Members of the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) board of directors decided not to oppose the proposed park bond after an often tense meeting last week with Park Authority representative Kevin Fay. MCA was poised to vote on a resolution calling for members of the McLean community to vote against the bond.
After delivering a presentation to MCA on the need for the bond and where the money would be dispensed, Fay fielded questions from the board that called into question whether the money would be spent in a manner the community and the civic organization had expected.
The main concern for several MCA members was that land acquisition, which makes up 15 percent of the bond, did not include preservation but rather creating space for new buildings or park services and renovations.
Fay told the board, ÒYou can vote against the bond if you want to, but it would be extremely short-sighted.Ó He went on to explain that if the bond does pass, the projects that will receive the money are not set in stone, and decisions could be made in the future about projects not getting the funding they need.
ÒIf this bond is defeated, Clemyjontri will revert back to its owner,Ó warned Fay, referring to the proposed park in McLean. He added that Òwe wonÕt lose Turner Farm [in Great Falls], but those projects would certainly stall.Ó
AFTER HEARING FAY list the projects that could be put in jeopardy if the bond fails, MCA member John Adams told his peers, ÒIt seems to me thereÕs a lot we could lose. I think we have too much to lose.Ó Adams then proposed rewording the resolution to state the groupÕs desire for more land to be preserved in the future. ÒIt seems to me we could come up with a resolution to acquire more land and not vote down the bond,Ó said Adams.
MCA member Frank Crandall added that in past years the bonds have passed by a large margin and was doubtful that the original resolution would have significant impact to affect the outcome of the bond. ÒThereÕs little chance, whether we oppose or endorse this bond, that it will make any difference,Ó said Crandall.
ÒI think we made our point. I think we are endangering a worthwhile bond issue that we have very little chance of defeating,Ó added MCA member Paul Wieland.
There are 18 projects in the Dranesville District that stand to benefit from the $65 million park bond if it passes in the November ballot. Projects in McLean and Great Falls include Springhill Recreation Center, Clemyjontri Park, Pimmitt Run Stream Valley, Colvin Run Mill, Nike Field, Observatory Park and Turner Farm.
Regarding land acquisition, the Park Authority is looking to find parcels of land that are 25 acres or more, optimally adjacent to existing parcels and in high-density areas that lack open space. Finding land meeting those criteria, according to Fay, is increasingly difficult. ÒWith $12 million in McLean [for land acquisition], that doesnÕt get you a whole lot of land,Ó Fay said.
MCAÕs John Fredericks told Fay that a 2002 citizen survey Òessentially says our priority is land preservation, not rectangular fields. IÕm just saying preserve open space and not convert it.Ó
The Park Authority is pushing public/private partnerships as a vehicle to getting more done under the current budget constraints. In Great Falls, Turner Farm, which will have an equestrian park, and Observatory Park are two examples of this partnership. Adams said, ÒThose two items for Great Falls, Turner Farm for $330,000, $200,000 for Observatory Park, thatÕs a relatively small amount compared to whatÕs being raised by private citizens, but itÕs necessary to have that half million in order to raise much more.Ó
These seed monies enable organizers to get their projects off the ground and lay the foundation for acquiring the larger sums necessary to complete them.
The public/private partnership in McLean that developed the soccer fields at Lewinsville Park, however, was cited as an example of what to avoid when employing this method of funding. Officials at McLean Youth Soccer ( a private entity) have been embroiled in legal troubles after objections were made to an arrangement that allows Marymount University students to practice on the artificial turf field for a fee.
FAY SAID, ÒMost of the big projects weÕre probably going to do will be done that way.Ó Clemyjontri, which has roughly $3.5 million slotted for it, will also be a public/private venture. Citizens have been raising money for more than a year to create the park, which will be a totally handicapped-accessible park, the only one in the county. This project would not have gotten to the stage it has if the owner of the property had not donated the large parcel of land to the county, specifically for this purpose.
Fay admitted, ÒWeÕre not doing as well as some other benchmark communities. The challenge is, as Fairfax County gets more and more developed, it gets harder to find land.Ó
The Park Authority spent two years developing the Needs Assessment Report that abstracted the park and recreational needs of the various communities in the county. It identified the need for $376 million over the next 10 years to fund the many projects around the region. That figure is in stark contrast to the $122 million implemented by the Park Authority over the last decade. Fay said, ÒItÕs kind of like your own house. You keep putting off the paint job, and you find yourself with a valuable piece of property that needs a lot of expensive repairs.Ó
Turner countered, ÒYouÕre talking about bringing in as much in 10 years as we have had pretty much in the history of the county.Ó
FayÕs response underscored his position that the level of funding was warranted and that projects could be still dropped. Fay said, ÒJust tell us which ones you want to cut out, and weÕll cut them.Ó
The massive tract of land at Salona will not be a part of the bond, but funding options to buy the near 50 acres in the heart of McLean are being discussed. The DuVal family has offered the land to the county at a significantly reduced price under the caveat that it be turned into a public park.
ÒWe are very actively pursuing Salona, but it could realistically take the whole bond,Ó said Fay. ÒThe outcome is unpredictable because we are still in negotiations.Ó
Fay said that previously released figures for the county to acquire the Salona land were too low. ÒItÕs not $65 million. ItÕs very expensive. ItÕs not a part of the bond mechanism for the very reason that itÕs going to take some creative financing,Ó said Fay. He added, ÒWhile Salona is not on the bond, itÕs not far from it, and we are working on it.Ó
In the end, MCA changed the wording on the resolution of the 2004 Bond Referendum to express support of the bond and state that the group urges in this bond, and future bonds, that a greater portion of land is acquired with the funds than currently being considered.
Thirty-two members voted to support the new wording, four opposed it, and two abstained from voting. One abstainer was Dan DuVal, an owner of the Salona property. Adams joked DuVal did not vote Òbecause heÕs not getting any of the money.Ó