If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
That was the message of about 35 McLean residents at a meeting of the McLean Community Center’s Governing Board Tuesday night, as Dranesville Park Authority Representative Kevin Fay and Fairfax County Park Authority representative Brian Daly met with the board to discuss moving the McLean Day festival from Lewinsville Park to an alternate location, beginning in 2006.
“The history of McLean Day goes back to 1915,” said board member Caroline Pickens, as an annual festival that features rides, games, food and other amusements loved by the community, attracting more and more patrons every year.
“In 2003, there was damage done to a baseball field at the park due to an exceptionally rainy day, and the community center paid to have it fixed,” she said, at a cost of several thousand dollars, which forced the delay of a local baseball league by a month. The board was later asked to consider looking into alternate sites for the festival.
When McLean Day was held this year, in late May, it was agreed by the board and the Park Authority that the baseball fields would not be used at all during the festivities. Over 8,000 people attended the events, Pickens said.
“After the June 24, 2004 meeting of this board, a letter was sent to (Dranesville District Supervisor) Joan Dubois’ office saying we wanted to keep McLean Day at Lewinsville Park,” she said.
“I promised to make an effort to find an alternate site because it is possible that there is an alternate site that’ll work (for the event) and the change would be a good thing,” Pickens said.
“The issue for the Park Authority is that Lewinsville Park is unsuitable for McLean Day because of its growth,” Fay said. “We have decided to keep the athletic fields unused for at least this year and in doing that, the space available is not as conducive (to the event) as other locations available,” he said.
The best alternative, he said, is to hold the event at the McLean Community Center on Ingleside Avenue, using the Center, McLean Library and Central Park campus for the activities.
“There are many goals for this event, and we’d like to see that continue in a way that keeps park properties functional without any damage to the fields while also providing the option for expansion,” Fay said.
WHEN ASKED WHY the Central Park area is the first alternative, Fay said the area is “under utilized.”
“It’s next to the Community Center, so we could use that as well for the festivities and it provides the opportunity to have a campus setting for the event,” he said. “We hope to focus on this as a truly central park” for residents of McLean.
“The useable size of the park shrinks dramatically because we’re not using the athletic fields,” Daly said. “We see significant opportunities at (Central Park), there are a number of hard surfaces that can be set up for rides and vendors.”
Board member Dorothy Hassan asked the men if McLean Day was a success in 2004 even with the restrictions on Lewinsville Park.
“Yes, it was, but we think we can do better,” Fay said. “The parking is better here (at Central Park), and we ran into weather issues, cramped spaces and potential damage of the whole property at Lewinsville.”
Daly was asked about restrictions to the Central Park property mandated by small sidewalk space, which would eliminate the use of large trucks for loading and unloading rides and vendor booths for the event.
“I know the property… large trucks will not be needed to go off the parking area for this. The sidewalks in front of the park are at least six feet wide and would accommodate any pick up trucks that vendors would bring in,” he said.
“We need to keep an open mind,” said board member Holly Clement. “Has there been an effort made to look into an alternate site for the baseball field? Maybe the answer would be to move the baseball field somewhere more protected. We need a balance of interest.”
“Assuming we had the land, it would be $300,000 to $400,000 to move the field,” Fay said. “The 90-foot diamond has been there since the park opened. Given the shortage of athletic fields, we’re not looking to move it.”
“MY IMPRESSION WAS that this meeting was to discuss our options (for moving McLean Day),” said board member Pat Velander. “It sounds like you’ve already made the decision and an agreement has been reached.”
“My sole issue when I ran for election to this board was to keep McLean Day in Lewinsville Park,” said member Edward Eitches. “I think the people who voted for me voted for me because I said I wanted to keep it where it is and I’m adamantly opposed to moving it.”
“I think I voted for you,” Fay said, which was followed by a “God help me” from Eitches, and a laugh from the people crowded into the meeting room.
“This is what I don’t understand. Other than the damage last year, why is it not working now,” asked Laurie Hilburg.
“The space available is too constrained because of the limitations with the fields, there are traffic problems and parking problems,” Fay said. “There’s twice as much parking (at Central Park) and businesses can be more involved in the events.”
Many of Fay and Daly’s comments referred to McLean Day not being able to attract more patrons and vendors in the future if it stayed at Lewinsville Park.
“I have no plans to make McLean Day any bigger than it is,” said Sam Roberts, coordinator and planner for McLean Day. “We might be able to use the parking lots here at Central Park for the rides, but it would use up all the parking spaces.”
“We appreciate that you have reservations about this site but I don’t appreciate that you’re not willing to look at anything” other than Lewinsville Park for the event, Fay said.
“Kevin is asking us if this place won’t work, what will,” said Pickens. “Is downtown an option? Is there a way to make this work,” she asked the board members.
When the floor was finally opened to the residents at the meeting, the fight to keep McLean Day in Lewinsville Park was in full swing.
“This is a residential community,” said Cheryl Patten, president of the McLean Homeowner’s Association. “The Community Center and the Library are our neighbors. Bringing big carnival rides here is absurd,” she said.
“Is the effort to make this King’s Dominion McLean Day? How big is too much,” she asked.
SUSAN TURNER, VICE PRESIDENT of the McLean Citizen’s Association, asked Fay and Daly if anyone who lived near the park has asked them to move the event.
Fay simply answered no, no one had come forward with any complaints.
“There’s no done deal,” he said, when asked if the crusade to move McLean Day was his idea and if the desires of the residents of McLean mattered at all in this decision.
Joan Grandy said that her property line is back-to-back with Lewinsville Park and she enjoys having her neighbors in her backyard every year.
“Parking isn’t so much a problem as you make it sound,” she said. “We have no problem with people parking in our streets and walking to the carnival together. It seems a pleasant way to do it.”
“Lewinsville Park is a neighborhood park, not a district park,” she said. “Its location and layout lends itself to this type of event, so we see no need to change it.”
Fred Roehner, president of the McLean Chamber of Commerce, said that the Chamber would love to see McLean Day in the business district, but the idea of moving it to the Central Park area doesn’t make sense.
“I’ve been to a lot of carnivals here and when you think of this area in the Community Center, it’s not centralized,” he said. “If it’s not centralized, you break up the carnival atmosphere.”
“I think a needs assessment process would have to include the existing site as an idea of what you’d need for this event and not necessarily take it off the table,” Fay said. “We need to look at all of our options and I don’t think it needs to be a fight. We understand that there are concerns here but we’re asking for a fair assessment.”
“Excuse me if I seem a little nervous, but my blood pressure always skyrockets when I’m in the presence of the Fairfax County Park Authority,” said Ed Shahin. “There is a hidden agenda here that’s not being discussed, to turn Lewinsville Park into an athletic facility, more specifically a college park facility,” he said, with some fields already in use by Merrymount University.
“I resent the notion that we need to find a new location for McLean Day, but if the supervisor and the park authority want to move it, it’s going to be moved,” he said.
The meeting ended almost two hours after it began with no clear decision in sight, only the promise that the board and park authority would need to do a needs assessment to determine how much space is needed for McLean Day, what problems exist at the current site and what possible alternate sites could feasibly be considered as options. No future meeting date has been announced.