Finally, there's a plan. Now, where's the money?
City Council’s meeting could have lasted all night Tuesday, but in less than two and a half hours, they adopted a plan for Windmill Hill Park, resolved the issue of School Board redistricting and recognized the passing of a Council regular.
"When we are planning parks, we ought to plan them for people,” said Mayor Kerry J. Donley.
Vice Mayor Bill Cleveland wanted to pass the plan that was submitted by the steering committee. “The steering committee worked very hard on this and I think we should adopt the plan that they submitted,” Cleveland said.
In the end, Council adopted much of the plan as submitted by the steering committee with a few changes. The dog exercise area will be moved from the southeastern piece of the park on the river, to the northwest corner of the park, next to the Wilkes Street Tunnel. Water access for the dogs will be allowed at the northeast corner of the park, off a lookout point next to Harborside. The volleyball court will be relocated to the area on the southeast corner of the park that will also contain a small gazebo with open sides and a roof. Near the gazebo will be an educational boardwalk and a kayak and canoe launch. There will be no additional tie-ups for small boats.
The basketball court and the playground will remain where they are, on the west side of Union Street. The footpath, outside the Wilkes Street Tunnel, will be moved slightly to make the dog exercise area larger. The pilings will be removed and nesting platforms for birds will be built. The bulkhead will be rebuilt and the shoreline stabilized.
“I really want us to focus on what we do have in this park,” Donley said. “We have kept the waterfront accessible to the maximum amount of people; we are removing the pilings and stabilizing the shoreline and bulkhead. We have a dog exercise area and the dogs have access to the water. We have kept the playground, volleyball and basketball and we have added a kayak and canoe launch. Now, when we find about $3 million, we will have a park that we can all be proud of.”
COUNCILWOMAN Redella S. “Del” Pepper wanted to leave the dog exercise area on the water. “I really think that we should leave it where it is because the dog exercise area isn’t just for the dogs, it’s for the people who bring them,” she said. “It’s always been there so we should leave it there.”
Councilman David Speck disagreed. “The best reason that I have heard for leaving the dog exercise area on the water is because it’s always been there,” he said. “The worst reason for leaving the dog exercise area on the water is because it’s always been there. When it comes right down to it, we need to make a decision whether to set aside one quarter of an acre of waterfront open space for dogs or make it available to everyone. If we are to have any hope of obtaining federal funds, I am more and more convinced that we must not leave the dog exercise area where it is. I don’t believe that there is anyone waiting in the wings with a checkbook to give us that federal funding, but as I have become aware of just what is available, I believe that it is best to move the dog exercise area off the water. People will get used to it in its new location.”
Councilwoman Joyce Woodson was surprised to learn that the dogs currently have access to the river from two spots. “I was not aware that the dogs were going into the river at the northern point until tonight,” she said. “Why wasn’t this considered as an access point by the steering committee?”
SANDRA WHITMORE, the director of the department of parks recreation and cultural activities, explained that this entry point had always been informal and outside the area that was posted for this purpose. “Then how are we going to enforce it if we take away this entry point and only allow them to enter where the dog exercise area is now,” Woodson asked. At an earlier meeting, Woodson expressed skepticism about having the dogs enter the river through a tunnel under the pedestrian boardwalk.
Whitmore also clarified some misconceptions about the size of the dog exercise area. “The new dog exercise area is about 3,000 square feet larger than the current dog exercise area,” she said. “The plans are not wrong. We have imposed the 50-foot setbacks from residential areas and the 60-foot setback from the water as is required in the dog park master plan so people may not be taking that into consideration.”
In the end, Councilman Bill Euille made the motion to adopt the plan as presented by the steering committee. Speck made a motion to amend the plan to move the dog exercise area, include a gazebo and change the dog water access point. Speck’s motion to amend passed by a four to three margin, with Speck, Donley, Woodson and Eberwein voting in favor of the amendment. The amended plan then passed by a six to one margin, with Cleveland, alone, voting against it.
