"Here," said Ann Waananen as she handed her 14-month-old daughter to her husband Jack, "I have to bowl." She plucked a plum-colored ball from the rack and rolled a spare.
A minute later, daughter Robin was back in her arms. "Are you still sleepy, honey?" she asked above the crashing sound of balls toppling pins on the 32 lanes.
the scene was a typical one at the Bowl America center on Dranesville Road in Loudoun County. To the surprise of its proprietors, Bowl America has become an immensely popular communtiy center, a place jammed with families, children and parents and in-laws and friends meeting on common ground at the highly polished lanes.
The bowling center's success, however, has triggered a classic suburban zoning controversy: Should local government risk losing control of land use by bending zoning laws to accommodate a useful and popular activity?
The controversy centers on Bowl America Inc.'s application to expand its overflowing parking lot. Although the bowling alley and its present 160-space parking lot are in Loudoun County on commercially zoned land, the adjacent land is in Fairfax and is zoned for single-family houses, two or three to an acre.
Fairfax County's zoning staff opposed America's parking request when the Board of Supervisors considered it on Monday. ". . . This application would create a parking lot in a remote wooded area," the staff report said. ". . . More important . . . extension of the applicant's parking lot into Fairfax County toward Rte. 228 not only expands the commercial use into an area planned for residential development, but . . . decreases the likelihood that the adopted comprehensive (land use) plan will be implemented."
As the nearby Herndon area grows and vacant commercially zoned land at the town center along Rte. 7 is developed, pressures mount for the county to allow the building of a commercial strip southward along lightly developed Rte. 228. Fairfax's line of defense against this possibility is its comprehensive land use plan. If Fairfax makes an exception and permits commercial parking on residential land, county officials say, the comprehensive plan will be vulnerable to court challenge.
Supervisor John P. Shacochis (R), who represents the area in question, said that if an exception is granted, "this is a foot in the door for commercialism on Rte. 228 all the way to Herndon."
Bowl America's attorney, Richard R.G. Hobson, though, said "the door will be opened only if the supervisors choose to open it."
While deferring action for two weeks, the supervisors are likely to deny the application because it is opposed by both county staff and the Planning Commission. Shacochis, the key supervisor because the center is in his district, indicated Monday he is opposed to enlarging the lot onto residential land. But he has agreed to visit the site.
There are few family-type recreational facilities in the surrounding area, which includes Sterling Park, Sugarland Run, Herndon and Reston.
Ann Waananen thinks Fairfax officials are wrong in opposing ythe parking lot. "Have they gone to Reston, and seen the kids sitting around the shopping centers and drinking beer?"
At the Bowl America alley, there are youth leagues on the weekend, and during the week many teen-agers join their parents in league action.
"I love it," said Christine Shallcross, 17, of Sterling Park, who was bowling on a recent night. In a nearby lane were here mother, Betty, and her 22-year-old sister, Karen. An uncle from Woodbridge was there to watch.
Betty Shallcross, midway theough here three-game set, was showing the jitters because she started with a blazing 245 game (out of a possible 300) and was having problems keeping up the arly pace. Christine, needling her, said. "I knocked her off last week."
For parents with younger children there is a nursery, with babysitters. The center also provides playpens for children as young as the Waananens' Robin.
Deborah Marshall, secretary to two leagues and player in four of them, often takes her children, 2, 3 and 6, to the center, and says they love the place. "If I pass the bowling alley and don't stop," she said, "they throw a tantrum.
Leslie Goldberg, president of Bowl America, Inc., which operates the center, along with several others in Northern Virginia, said the facility "is something people wanted . . . This is the first plave we ever built by popular demand. We actually got letters from people, before it was built, saying a bowling center like this one was needed in the area.
Goldberg said his company looked for land in the commercially zoned area at Rtes. 7 and 228 (Dranesville Road), which straddles the Fairfax Loudoun line. He said it couldn't find a site big enough for parking.
The Loudoun Board of Supervisors, apparently convinced that the firm had exhausted all other possibilities, granted the company's request for a spcial area of commercial zoning about 900 feet south of the intersection. The site, set back from Rte. 228, can be reached only by a road that cuts across the residentially zoned land in Fairfax. [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] spaces - one each for the maximum number of bowlers the center can accomodate.According to Goldberg, that hasn't turned out to be enough because many people come to the center just to watch. Additionally, he said, many bowlers stay around to have a few beers and review their games after they've finished bowling.
Bowl America's Goldberg was counting on good business, but, he said, "I never expected anything like this." He said he avoids visiting the place at night "because I don't want to take someone's parking place."
White Fairfax officials are considering whether to expand parking onto the residential land, bowlers and their friends who need a space for their cars have made their own decision. They just go ahead and park on the land, in violation of the Fairfax zoning ordinance.