The McLean Little League wants to add lights to a baseball field so its budding DiMaggios can hit home runs under the stars.
The baseball field's neighbors want peace and quiet -- and their streets cleared of parked cars.
And Fairfax County government planners, viewed by Little League supporters as a looming thunderstorm threatening to wash out baseball games, want land-use rules strictly obeyed.
The mix has pitted the McLean Little League, with a high-powered lawyer and engineer in tow, against the county's land-use mavens. The matchup is being played out before the county's Board of Zoning Appeals, with Sen. Daniel Coates (R-Ind.) showing up to speak on behalf of his son's league.
The zoning appeals board could find itself in the unenviable role of baseball Grinch, depriving 6-year-old children who want to learn the game.
The fuss started a few months ago when the McLean Little League, which administers the national pastime to about 900 children, sought county permission to construct lights on the third of five baseball fields it operates on seven acres on Westmoreland Street in eastern Fairfax County.
Unlike other Little Leagues in the area, McLean's tends it own fields and pays for it by raising $150,000 each year -- more than the entire athletic budget of any Fairfax High School. That money has enabled teams to play baseball on four well-manicured fields since the late 1950s. Lights have graced two fields since the 1960s, and a concession stand offers snacks for the fans.
But county land planners, sticklers for detail who pride themselves on the equal application of land-use law, denied the request for lights on the third field. Then came the hammer blow: staff planners went on to say that the league's fourth and fifth baseball fields were illegal and had to go.
The county said it never approved, and did not know about, the two additional fields.
"We went and applied to light the third field and all of a sudden the wrath of the county is upon us," said Leeta Dail-Keller, a Little League volunteer. "Not one of us had the remotest inkling that the fourth field was illegal."
Paul Shiffman, a Little League manager for the past 20 years, puts it less delicately.
""The county amazes me," he said. "The only reason this came to fruition was because we applied for lighting for Field 3."
The Little League needs the zoning appeals board's approval to add the lights. The board took up the matter at its June 5 meeting. After strong presentations from both sides, including dozens of uniformed Little Leaguers, the board deferred a decision until July 31. If the Little League wins the special-use permit, it must then go to the county Department of Environmental Management for site-plan approval.
The matter is complicated by the league's need to get the lights built by the end of the year, before a $10,000 grant from the McLean Foundation expires.
But the field's neighbors, several of whom attended last week's hearing, complain that a shortage of parking space has led many spectators to park their cars along Westmoreland Street, creating a dangerous situation.
"What concerns me is safety," said David Capitano, a neighbor and former Little Leaguer. "They park on all the corners, making it difficult for drivers to make turns. Somebody is going to get hurt."
Capitano said neighbors can live with the lights if the traffic problem is solved. He said the league should use one of the fields for parking and move some players to another site.
"There's going to have to be some give-and-take," Capitano said.
John McBride, a zoning lawyer from the firm of Hazel, Thomas, Fiske, Weiner, Beckhorn & Hanes agreed to represent the Little League without fee. "There are no public fields that are available and suitable," McBride said.
Neighbor Jay Epstein said he is not out to thwart the Little League, but thinks that more lights would create a nuisance.
"Anyone who had to live with floodlights in their backyard until 10 p.m. six days a week has a right to be upset, much less if the lights were to stay on until 10:30 or later," Epstein said.
The league has said it will encourage car pools, provide shuttles between the field and a nearby parking lot and hire parking attendants to help alleviate the parking problem. Dewberry & Davis has donated the services of an engineer to help design more parking spaces.
The league also promised it would turn off the lights by 10 p.m.
Shiffman said his league will fight on to give the youths a place to play ball. "We intend to be good neighbors, but we do not intend to give up or lie down on this," he said.