Ruling On Marymount's Use of Field Challenged

By C. Woodrow Irvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Fairfax County Park Authority said Tuesday it would ask the state Supreme Court to reconsider a decision that in effect bars Marymount University's soccer and lacrosse teams from playing at Lewinsville Park in McLean.

Meanwhile, officials at the Arlington-based private school said Monday that Marymount's women's soccer team was planning to play a scheduled match tomorrow at Lewinsville Park, despite the Supreme Court decision handed down Friday.

In a written statement, the Park Authority said it would ask the state's high court to rehear the case, which the county lost on procedural grounds. The ruling invalidated an arrangement between McLean Youth Soccer and Marymount University allowing the school's home soccer and lacrosse games to be played at Lewinsville Park.

Two years ago, Marymount agreed to share with the youth soccer group the cost of building and maintaining the field, which is the county's first public all-weather artificial-turf field. In exchange, Marymount was to get playing time for its NCAA home games.

The pact angered members of the West Lewinsville Heights Citizens Association, who asserted that their neighborhood park was being transformed into a collegiate athletic facility.

County attorneys said Marymount had a legal right to play on the field until the Supreme Court decides whether to take up the county's request for a rehearing of the case.

"There is no final mandate from the court, so Marymount can play until such an order is entered," according to a statement by the county attorney issued Tuesday through Park Authority spokeswoman Judy Pedersen.

Marymount spokeswoman Shelley Dutton said, "At this time, it's our intention to continue using the field as outlined in the agreement."

But Brian M. McCormack, attorney for Fairfax County's Board of Zoning Appeals, which won the case, said the school could not play on the field. He said the Park Authority's request for a rehearing does not stay, or stop, the court's ruling from going into effect. "Marymount University cannot use the field as a matter of right," McCormack said.

Because the court's decision was unanimous, McCormack said, the chances that the case would be reheard were "very slight."

The Supreme Court said that county officials were late in filing an appeal of a September 2003 decision by the zoning appeals board. That decision, which upheld the homeowners' position, said that the agreement between the school and McLean Youth Soccer violated county requirements governing public use of fields. The judgment of the zoning board was reversed by a circuit court, and the board appealed to the Supreme Court.

Jack Hannon, president of the Lewinsville citizens group, said Tuesday of the Park Authority's statement: "I think the spinmeisters are really at fever pitch here. The answer is very simple: They lost, we won. Unless they can convince the Virginia Supreme Court to issue a stay . . . the Board of Zoning Appeals' decision is in full effect."

The Supreme Court did not examine the merits of either side's arguments. County attorneys claimed that Marymount's use of the public field was legitimate because the field was owned by the Park Authority. McCormack said: "Our position was that, essentially, because McLean Youth Soccer and Marymount, two private corporations, gave the county $800,000 [the cost of building the field], they received private-use rights."

The Supreme Court concluded that the Fairfax Circuit Court ruling by Judge Dennis J. Smith was incorrect because the county had missed a 30-day deadline to appeal the zoning board's decision. County officials had expressed concern that if they lost the case, future public-private arrangements for the benefit of the county's residents could be jeopardized.


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