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Council Grapples with Park Plans Again

City Council discussions went from the unfortunate state of affairs with this year's General Assembly session to the ongoing debate over Windmill Hill Park. Many Alexandrians would like to forget both.

Councilwoman Joyce Woodson, introducing a new plan for Windmill Hill Park said, "I don't want to sit up here and redesign the whole park because that's what got us into trouble to begin with."

She produced overlays that suggested moving the volleyball court from the east side of Union Street, back to the west side of Union Street. "I don't know exactly how it would be aligned but it would be adjacent to the basketball court," she said.

She also suggested moving the river walk from directly on the waterfront to nearer the grassy area that will become a passive recreation area. "We will have benches here and other furniture for people to enjoy the passive green space on the river," she said.

Finally, she suggested moving the dog access to the water from the north side of the park to the south side of the park. "There is a natural beach here that is safer for dogs and more conducive to their entering the water safely," she said.

Councilman David Speck suggested that it was time for Council to make some decisions about the matter. "About the only thing on which there is real disagreement is the dog access to the water," he said. "Some people feel very strongly that it should be on the north side and some people feel that it should be on the south side of the park. Personally, I believe that it should be on the north side because the natural terrain lends itself better to dog access, because this access point is on the north side of the park as is the dog exercise area and because this can be accomplished quickly, easily and with little cost. But that is only my opinion. I think we need a motion on the matter; we need to give staff some direction about coming up with yet another plan; we need to see the costs of such a plan and then we need to have a public hearing on the plan," he said.

Councilwoman Claire Eberwein made a motion. "I propose that we move the volleyball court to the west side of Union Street to put all active recreation together and that we keep the dog access to the river at the north end of the park," she said. "That is what the staff is recommending..."

Councilman William D. Euille asked for staff input.

"Whether you call it a beach or something else, the bottom is soft at the south end of the park," said Sandra Whitmore, the director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Activities. "We can use the existing boat ramp at the north end and can place pebbles there to make it easier for the dogs to enter and leave the water. Also, the kayak launch is at the south end and the dogs might interfere with that."

WOODSON SUGGESTED moving the kayak launch to the north end.

"Kayaks would then be in the way of the slips at Harborside where motorboats come and go and that would not be safe," Whitmore said.

Woodson asked why it would be safe for dogs and not kayaks. "Because the dogs do not swim out far enough to be in the way of the boats but the kayaks launch that far out," Whitmore said.

Woodson attempted to amend the motion to ask the staff to study both the north and south ends for dog access but that motion received no second and died. Eberwein's motion passed on a four to three vote.

"We want staff to come up with a plan based on this motion, bring it back to us, we will schedule some sort of public hearing and we will move on, finally," said Mayor Kerry J. Donley. "We have spent far too much time on this issue as it is and have far more important matters to discuss."

The motion included the following:

1. Relocate the basketball court to allow for the completion of the sidewalk on Gibbon to Union.

2. Construct the sidewalk noted in #1 (above).

3. Relocate the volleyball court adjacent to the basketball court.

4. Remove the asphalt parking lot on the east side of Union, clean that area, seed, and install family-oriented equipment and furniture.

5. Remove the gates that restrict access to the area in #4 (above).

6. Re-seed the area between Union and the basin, provide additional plantings, and install family oriented-equipment and furniture.

7. Remove the curb cuts on the east side of Union at the Gibbon extended area.

8. Begin the restoration of the area immediately north of the current dog area by trimming some of the overgrowth, removing dead and decayed trees and planting appropriate new materials.

9. Make the necessary improvements at the north end of WHP to allow for dog access to the river from that ramp.

10. Increase wattage or the number of fixtures in the Wilkes Street tunnel.

11. Install pedestrian crosswalks across Union at the north (at the terminus of the new pathway from the Wilkes Street tunnel) and south (Gibbon extended) ends of WHP.

12. Complete the construction of the new dog exercise area, including fencing and landscaping.

13. Instruct the city manager to report back to Council with cost estimates, work schedule and additional details, as needed.

14. Schedule a public hearing on these final revisions.