In the end, it was unanimous. The Stakeholders Participation Panel (SPP), the citizen group assessing the expanded parking proposals for the Mount Vernon Estate, told the Federal Highway Administration on Feb. 21, that it did not want any construction behind the post office.
"This is the property of the Mount Vernon Estate, and they could build on their own property exactly where we do not want them to build," said Frank Cohn, SPP vice chairman.
Getting their vote to Jack Van Dop, project manager, FHWA, on that date was essential since it was exactly 30 days since the last public meeting on the proposed project held at the Walt Whitman Middle School. That was the time frame set for comments and input to be accepted.
SPP is a citizen panel appointed by Mount Vernon District supervisor Gerald Hyland (D) to create a vehicle for citizen input concerning Mount Vernon Estate's request to increase its parking. It is based on removing parking from within the grassy circle in front of the Estate and an estimate increase in time spent at the Estate on completion of the planned expansion.
LAST YEAR A process began to study the proposals. It is being conducted by the FHWA, the National Park Service, and the Estate. Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., of North Carolina, is the consultant working for the FHWA on the project.
"We felt that SPP had to agree on a position that was reasonable or risk becoming irrelevant," explained James Cossey, SPP chairman. "Over a week to 10 days, we got our statement into a form we could all agree upon."
That recommendation, adopted unanimously by SPP, said for aesthetic reasons and for reasons of traffic and pedestrian safety, parking on the traffic circle at Mount Vernon should cease as soon as a comparable number of additional parking spaces are constructed. Alternately, use of a "timed ticket" system should be considered.
The stakeholders also recommended replacing the approximately 150-170 parking spaces on the traffic circle, expanding the existing east and west parking lots by 160 spaces as detailed. The remaining 130 spaces, if needed, would be placed behind the wall in the employee parking area south of Route 235.
Adding additional parking spaces should be accomplished in two phases: Phase 1 of 160 spaces (to replace the traffic circle spaces) and Phase 2 of 130 spaces (or whatever lesser number is determined to be appropriate) - with the results of Phase 1 evaluated before proceeding to Phase 2.
FOR REASONS OF pedestrian and traffic safety, to ensure continuing community support for the Mount Vernon Estate, and to preclude conflict over any future requirement for parking spaces in excess of the total recommended by the FHWA study - for example, unexpected growth or other unforeseen factors - the Estate is urged to plan as follows:
* Construct any additional parking spaces behind the wall south of Route 235 or in an aesthetically acceptable parking structure sited on the existing east parking lot, and/or,
* Develop and use a "timed ticket" system similar to that used at the Washington Monument, White House and Bureau of Printing and Engraving.
"I found it very encouraging and I'm very proud that this group could come to a position of unanimity," Cossey emphasized.
BUT HE DID LEAVE the door open for further discussion. "We expect that there may be other data that needs to come out on the proposal. If some of that is significant, it could change or modify our position. If not, then the position as stated will be the one we will stand on for the remainder of the study," Cossey emphasized.
Cohn was a little more blunt. "After this parking expansion is done, for any future expansion (of parking), don't even ask. Put it behind the wall," he said.
This project was triggered by the planned expansion of Mount Vernon Estate to create an educational venue coupled with present parking overflow within the grassy circle during peak visitor periods. Although the expansion does not envision any increase in the number of visitors, based on Estate projections, it does predict more lengthy stays, thereby consuming the existing parking for longer time spans.
But the essence of the expansion is to offer educational experiences while visitors are waiting to enter the mansion and grounds. This would be accomplished through the development of a visitors center similar to that in Williamsburg with an educational movie and other displays.
It has not been documented that visitors would spend any more time at the Estate after the expansion or spend the same amount of time in a more productive way than merely standing in line waiting to enter the mansion, as is now the case.
This is the foundation for SPP's recommendation that adding additional parking should be done in two phases. As Cohn summarized it, "Let's see how much additional parking is really needed as we go along. If the first addition of new spaces takes care of the situation, that should be the end of it."