Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille opened last Thursday's joint meeting of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Neighborhood Task Force and Jones Point Park Stakeholder Panel with the assurance, "There have been no agreements on anything. Models to be presented tonight are just that, models."
That qualification was echoed by Russ Fuhrman, general engineering consultant, Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project, who chaired the two hour-plus session. "This is purely an information meeting. Its sole purpose is to review the various proposals," he he told the crowd.
What both Euille and Fuhrman were referring to were the four scenarios to deal with parking for Jones Point Park users when the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge is completed. Parking under the bridge, as originally envisioned has all but been ruled out, due to a combination of terrorist concerns and the expense for providing 24/7 security.
"Pre-9/11 we had an agreement with the city to provide 240 parking spaces under the bridge. However, following a study by a security consultant it was concluded that the bridge was very vulnerable and that there should be no parking under the bridge," Fuhrman said.
"That study was sent to the U.S. Corps of Engineers and they concurred with those findings," he said. "And both states, Maryland and Virginia, have recommended no parking under the bridge. Neither the National Park Service nor the City [Alexandria] can provide the security because it would be cost prohibitive."
Fuhrman revealed, "In November 2003, an all day meeting was held with various law enforcement organizations to study various scenarios pertaining to threats from air, land and water. It was concluded that the bridge is designed to have force applied from the top, not under the bridge where it is most vulnerable."
He did leave the door somewhat ajar by indicating that parking could be allowed under the bridge "for special events when strict security could be provided" for a limited amount of time. "So we went back to the drawing board to look at our options," he told the audience packed into the conference room at WWB Project headquarters on Eisenhower Avenue.
ON THE WALL behind Fuhrman were the results of that effort — four possible scenarios to provide 110 parking spaces to accommodate future uses in Jones Point Park upon completion of the new bridge. There was also a schematic of the original proposal to provide 240 spaces under the bridge with an access road down the center of the new twin spans.
Of particular surprise to many attendees was the fact that the number of anticipated future parking spaces has been reduced from 240 to 110. "This is the minimum number for park use given the planned uses," Fuhrman explained.
Options one and two provide for vehicular access to the park with parking in the park. Options three and four call for no public vehicular access to the park, pedestrian access only. All parking would be offsite. There would be provisions for emergency vehicles only to have access, according to present plans.
IN EACH OF the four scenarios athletic facilities and a comfort station would be placed under the new bridge where parking was originally anticipated. In those scenarios calling for only public pedestrian traffic, there was no explanation of how park users were to get boats to and from the launch sites depicted on the drawings.
Julie Crenshaw, a Stakeholder Panel member, asked, "How did they (city and Park Service) decide it was not financially feasible to provide the necessary security for parking under the bridge?"
Ronaldo "Nick" Nicholson, WWB Project manager, Virginia Department of Transportation, clarified, "What we asked of the city and Park Service was that the level of security needed would be there in perpetuity."
Alexandria's director of Transportation and Environmental Services Administration, Richard Baier, countered, "We were told the states would not back parking under the bridge regardless of the cost."
When no actual cost projection was brought forth, Robert Brubaker, executive director, MetroPed, a Fairfax County pedestrian advocacy organization, noted, "The cost has to be determined whatever that answer is. It is $1, $2, $3 or whatever per person using the parking area under the bridge." Fuhrman replied, "It's not VDOT's responsibility to answer that."
As pointed out by Audrey Calhoun, director, National Park Service, "This is not the only place we are facing this. There are two sides to this issue, access to the park and the level of security. This is an opportunity for us (NPS) to have a very nice park.
"I am committed to making sure there is access to this park. I am opposed to having parking outside the park. I believe there should be parking inside the park. This is the National Park Service's position."
Perhaps the most telling criticism of all the scenarios was issued by Richard Miller, a South Lee Street resident living within two blocks of the bridge construction.
"What you seem to have are a series of solutions searching for a problem. Develop a plan that says do no further damage to the park."
