Mac Haddow, president of the homeowners association, said that because the residents own the land, they would be vulnerable to a lawsuit if someone were hurt while playing on the fields.
“We may have to deal with the liability,” Haddow said, “and that would be horrendously unfair.”
County officials say Haddow’s concerns are baseless because the county’s municipal insurance would shield Oak Valley residents from lawsuits. Haddow says he has heard nothing directly from the county since the money for the re-landscaping was allocated in the Aug. 4 decision.
In an Aug. 1 e-mail obtained by The Washington Post, County Executive Melissa S. Peacor told Supervisor Peter K. Candland (R-Gainesville) that the county plans to “enter into an agreement with the [homeowners association] which will provide that the county will bear the liability” for any claims connected to the county’s programming or maintenance of the fields.
“The county should, in fairness, assume all risks,” she said.
County spokesman Jason Grant said Prince William has been able to indemnify private property owners in similar situations, citing agreements for battle reenactments during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War last summer.
Haddow is not so sure the county’s promises will hold up. The struggle over the athletic fields goes back many years. The last skirmish was in 2008, when the county discussed redeveloping the land. Haddow said county officials told him then that they were unable to indemnify a third party for more than a year.
“So we called and talked to our insurance carrier, and they said, at a minimum, we would increase your premiums,” he said. “They said five or six claims within the insurance policy period, and we would likely end up being terminated.”
Haddow said he also worries that the fields would lead to more traffic and crime in the neighborhood. Grant says that because public use of the fields was part of the original development deal in 1995, the neighborhood’s resistance is less about insurance and more about preventing people from using the space.
“There’s always the NIMBY perspective that folks have, and I get that,” Grant said, “but those homes would not even have existed without the proffer.”
County officials say the land could be ready to host practices in weeks. The cost and speed of the transformation are other points of disagreement between the county and the residents. Haddow thinks the fields are in much worse shape than the county estimates and would take much more time and money to make safe. He also questions whether the county can build a planned parking lot on the site under the terms of the original proffer agreement.
A lawyer for the homeowners association is reviewing the situation. Asked whether Oak Valley might sue, Haddow said: “Right now, they’re trampling our rights. We’ll do anything to protect those fields form an unfair takeover.”