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Votes

Skate Park Debate Rekindled

With skate park opponents rejuvenated, the Reston Community Center (RCC) Board of Governors voted to go ahead with plans to commission a new study on the controversial plan to build a tax-payer funded skate park in Reston.

As first reported in the Connection on May 21, the RCC program policy committee voted to recommend removing the skate park from the FY2005 fiscal year budget at its May 19 meeting. Fresh off that development, a group of skate park opponents, all from the West Market neighborhood, were on hand Monday night to address the board about the committee's recommendation to remove the $800,000 earmark slated for a potential skate park at the YMCA.

At its June 2 board meeting, the board, without comment, voted unanimously to follow the committee's recommendation to effectively table the skate park proposal. The approved motion brought by Terry Smith, chair of the program policy committee, also authorized RCC to spend $12,000 on a new study. RCC previously spent $22,000 on a study that recommended the nearly million dollar skate park at the Y-site. Dan Bishop, a skate park opponent, questioned the logic of funding a new study. "Now we are told we ought to spend $12,000 on a new study to tell us why the old study was wrong and that a scaled back facility can meet demand and not create a future taxpayer burden," Bishop, a West Market resident, said. "I hope this board can see that there is a credibility gap growing here. When will it end?"

The new study, according to the motion, will study a "down-sized skate model — $500,000, $200,000 or lesser amounts in capital costs — so that options will be available for the board to consider."

In prepared remarks to the board, Don Ritter, president of the West Market homeowners association, disagreed with those who said the audience members at the special October public hearing at Lake Anne were overwhelmingly supportive for the proposed project. "As we stated on the record at the October hearing, West Market alone had literally dozens of people who were prepared to speak in opposition to the original proposal, but as a courtesy to the board, we limited our speakers to eight," Ritter said. "The board's public comments ignore this."

At the May 19 program and policy meeting, Jan Bradshaw was one of the board members who trumpeted the findings from October's skate park public hearing. Bradshaw said that the skate park was too important to set aside. "We try to reflect what the community wants," she said last month. "There are target areas that aren't being served and this is one area — 11- to 20-year-olds. The evidence was overwhelming at the public hearing and the skate park is a very important program."

Ritter went on to say that the board was now trying to "inflate" the importance of the hearing after "public debate" began to turn against the proposal. "The board's repeated public references to the supposed 'widespread' support at the public hearing as the principal justification for moving forward are unfair and do not reflect a balanced view."

WHILE SOME BOARD members, like Smith, said at the May 19 meeting that there was not enough money to fund the $800,000 skate park, others disagreed. Board chairman Ruth Overton said it was "debatable" whether RCC had enough money in its coffers.

In addition, Marion Bonhomme-Knox, the RCC finance committee chairman, initially insisted at last month's meeting that the board should go ahead with the proposed skate park plan. "I say do it now," Bonhomme-Knox said on May 19. "We've got $520,000 in FY 'O5 so in the out years, all you have to do is reduce your expenditures by $200,000 for two years." On Monday night, Bonhomme-Knox did vote to move the $800,000 earmark from the FY2005 budget.

Saying the board was "increasingly out of touch," Bishop said he found it "dumbfounding" that RCC seemed to suggest that "if the capital reserve was not dwindling, it would be proceeding full steam ahead with this project."

Bishop, told the board that opposition to the skate park went beyond his neighbors in the West Market neighborhood. Bishop said his opposition group had collected more than 1,500 signatures of people who opposed the original proposal. "For some perspective, that is roughly four times the number of participants in each of the last two preference polls that selected this board," Bishop said. "Moreover, 75 percent of these signatures are from outside West Market — putting the lie to the mantra that this is just a NIMBY issue."

Karl Ingebritsen, the director of LINK, is one of those non-West Market residents adamantly against an RCC-funded skate park. Ingebritsen insists he is not against a skate park, he just believes it should be financed by Fairfax County and placed on Fairfax County land. "In my walking around Reston given the letters to the editor I've written on this subject, I've found almost universal approbation for my position," said Ingebritsen, who was not at Monday's meeting. "There must be a survey or referendum, similar to what Reston Association had to do on the Southgate project."