City Council has deferred the vote to adopt a plan for Windmill Hill Park.
Vice Mayor Bill Cleveland requested the deferral because of a family committment. "My wife is graduating from Northern Virginia Community College and I want to be there to support her," Cleveland said. "I also want to be there to vote on Windmill Hill Park, so I am pleased that the vote has been deferred."
The vote might have been deferred anyway because of an alternative plan that Council has before them for consideration. Councilwoman Claire Eberwein requested that the alternative plans be drawn.
"It is a fairly simple realignment of certain park elements to open the waterfront to all of the public," Eberwein said. "The steering committee plan has placed a lot of incompatible uses in one small area of the park.
The optional plan addresses this. For instance, by relocating the off-leash use, it addresses the potential conflict between students using the lecture seating and off leash dogs. It also includes some program elements that were part of the original resolution which set up the steering committee and which were raised by members of Council at the recent public hearing.
"I certainly appreciate all of the hard work that the steering committee did but I don't really see many changes from what we have now," said Councilman David G. Speck. "They moved a few walkways and have asked for some plantings but the park, as the steering committee presented the plan, looks much the same as it does now."
THE NEW PLAN would move the dog exercise area off the river to the west side of Union Street where the volleyball court is now. It would be separated from the tot lot by ground elevation and the tot lot would remain fenced.
There would be a decorative fence along the Wilkes Street Tunnel path and a berm and plantings along Union Street. The current dog exercise area is 10,600 square feet and the proposed exercise area would contain 13,600 square feet of space. Water access for the dogs would be moved to the north end of the park from a small point of land near Harborside.
"This is really a better location for water access because the surface is better for the dogs," said Sandra Whitmore, the director of the Department of Parks Recreation and Cultural Activities. "It is separate from the wetlands area and we could easily lay stepping stones for the dogs to enter and leave the water."
Eberwein agreed. "I have been told by representatives for some of the dog owners that the northern location is actually much safer for dogs due to the water depth and river bottom surface material," she said.
DOG OWNERS would have to leash their animals and walk them across Union Street to the access area, unleash them to play in the water and leash them once again when they returned to dry land.
The alternative plan has an open sided gazebo in the area that now contains the dog park. The gazebo would be separated from the volleyball court by green lawn. The volleyball court would be adjacent to Union Street.
"With dogs running into the water, kayaks and canoes being launched, pedestrians walking on the boardwalk and school children taking test samples of the water, we had a lot of activity that is not necessarily compatible in one small area of the park. Moving the dogs alleviates some of that," Whitmore said.
The alternative plan includes either a floating dock or places on the bulkhead for tying up small sailboats, thus addressing a desire to provide such access to members of the public.
Andrew Macdonald was the chairman of the steering committee. "I certainly believe that Council has a right to look at tweaking the plans that we presented," he said. "We, after all, were an advisory group and Council has the responsibility of making the decision. I have seen the alternative plans and guess that I believe the public should have some input. I don't believe that the steering committee needs to be reconstituted but perhaps there should be some opportunity for public comment."
MacDonald's response to the alternative plan was mixed. "I haven't made up my mind about moving the dog park," he said. "Having the dogs that near the Wilkes Street tunnel might pose a problem. However, I've always been a supporter of having more boat slips. The proposal to add those, I support.
"The gazebo? I haven't thought much about that but am certain that it could be worked into the plan."
EBERWEIN WELCOMES additional public input. "I always welcome public comment. As long as the alternative is widely disseminated and we are able to hear from all neighborhoods in the city," she said.
Jack Sullivan, a member of the steering committee would not comment on the alternative plan. "We did our job and I think we did a good one," he said. "I certainly think that Council has the right and even the responsibility to look at alternatives. We serve as advisors only and they must make the political decisions: that is as it should be."
Council has not decided when they will vote on Windmill Hill. The vote could come as soon as May 18, at the scheduled public hearing or as late as the fall.