Residents Divided On Sports Complex

By Kameel Stanley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dozens of Ashburn residents debated the merits of a proposed 40-acre sports complex for more than two hours at a public hearing Monday night, with supporters citing a dire need for more playing fields and opponents worrying about noise, lighting and traffic.

After hearing all the comments, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted 8 to 0 to send the proposal to its Transportation and Land Use Committee for further study.

"I look forward to the discussion in the committee," said Supervisor James Burton (I-Blue Ridge). "Hopefully, we can find a common ground on some of these issues."

Alhough many at the hearing spoke passionately in favor of the facility, Burton said the board has an obligation to investigate fully how neighbors will be affected.

The $40 million Play to Win complex, proposed by a private company, would sit on Belmont Ridge Road near Route 7 and include 12 athletic fields, restaurants and a leadership training center. Nine of the fields would be outdoors.

"We want to develop character and leadership of the youth in our county," said Play to Win founder Chris Bourassa, a 45-year-old baseball coach at Freedom High School in South Riding and former software company owner. "The way we're going to do that is through sports."

Bourassa told the supervisors that his company has been looking for two years for the right site and has worked to make sure the project will fit the needs of the community.

In its application, Play to Win addressed community concerns by promising to plant trees and limit the use of outdoor lights. It even included restrictions on the use of whistles to address concerns about noise, Bourassa said.

Thomas Saavedra, who lives in Belmont Country Club, said he has been impressed by the plans but hasn't heard enough talk about the impact on traffic. Certain stretches of Belmont Ridge Road have a history of accidents, he said.

"With a lot of soccer moms, we've got to be careful about that," he said. "The road is not going to have funding to be widened."

Debbie Bicer, president of Loudoun Soccer, spoke in support of the project. She said the quality and quantity of athletic fields in the county is one of the biggest problems facing her organization, which services more than 15,000 players and family members.

"We are in crisis mode for field shortage," she said.

She said not having a place for players to practice and train has forced people to travel to other counties to participate in sports and has limited the club's ability to host fundraisers or tournaments.

"It is a very real problem, and we really have been working hard to solve it," she said. "To be honest with you, it's embarrassing."

Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling) said he has received hundreds of e-mails about the issue. He encouraged residents to send more as the board discusses the land-use application.

"I understand there are some issues with the environment," Delgaudio said. "However, we have not really done a good job at [providing fields for] the young people in this county."

Some board members have thrown their support behind the project.

Supervisor Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run), who is on the Transportation and Land Use Committee, said she wished the project had been approved instead of being sent to committee for more discussion. Play to Win has tried its best to mitigate people's concerns, she said.

"What land-use application is perfect?" she asked.

The public benefits outweigh the concerns, she said, adding that she intends to be very active in pushing for the sports complex.

Supervisor Stevens Miller (D-Dulles), who said he never played team sports as a child, expressed surprise at the intensity and extent of the desire for more playing fields.

The public has communicated a clear message, he said.

"We need the fields," he said. "I'm going to back any reasonable offer to get them, whether it be publicly, privately or some hybrid."

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