Does soccer tread on open space?

  When a Washington state soccer association bought a 112-acre farm for its new soccer field recently, it started a bitter match over open space. The land, in the Sammamish Valley east of Seattle, is protected under King County's 20-year-old farmland preservation program, and critics say a soccer field doesn't measure up.

"This soccer group thinks they can buy the property and then change the rules, but they can't do it," says Le Roy Jones, one of the creators of the county preservation program. He is determined to prevent the soccer field because he worries it will lead to the destruction of the program.

Soccer moms and dads disagree. "There isn't anyone involved in the soccer association that isn't concerned with preserving our valleys," insists John Graham of the Lake Washington Youth Soccer Association. "We're attempting to get others to understand that what we propose for the land is the best thing for our community."

Scott Wallace, a retired dairy farmer who helped create the farm preservation program in 1979, says Graham is on the right track. Farm economics have drastically changed in the last two decades, he points out, forcing many farms - including his - to close.

"You can't let farmland lay idle anymore than you can your backyard," Wallace says. "I think our best crop is kids right now ... when you're not hurting the program or the land, well, it's really a no-brainer."

For now, the county controls the ball. Until Graham and his supporters convince county officials to overlook preservation program law, the land will remain an unused field.

*Rebecca Clarren