantial likelihood of being sued," said Crandall.

Mike Clancy said that he believes the holes and bumps of natural turf fields to pose more of a danger than artificial turf fields.

"My kid has been playing soccer for seven years and the only time he's been hurt was on a regular field," said Clancy.

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois assigned a citizen task force to investigate the advantages and disadvantages of artificial turf fields verses those of natural turf fields. Dranesville suffers from a shortage of athletic fields, and the task force concluded that artificial turf fields provide the best option because they permit high usage and minimize the destruction of open space.

"There is a great need for fields," said MCA Board member Chris Monek, who served as a co-chair of the Fields Task Force. "But I would say it is entirely appropriate to ask for a hearing before something like this is considered for installation."

MCA Board member Chris Cole also served on the Fields Task Force, and with three children who play soccer, he is well aware of the need for fields in the McLean area. Cole agrees that synthetic turf can change the character of a park, and that a public hearing be required before installation. Like Mike Clancy, though, Cole does not want to impede the construction of artificial turf fields.

"Some of the fields around here are in terrible shape," said Cole. "It's actually not just trying to find an available field that's the problem, it's trying to find a field that's in playable shape."

Mike Clancy attempted to make several amendments to the artificial turf resolution, and did have several other board members supporting his proposed amendments. However, those in favor of the amendments were overruled in each vote, and the resolution was approved as written.

"There are 7,000 kids here and we have a constituency that we are supposed to be representing," said Clancy. "The kids need these fields and that's why I think we should stand behind them."