Deluxe Soccer Field in McLean Spurs Hard-Hitting Legal Match
Saturday, June 4, 2005
Even at this point in the spring season, when many youth soccer fields have given way to rocks, ruts and mud, the surface at one envied McLean park remains as even and manicured as a putting green.
The local youth league financed the $700,000 cost of the Lewinsville Park field, which has lights, bleachers and the same artificial turf used by professional sports teams. "It's like playing on a carpet in your living room," says Ted Kinghorn, a volunteer leader and coach for McLean Youth Soccer. "The balls roll straight and true."
"I never ever ever in my wildest dreams thought that this would prove so controversial."
The case of the Lewinsville Park soccer field, which goes to the Virginia Supreme Court next week for oral arguments, represents a collision between two of the most determined forces in Washington's affluent suburbs: a youth sports league and a homeowners' association.
The West Lewinsville Heights Citizens Association, whose members live around the park site, have objected to the field's noise and lights, which shine until 10 p.m. The association filed suit against Fairfax County and its park authority for approving the soccer league's field project.
The neighbors and the soccer enthusiasts are led by a swath of Washington strivers -- a Capitol Hill lobbyist, a high-tech entrepreneur, a retired rear admiral and a handful of lawyers among them -- and the clash has been marked by enough tenacity and ingenuity that no one seems too surprised that the dispute will go before the state's highest court.
Fairfax is one of the nation's most affluent counties, and McLean is one of its most well-to-do communities. The single-family homes abutting the park are relatively modest by local standards, ranging in assessed value from about $600,000 to more than $900,000.
"I think it has erupted to this point because there are a lot of strong personalities around," said Michael Riemer, chairman of McLean Youth Soccer, who calls himself a "serial entrepreneur."
If the volunteer-managed soccer league has proved adept at fundraising and construction of a trendsetting field, members of the West Lewinsville Heights Citizens Association have proved just as resourceful, raising a legal fund of about $60,000 by going door-to-door and selling "Question [Park] Authority" T-shirts. They have also made legal requests for thousands of pages of documents from the park authority.
"They want to build this soccer powerhouse," said Barbara Bodson, one of the neighbors. "But they haven't stopped to think that it's at someone else's expense."
Her house is about 150 yards from the field, which is part of a larger, 38-acre park complex. Like other neighbors, she faulted the park authority for permitting McLean Youth Soccer to enter into an agreement with Marymount University to play on the field -- for a fee to help pay for its construction -- and for keeping neighbors out of the loop.