City Council listened as 20 city residents spoke about the concept design for Windmill Hill Park at last weekend's public hearing session.
The vast majority of those who spoke supported the plan that the Task Force has sent forward for Council consideration. The plan calls for maintaining the tot lot and basketball courts where they are today; re-orients the volleyball court and straightens the bike and foot path next to the Wilkes Street tunnel; keeps the 10,600 square foot off-leash dog park where it is and builds a tunnel underneath a new boardwalk for dogs to use for direct access to the Potomac river; creates wetlands adjacent to the dog park; constructs a kayak and canoe launch, also adjacent to the dog park and places a series of educational markers throughout the small park.
“Everyone worked very hard to create a plan that took into consideration the wishes of everyone who uses this park,” said Andrew Macdonald, the chairman of the task force. “We believe that it is a good plan.”
Jack Sullivan, a member of the Task Force, spoke also in support of the plan with some reservations. “We tried to get consensus on as much of this plan as possible,” he said. “Most of the items passed close to unanimously. As you might suspect, keeping the dog park on the river only passed by a five to three margin. I am concerned about the impact to the river but I am certain that Council will do the right thing.”
Robert Odle, a resident of Harborside, opposes keeping the dog park on the river. “My wife and I have lived at Harborside since 1996 and I became involved because some of my neighbors have been attempting to speak for me,” he said. “The city has tried to manage a fair process. A few of the neighbors who came out to speak have said that this is a neighborhood park and the neighbors must keep control. While you may have a good plan in front of you, the best plan possible, it may be for the wrong reasons. Take the time to examine all of the issues. Do we want for people to have the perception that we are a city that spends more time on Prince Street dogs than on Lyles-Crouch kids?”
CATHLEEN CURTIN SPOKE on behalf of the Friends of Windmill Hill Park. “I am an advocate of the concept plan as are many of the other attendees here,” she said. “The park is for multi uses and that creates the beauty of it. One of the key benefits is to have an off-leash dog park here. It is quite convenient to walk to the dog park and then move to the swing sets and play there. The dog park has been here for 12 years and there is a great deal of frustration that it is being reviewed for the third time. I want to assure you that the dog owners will not pursue radicalizing this issue and will work with you in resolving this issue. We have a significant concern that the collaborative effort will be set aside and the dog park will be moved.”
Robert Ritsch agreed with Curtin that the dog park should remain on the waterfront. “I live in the neighborhood and am a parent and a dog owner,” he said. “I see no tension between kids and dogs. It is important to maintain water access for the dogs because we have a number of water dogs and swimming is the best form of exercise to extend their lives. This is the only water access for dogs in the area and it cannot be eliminated.”
Councilman David Speck didn’t understand just how the dogs get access to the water. “The off-leash dog park is not directly linked to the river,” Speck said. “I do not understand how dogs are getting to the river from the park without going outside the off-leash area.”
The proposal would have a tunnel for dogs to go underneath a boardwalk to access the river. “I suppose that they are just supposed to know this,” said Councilwoman Joyce Woodson. “I don’t understand what is to keep the dogs from going onto the boardwalk or into the wetlands areas.”
THERE WAS NO REAL EXPLANATION for this except that the dogs are well behaved and can be controlled by their owners. “It is true that we have a lot going on in this area of the park,” said Sandra Whitmore, the director of the Department of Parks Recreation and Cultural Activities. “We will have people on the boardwalk, children learning about the river, kayakers and canoers going into the river and dogs swimming.”
Councilwoman Claire Eberwein is concerned. “I cannot support this plan unless the dog park is moved,” she said. “I tried very hard to listen for good reasons for maintaining the off-leash area on the waterfront. It defies logic and people almost twisted themselves into pretzels trying to make senses of it. I am Council liaison to the Chesapeake Bay Committee for the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments. This entire region is in danger of failing to meet the set mandates for nutrient reduction into the Bay watershed. It will require untold millions more in investment and changes to longheld land use practices. This whole issue is embarrassing from a regional perspective.
“From a local perspective, our Potomac River land is too precious for such restrictive use. How does one mix people, wildlife, dogs, boats and small children in one small piece of this park?”
There is also the issue of funding. The city does not have the funding to pay for the changes in the park. Some speakers, recognizing this, encouraged Council to prioritize and make the improvements that cost the least but would have the most impact on use. The major item that would have to be deferred would be the removal of the pilings. The estimated cost of this removal is nearly $1 million. The hope would be to obtain federal funding. This would require the support of US Congressman James P. Moran (D-8). Moran, however, is not currently supportive.
“If the city wants to use valuable land for this purpose, that is certainly their business,” Moran said. “However, I will not support spending federal dollars on it.”
Council will vote on the concept plan on May 14.