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The future of what is likely the largest undeveloped piece of land in McLean continues to be hotly contested among residents.

Youth sports supporters desperate for field space are going up against preservationists in the debate over what to do with the historic Salona property, which was granted to the Fairfax County Park Authority in 2005 under a conservation easement.

A public comment meeting Oct. 4 filled the 386-seat Alden Theatre at the McLean Community Center to capacity, with many others watching from a satellite viewing room or waiting in the lobby to submit comments.

The 52-acre Salona property is part of land that belonged to the Lee family until 1811. During the Civil War, the Salona house served as Union Gen. William Farrar “Baldy” Smith’s headquarters for Camp Griffin, an encampment of about 13,000 Union troops.

The DuVal family, who own the property and still live in the historic home on the site, granted 41.5 acres of the land to the Park Authority.

In 2010, the Fairfax County Park Authority released a draft master plan for Salona Park that included two sports fields, a dog park, picnic areas, a 100-space parking lot and trails, with other areas designated to preserve the land’s natural state.

Given the community reaction to this plan, the county then took a step back, and formed a community task force in mid-2011 to further evaluate the usage of the property and collect more community input. The task force hosted the Oct. 4 meeting to hear community input, which it is now reviewing.

When the task force ultimately makes its recommendations, the Park Authority could opt to amend its master plan to incorporate the community’s vision for the property.

McLean’s youth sports communities have become very vocal in supporting the installation of fields at Salona. Thousands of people have signed a petition backing the fields.

“All of the youth organizations are reaching a point of desperation for fields,” said Bill Gray, the member of the McLean Youth Soccer Board of Directors focused on field development.

During the past four years, the community has lost five of the rectangular fields that are used for multiple youth sports, and three more will soon be lost due to expansions of elementary and middle school buildings that have taken away chunks of fields, rendering them essentially unusable for organized sports, Gray said. Other fields have been and will be lost to redevelopment.

“We’re already doubling up on fields and in some cases we have three teams on fields [for practices],” Gray said. The organization is also leasing field space far outside of McLean, in the Dulles area.

“It starts becoming very inefficient,” he said.

However, preservationists believe that installing athletic fields would despoil the historic character of the property and potentially damage the environmentally sensitive landscape.

Ron Baumgarten, a McLean resident and Civil War enthusiast, said there are people all over the country interested in the history of Camp Griffin. It is one of the most frequent search terms leading people to discover his blog.

“It has a real historical significance to the community. ... Any usages should first and foremost protect that,” Baumgarten said. “The preservation goes beyond protecting the house.”

The Park Authority’s original plans would have required removing some of the distinctive hedgerows to install full-sized sports fields, which is one of the things some people found objectionable.

Gray said the youth sports groups are willing to compromise, and allow very minimalist fields within the existing boundaries of the hedgerows. They would not be large enough for older children, but could provide much-needed practice space to replace elementary school fields, he said.

“To help maintain this rural look, we won’t install any soccer goals, we won’t install any bleachers ... We won’t even line the fields,” he said.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust (D) said the decision “is going to be a tough call for somebody.”

However, he is comfortable that the process has been thorough.

“Anything we do is going to be well thought-out,” he said.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com