0
Votes

Skate Park in RCC’s Backyard?

Too early to tell, but the answer to community center’s stalled attempt to build a Reston skate park may be right under its nose.

For the last two years, neighbors in the West Market community in Reston Town Center have made their opposition to a proposed skate park in their backyard loud and clear. Proponents of the skate park, especially the Reston Community Center (RCC), which wants to build and operate the proposed park, maintain that the best site for the proposed park is behind the Reston YMCA, a site within shouting distance of West Market townhouses

Now, at least one RCC board member says he might have found a more suitable location for the long-promised park — in RCC’s own backyard.

Bill Bouie, one of the three new RCC board members, has been talking up the idea of exploring a site located directly behind the community center at Hunters Woods. Reston Youth Baseball currently uses the wide-open grass field, which is on Reston Association (RA) property. Bouie, who is also president of the local youth baseball league, said the field has been underutilized for several years, explaining that non-lighted fields are not at a premium in Reston. “We have had it on our books for scheduling, forever. And we have not used it for the past four or five years, but we may use it this year,” Bouie said. “Everybody has been talking about different places for a possible skate park, but I am the guy who brought this up to a number of people, and not only for skate park but for any recreational facility. This is a beautiful piece of land that nobody knows is back there.”

Even Denny Kern, the RCC executive director, did not know about the park land that is located a few hundred feet from the back of the community center where he works everyday. “It has only recently come to our attention that the field is even there. Yes, it is right behind us, but it is cleverly disguised in the woods,” Kern said. “It’s pretty well hidden. Bill Bouie is the one that brought it to our attention and even after he explained it, I admitted I didn’t know what he was talking about. I had to take a look for myself.”

For Bouie, it makes perfect sense for the RCC board to explore the idea. “That is a recreational piece of land that nobody uses,” Bouie said. “It would be the ideal spot to consider putting a skate park.”

Bouie said very few people, even longtime Restonians, even know that the park exists and he said he thought it would make a great skate park location. “I am the only one who has used that field for the last 15 years, and it is a beautiful piece of property,” Bouie said. “It doesn’t bother neighbors. We’ve got some apartments out in left field, but other than that, it is not obtrusive to anybody.”

Tom Bellanca disagrees. Bellanca, a former Reston Citizens Association director, is president of the Hunters Woods Homeowners Association, and he owns a condominium in Breton Court — the community that neighbors the RCC and backs up to the field. Bellanca, who now lives in Herndon but still owns property in Breton Woods, had not heard any rumblings about possible skate park in Hunters Woods. “I haven’t discussed it with the rest of the [Hunters Woods] association, but I’m pretty confident that that plan would meet a lot of resistance,” Bellanca said. “Speaking for myself, I know I would not support that.”

Ben Morse, the president of the Reston Skate Park Alliance, a group trying to bring a park to Reston, said he was also unaware of the potential site. While he said his group remained committed to the YMCA site, he said they would be willing to explore other potential sites. “The Y is great because there is easy access to it from all points of Reston,” Morse, the new president, said. “But we are always willing to look at other sites, especially if it would speed up the process. We will certainly explore that site.”

Bouie is quick to say that his idea is still in its very early stages. “I’ve just talked about the concept, but I think we have other issues, like governance, that we need to grapple with first, before we jump in on the skate park, again,” he said. “Besides, to be honest, I don’t know if we are even in the position to consider looking at a skate park, at this point.”

Currently, RCC is awaiting final approval from Fairfax County to go ahead with the board’s latest $12,000 skateboard park study. The board asked the consultants to look at a scaled-down version of the original $800,000 facility. The new study is not currently set to look at alternative sites other than the two — the YMCA site and Lake Fairfax park — that were studied originally, Kern said.

Kern agreed that it was much too early to begin speculating about the possibility of a skate park behind the RCC, saying that the community center’s board had its “hands full” with other high profile issues like governance. “That land does belong to the Reston Association and we have not made any overtures to RA,” Kern said. “This is an entirely new development. We have had no contact with RA about that field. One thing at a time.”

Kern added that the RCC board has never formally explored the possibility of a RA-RCC partnership for the proposed skate park. “That may well be a worthy thing to investigate, but we have not embarked on that, yet,” Kern said. “It’s very interesting and I will see if the board would like staff to investigate it further.”

Jerry Volloy, RA executive vice president, said he had not heard of any discussion surrounding the Hunters Woods field. When other possible RA sites, like the Southgate Recreation Center, have come up in the past, RA officials have maintained that concerns over insurance costs and the price of the liability insurance package kept the association out of the contentious skate park debate. “In the past, the main thing our board looked at was our insurance liability. I do think it deserves taking another look at it again,” Volloy said. “I have tried to come up with ideas about where in Reston we might consider a skateboard park. We support the idea, but currently the ball is in RCC’s court on this issue. That is not to say, however, that we would not be happy to assist in an effort to bring a skate park to Reston. If there is a piece of Reston Association property that is underutilized where a skateboard park would fit, than I think we need to look at it, but we also have to look at the insurance and liability questions.”

Nevertheless, Bouie said he didn’t think there would be too many hurdles to overcome if RCC were to build a skate park on any RA property, including the Hunters Woods site. “All we would have to do is get RA to pass the liability, and in essence all we would need is a lease on the property that would relieve them of their liability,” Bouie said.

Larry Butler, RA parks and recreation director, said it wouldn’t be quite that simple. “Even if we were to lease the site to someone else, like RCC, there is still the fact that it is on our property, and we can’t give the property away,” Butler said. “If we are the secondary insurance and the primary insurance was that of the operator, that affords us an initial layer of protection, but as the owner of the property, we still do have some liability.”

“Even if the county runs it or the Reston Community Center builds it, it will still be on our property, and we will still have liability,” added Jerry Volloy, the RA executive vice president.

WHILE RA would have to sort out questions of liability before even exploring the issue, condominium owners like Bellanca would presumably point to the parking problems that Breton Court neighbors have seen when baseball and softball games have been held on the field. Bellanca said the shopping center at Hunters Woods has historically had some parking problems and his cluster has complained that people have used the Breton Court parking spaces to go to events at RCC, the Christ the Servant Church and the baseball field. “I know RA stopped using that field because of parking problems stemming from Breton Court neighbors’ complaints,” Bellanca said.

The former RCA official said he used to walk his dog around that field and he occasionally sees the space used for people trying to sunbathe or picnic. “In the seven years that I have been an owners, I maybe saw that field used two or three times for organized games,” he said. “There is just not any place they could add parking and we would see the same problems emerge I would expect.”

Butler indicated that the site might not be ideal because of parking concerns and the need to have good circulation for drivers wishing to pick-up and drop-off their young skaters. “If we were ever to do something like that on our field, we would have to go in and do a site analysis and we haven’t looked at that field for that purpose,” the RA parks and recreation director said. “Given considerations like parking and access, it might not be ideal because it is tucked way back in there.”