Skate Park Free-for-All

Skate Park Free-for-All

Sides square off at public hearing.

With passions running high, a raucous standing room-only crowd of more than 100 packed the Reston Community Center at Lake Anne for more than three and a half hours Monday night debating the merits of the proposed skate park RCC wants to build behind the YMCA.

Proponents of the skate park, primarily skaters and their parents, argued that bringing a skate park to Reston is long overdue. While opponents, led by representatives from the West Market community that lies some 300 feet behind the RCC's preferred site, said that the plan, as proposed, is unfair to Small Tax District 5 taxpayers and insensitive to West Market homeowners.

In his remarks to the audience, Robert Simon, the Reston founder, warned the RCC board not to be swayed by what he characterized as unfair and hurtful arguments by opponents of the skate park. "They have spread misinformation in our newspapers and they will say that these kids are terrible," he said. "If we get rid of all kids in Reston what would happen to our community?"

Sarah Boyd, whose two sons Keenan and Conrad both skate, agreed with Simon. "If you say no to a skate park, what kind of message does that send?" she asked the board. "I'll tell you what it says: We want to push you out."

Simon said he, and others including the RCC, have been waiting for more than eight years to see a skate park erected in Reston. "We have scars on some our concrete steps because there is no place for these kids to go to skate," Simon said. "It's time."

LT. BILL MASHINSKI, who heads Fairfax County police's neighborhood patrol unit at the Reston Substation, said the addition of a skate park is an important step for Reston and its youth. Mashinski said it is vital for young people to have a safe and controlled environment to practice their skating and stay off the streets. "This project would be Reston's second crown jewel, like the new Southgate Center, that would show how strongly our community feels about our young people."

Like Mashinski, Tom Crotty has seen the benefits of after-school programs for Reston youth. Crotty has been a teacher at Lake Anne Elementary for 20 years, and he has, for nearly a decade, heard all of the arguments for and against a Reston skate park. Crotty came to the center Monday night to stand up for young skaters, many of whom have been his students. "When you look around this room tonight, it's pretty obvious who will be using this park, they have spiked hair and baggy clothes," he said, "but that does not mean they are bad, just different. I thought Reston valued diversity."

Many skate park supporters expressed their solidarity with the young skaters in the audience, clearly trying to debunk the argument, hinted at by some park opponents, that skaters are hoodlums, not athletes.

Visibly shaking and holding back tears, Tracey Merrill came with a message of support for her four children and the other skate boarders in the audience. "There is nothing wrong with the sport you chose," she reminded them. "I hope our children remember there are people on their side."

Merrill, whose husband and four kids also spoke, said that skaters have been unfairly labeled and typecast. "They are not just hanging out, they are at work just like all other athletes," she said. "But because this is not soccer or baseball, they get so much thrown their way."

Many of the children in attendance Monday night said they looked forward to the day when they had a place to congregate and assemble without fear of rankling neighbors or shopkeepers. Bakari George, a skater and student, echoed the sentiments of many of his fellow skaters. "Every time we find a good place to skate, we get kicked off and people threaten to call the police," George said.

A few minutes later, another skater, Kyle Plunkett, echoed George's sentiments. "I'm tired of getting kicked out of places just because I want to skate. We aren't bad kids."

TO THE MUFFLED SNICKERS of some of the skate park supporters in the audience, Robert Goudie, the West Market spokesman, said he was a skater and a supporter of a skate park. While acknowledging the passion in last night's debate, Goudie, maintained that the YMCA site was not suitable for such a park. Goudie was the first of many opponents who said the RCC's consultant's study was flawed. "This is a concept study, so let's focus on the concept a $1 million plus facility for less than five percent of our youth, and District 5 alone will pay for it even though more than 80 percent of projected uses do not live in District 5," Goudie charged. "That's a concept, but I respectfully submit not a very good one."

Karen Connell, who represented the YMCA, dismissed arguments, that some, including Goudie, have made, that electric power lines pose a risk to skaters skating beneath them. "If the county had not assured us of their safety, we would not use that space," Connell said, referring to YMCA-sponsored activities and camps conducted on the site. "We would simply never risk the safety of our children. Never."

Curtis Clinton, of Reston, said he favored a skate park but was against the proposed site because of the existence of the power lines. "It's time we started giving our children prime real estate instead of secondhand hand-me-down lots. They need fresh air not power lines," he argued. "Build it in my backyard, just don't put it under those wires."

In addition to overhead power lines, opponents point to the YMCA parking-crunch as a reason that site is unacceptable. Connell downplayed the parking issue, but West Market residents continued to insist the RCC's concept study does not adequately address a significant problem. "I am a YMCA member, and all agree there is a parking crisis at the YMCA," Brenda Cairfero, a West Market speaker, said. "The skate park has plans for a second skating session at 4 p.m., when the elementary schools get out, which will overlap with the prime time parking crunch at the YMCA."

Connell, the YMCA representative, maintained that the organization was prepared to deal with its parking problems, but insisted that the 15 new spots as suggested in the concept report would more than handle increased traffic from a skate park. "We will be dealing with the parking issue, regardless of whether or not a skate park is built," she said.

DAN BISHOPP, another West Market resident, argued that other potential sites, away from the YMCA and West Market such as the Lake Fairfax site, were not adequately addressed by the concept study. "User demand at Lake Fairfax would roughly equal that of a YMCA site, and this would cost taxpayers 25 percent less to develop," Bishopp said. "The site does not abut a residential area, so increased seating and lighting could be added and hours of operation increased."

Skate park opponents were not limited to West Market, however. At the end of the evening, Beverly Russo, of South Reston, addressed what she said were economic inequalities in the proposed plan. She said she doubted the RCC board would be considering such a plan, "if you didn't have so much money in reserve."

Russo challenged the board to give the reserves, set aside for a skate park, back to the taxpayers in terms of a tax cut. To the delight of fellow park opponents, Russo lectured the board on its responsibility to be accountable to all members of the community. "Listen to all sides and not just a select few."

Judy Etheridge, who has lived in Reston for 24 years, said that opponents, like herself, have nothing against skate boarders. "I am not a NIMBY person," Etheridge, who does not live in West Market, said. "I think they deserve a skate board park but just put it where it won't bother anyone."