“I believe that the waterfront is a public trust and that we must protect this natural resource and keep it open to the maximum number of people possible,” said Councilwoman Claire Eberwein.
Donley agreed. “We are not saying that dogs are not welcome and have never contemplated removing the dog exercise area from the park,” he said. “Some of the comments that have been made about some of us up here have bordered on the absurd. There have also been some constructive comments. Now we must move forward and develop a financing plan.”
IF IT AIN'T BROKE, don’t fix it,” said Cleveland, expressing the will of Council on School Board redistricting. Council voted unanimously to adopt option number one from those prepared by City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa.
This option is the closest to what is in place currently, and is reflective of the districts that were used in the recent special election in District C. This option divides only five school zones and requires no precinct changes. District A will include: United Way, City Hall, Lyles Crouch School, Jefferson Houston, Lee Center, Cora Kelly Center, Mt. Vernon Center, George Washington, and Fire Department headquarters.
District B will include: Maury School, George Mason School, Agudas Achim Synagogue, Blessed Sacrament Church, Second Presbyterian Church, Minnie Howard School, Temple Beth El Synagogue, NOVA Arts Center, and James Polk School.
District C will include: Patrick Henry School, Beatley Library, Tucker School, John Adams School, William Ramsay Center and South Port Apartments.
WOODSON ARGUED in favor of nine, one-member districts. “While I can support Option One, I wish that we had had a real dialogue on nine one-member districts,” she said. “It is very costly to campaign for public office. With smaller districts, it would have been less expensive and would have afforded us an opportunity to involve more people in the process. Being involved in the process is important. I am very concerned about the apathy here. We only had four speakers on this matter tonight and only 20 overall. If having nine members from smaller districts is a way to get more people involved, I’m all for it.”
Euille was specifically concerned about the lack of involvement by those organizations that represent the schools. “While we have heard from some parents of school children, we do not have one memorandum in our docket item from a PTSA that represents a specific school or from the citywide PTA,” he said. “I am very disappointed that we have not heard from the very people who represent our school population. Their lack of involvement in this issue is of concern.”
ORGANIZATIONS SUCH as the Urban League, the Alexandria NAACP and the Tenant and Worker Support Committee had favored the nine small districts. “I think that this would balkanize the school system as opposed to bringing it together,” Speck said. “Also, I have a concern about the ability to recruit qualified candidates from this many districts. If we really want to ensure minority representation, we should return to the appointed School Board and take away the vagaries of the electorate.”
Donley spoke to the issue of apathy. “One of the ways to improve voter turnout is to move to November elections,” he said. “This would double the turnout. I do not understand why Alexandria is the only jurisdiction that still has three-year terms for local officials except that this is the way it was written in the charter.”
Pessoa will draft an ordinance that will be set for public hearing in June. Council will vote on final passage of the ordinance that will prescribe the new School Board districts at its last legislative meeting of the year.
ON THE VERY NIGHT that a plan for Windmill Hill Park was adopted, Council learned of the death of John Chapman Gager, a Council regular who had fought diligently to protect The Old Town Yacht Basin. Pepper announced his death to the members.
“He claimed to be the attorney for this property and to represent the estate of Katie Lang,” Pepper said. “For years, he was at every Council meeting. We have all been wondering about him and now we know.”
Gager was buried on May 27. He died at age 81. He was living in Arlington.
COUNCIL RECEIVED A recommendation to install a traffic light at the corner of W. Glebe and Old Dominion Blvd. The matter was set for public hearing on June 15.
“This is a very important part of our traffic calming measures in this neighborhood and in the Upper Potomac West development process,” said Richard Baier, the director of the department of Transportation and Environmental Services.
There are no traffic signals between Valley Drive and Russell Road on W. Glebe, or for about a quarter of a mile. It is difficult for pedestrians to cross the busy street to get to play areas at Beverley Hills United Methodist Church. A signal, according to Baier’s memo, would slow traffic, improve the ability of pedestrians to safely cross W. Glebe and provide a significant traffic calming measure.