He was joined in that assessment by Richard Campbell, president, Yates Gardens Civic Association. "I don't see why we are planning all this massive improvement. It's a small parcel and should be left as it is. This bridge has impacted us enough. Leave the park alone," he said.
City Councilman Andrew H. Macdonald noted, "If we didn't have all these uses we probably wouldn't need all these parking spaces. One of the great uses of this park has been its fishing. It is a unique fishing area and that should be preserved."
Macdonald then asked Calhoun, "What is the most important subject for the National Park Services for this park?"
Without hesitation she responded, "Access to the park. The city has told us the first priority is to have recreational fields. We are willing to go along with that."
WHEN IT CAME to the subject of soccer fields there were a variety of opinions and issues. These included everything from the topography that is now credited with causing standing water in the area of the proposed fields to the need for full size soccer fields to accommodate older players.
"One of the issues we face in the city is the need for full size soccer fields for players 16 and older," said Kirk Kincannon, director, Alexandria Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities.
This was challenged by Yates Gardens resident, Joseph Parimucha, who said, "You only have one river. You can put soccer fields anywhere. Don't put them on the river frontage."
Katy Cannady, another audience participant reminded officials, "This park is to benefit the river. If we are going to be a city with a population of 140,000, not every sport desire can be accommodated in the city. We're going to have to recognize that. We've got too many people on too little space."
At the conclusion of the session, Teresa Miller, a member of the Neighborhood Task Force, suggested separate meetings of each group so "that we are ready to deal with Council action this September."
Mayor Euille assured her any action by Council is a long way off. "This will all occur at the conclusion of the bridge construction in 2007. It will not be a matter at the September meeting of Council," he said.
"Nothing is cast in concrete. These are all concepts," Euille assured. He also noted, "Nothing has changed from the original plan
as far as the facilities are concerned. The original development plan may have to have some tweaking. But tonight's discussion has all been about parking," Euille said.
Each option is based on 110 parking spaces —
1. A new access road would be carved out approximately 180 feet north of the new bridge drop line. The parking spaces would be located north of the multiuse athletic fields which, according to drawings, would consume more than twice the length of the present parking along Jones Point Road. The new roadway would have a circular drop off point at the river. Entrance would be from South Royal Street just south of the existing Community Gardens across from St. Mary's Elementary School. Both community gardens, S. Royal Street and S. Lee Street, would remain. But S. Lee Street gardens would have to be "reconfigured" to make way for the new access road. It would also necessitate the removal of trees between Lee Street extended and S. Royal Street and in the wetlands area from S. Lee Street extended to the river.
2. This option is virtually the same as number one except that in-park parking is placed deeper into the wetland area. It is designed to be wider, more compact, and entirely situated on the north side of the new access road rather than stretched along that road.
3. A new parking garage would be constructed in the area of Hunting Towers with 110 spaces designated for park use. Access to the park, except for emergency vehicles, would be limited to pedestrian traffic only. Jones Point Park Road would remain approximately in its present location, adhering to Homeland Security specifications of no closer than 80 feet from the bridge drop line. There would be no changes to the existing gardens in either location and no significant loss of trees, if any, due to roadway alignment. There would be a loss of trees and wetland at the location of the multi-purpose athletic fields in the area of the former Seaport Foundation building. This would be exacerbated by the river side field being constructed perpendicular to the access road rather than parallel as in scenario number 2. However, this was the originally planned configuration of the fields when parking was to be permitted under the bridge.
4. Parking would be constructed at the site of the present Community Gardens on South Royal Street across from St. Marys School. Those gardens would be relocated next to the present S. Lee Street gardens, in the same configuration as the present S. Lee Street gardens, abutting the western multiuse athletic field, with a small break area between the two. This would also call for some clearance of trees and wetland area along the existing roadway as reconstructed to security specifications, if necessary. All else would be the same as stated in scenario three.