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Skate Park Loses Momentum

RCC committee decides to leave proposal out of '05 budget, looks to fund new study.

It could be back to the drawing board for proponents of a Reston Community Center (RCC)-funded skate park, after a center committee recommended dropping it from consideration for the proposed FY 2005 budget.

Program and policy committee chair Terry Smith told the committee on Monday "it was about time" to discuss the issue of building an estimate $800,000 skate park behind the Reston YMCA.

After the discussion, the committee voted to leave the proposal off the FY 2005 budget that will be presented to the community later this summer. Smith will draft a resolution for the June board meeting that will effectively seek to look at a downscaled model, but RCC executive director Dennis Kern stressed that there is no "skate park line" in the '05 budget. "Given the budgetary situation and bleak economic news, we have to take a look at smaller, less expensive parks in the future," said John Lovaas, a committee member.

A HOT BUTTON ISSUE last fall, the skate park sparked a heated three-hour RCC-sponsored public hearing last October. Since then the issue has simmered on the center's back burner. The issue caused a chill in the relationship between RCC and the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce and the West Market neighborhood, the chief opponents of the proposed skate park. The battle over the skate park is largely seen as the reason the chamber pushed RCC to review its long-standing governance structure and process, as it is doing now.

One of the skate park's chief opponents, Reston lawyer Robert Goudie said he is cautiously optimistic after hearing the news on Tuesday. Last October, RCC was claiming that $800,000 was allocated within RCC reserve funds. Today, that money from the RCC managed reserve structure for capital projects has dwindled from $943,459 in approved FY 2004 budget to $520,475 in the proposed FY 2005 budget, according to RCC documents.

The bleak economic forecasts didn't stop board member Marion Bonhomme-Knox, the finance chair, from initially insisting that the board go ahead with the proposed skate park plan. "I say do it now," Bonhomme-Knox said. "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."

Board member Beverly Cosham said she thought the board should investigate what they could get for $500,000 instead of $800,000. "Let's find out what is feasible," she said.

Kern warned the committee that they would have to designate funds for another study if they wanted to look at a less expensive option. "There is no expertise on RCC staff," Kern said. "If you want answers, it requires real money."

Kern reminded the group that they had already spent $22,000 on the initial BAE study. The executive director said the board should prepare for "political fallout" from critics who will say RCC doesn't need to spend additional tax-payer dollars on another concept study. Kern estimated a new study would cost between $10,000 and $12,000. "You are going to have to answer all of those same questions you did before," he said.

"MY PERSONAL OPINION is that we have got to table this thing and put it in never-never land," Smith said.

Smith said he had two main reasons for wanting to drop the skate park from immediate consideration. "Until this whole governance issue is resolved," said Smith, who is a RCC-appointed member of the special governance committee, "we have no business messing around with this.

"No. 2, we don't have the money," he said.

Smith's assertions were met with mixed emotions around the committee table.

Not everyone was scared off by fiscal concerns or politically sensitive concerns surrounding the question of governance. Board chair Ruth Overton disputed Smith's second contention that RCC did not have enough money in its budget to build a skate park, saying, "that's debatable."

Board member Jan Bradshaw said the skate park was too important to set aside. "We try to reflect what the community wants," she said. "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."

SMITH, THE BOARD treasurer, then questioned whether or not the skate park was something that the RCC should continue to pursue. "I'm not saying to drop it, just table it," he said. "Is this something that we should be doing? Why us? Should we take money out of community center fund for a new project like this?"

Last October, Smith defended RCC's right to build a skate park while dismissing West Market's assertion that the RCC-funded skate park would result in an increased tax burden to Small Tax District 5. On Monday night, Smith said the opponents of the skate park "raised some legitimate questions, not the least of which is, 'Should we be doing this?'"

"Anything that suggests the RCC is looking at all possible options and is not simply committed to the original proposal is encouraging," said Goudie, who is a also a member of the governance committee.

Smith said he was a "strong supporter of the park," but he acknowledged that he wasn't "sure that now was the time to do it."

Lovaas said "tabling" the skate park could essentially kill the project by "assigning it a lingering death."

"What do we tell the advocates?" asked Lovaas. "They think we are doing it."

Kern reminded the group that the board had never taken action on the issue of the skate park. "There is no budget line, it's undesignated," he said. "The fact is you haven't said you were going to do it. You have never taken a vote. You can just remove it from consideration."