Four-plus years of effort to build a consensus among the various factions to be affected by the future development of Jones Point Park suffered major damage at last Wednesday night's meeting of the newly formed Jones Point Park Work Group. Charges and countercharges set the stage for an elongated battle that could have consequences well beyond the park's final design.
Kirk Kincannon, director, Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs, opened the meeting at the Nannie J. Lee Recreation Center, by announcing, "Our goal this evening is to try and come down to two concept designs to go to public hearing on May 4." That didn't happen.
What caused the uproar was the Alexandria-based landscape/architect consultants hired by the city, Rhodeside and Harwell, brought forth five primary potential park plans that did not include the Yates Gardens Plan. That plan, which the Yates Gardens Civic Association (YGCA) had been promised would be considered, does not include any athletic fields.
"These plans are out of touch with reality. This is a secret staff agenda. This is not how this should be handled," said Teresa Miller, representing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Neighborhood Task Force on the Work Group.
Elliot Rhodeside, who presented 14 concept designs which were narrowed down to the five, said, "We went back (after the first Work Group meeting) and looked at a lot of alternatives. We also met with the chairs of this group and we developed a criteria."
Those three chairs are Kincannon, Richard Baier, director, Alexandria Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, and Jean Taylor Federico, director, Office of Historic Alexandria. Baier was not present at last Wednesday's meeting.
"THE TWO PRIORITY items were parking and the athletic fields. We tried to develop concepts that would accommodate two fields and locate parking as close as possible to the park," Rhodeside said.
"One of the criteria we were given by the chairs was that the plans should provide for two athletic fields. We were not to present any plan that did not provide for the fields. Since the Yates Gardens plan did not meet that criteria it was excluded," Deana Rhodeside said after the meeting.
Rhodeside and Harwell's involvement with the Jones Point Park project originated prior to the commencement of bridge construction and involved park development on both the Virginia and Maryland side of the river, according to Deana Rhodeside. "We were originally retained by Potomac Crossings as part of the general engineering group. Now we work for the city," she said.
One of the primary reasons put forth by YGCA to exclude athletic fields, particularly north of the bridge, is the hydrology in the area between Jones Point Road and the wetlands. YGCA has repeatedly stated that fields in that location would have a potential adverse impact on those wetlands.
Miller and Richard Campbell, president, YGCA, have maintained that any disruption of the natural water flow in or around the wetlands could cause substantial future flooding within the Yates Gardens area of Old Town. The entire park area is within a flood zone. That zone extends to the intersection of South Lee and Green streets, according to City maps.
"Our consultant said there was no measurable increase in flood elevation of the Potomac River by placing the athletic fields north of the bridge (adjacent to the wetlands)," said Emily Baker, city engineer, T&ES. "They also didn't find anything that would add to the costs of maintaining the fields."
THIS ANALYSIS, plus the exclusion of the Yates Gardens Plan, brought forth a strenuous rebuttal from Julie Crenshaw, representing the Jones Point Park Stakeholder Panel on both the Work Group and the WWB Neighborhood Task Force. "This report needs considerably more comment. I have significant questions," she said.
"For this group to consider these fields without overall consideration of the wetlands is inexcusable. This hydrology [the city study] is so badly flawed I wonder what the process was to have Rhodeside make these drawings. And, we have never ignored the wishes of any group in all previous meetings," Crenshaw said.
"We can not let this [process] go forward to the next phase without all considerations being represented. This is an absolute travesty and I am ashamed of this city," she said.
Miller asked that Campbell be allowed to speak to the hydrology issue.
This was denied by Jinnie Benson, hired by the Recreation and Parks Department as a facilitator for Work Group meetings. Benson also denied Miller's request to allow Yvonne Weight, another member of the Neighborhood Task Force, to speak on behalf of the YGCA proposal.
Emphasizing that the Stakeholder Group is not a part of the city mechanism but federally constituted, Crenshaw said, "I'm sitting here to make sure the process is fair and gives information on all proposals. The plans should state all the facts to arrive at a good decision. If this does not happen, further down the road there will be problems."
Miller added, "I'm not comfortable where this group is going. It needs more credibility. There are too many here representing archeology and sports who aren't even citizens of Alexandria."
Miller's and Crenshaw's remarks brought forth a rebuttal by James Gibson, Youth Sports Advisory Group representative on the Work Group. "I am a citizen of Alexandria and a tax payer. And, I am not ashamed of this city," he said. "I am ashamed of the outburst here tonight. We work on sportsmanship in athletics."
Judy Guse-Noritake, representing the Parks and Recreation Commission, in defending the consultants said, "These are professional people. Some may not like what they are saying but we shouldn't cast dispersions on their professionalism."
She went on to point out, "We will be losing fields at Potomac Yards due to construction and Chicquapin Park due to construction at T.C. Williams. And, we are not sure when they will come back on line.
She also urged the group to concentrate on the parking issue which has caused major concern since the federal government barred parking under the new bridges as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. "I would hope we are still talking about parking in the park," she said.
"This is going to be a location where people come from throughout the region to use the bike trails. They are going to want to park in close to use those trails," Noritake said.
At the original meeting of the group, Noritake stated, "We view this park in the context of the whole city. We are stressed for recreation sites in this city."
LAST WEDNESDAY Noritake said, "With all due respect for the neighborhoods [in the Yates Gardens area], we need to put in the fields. Hopefully, with as much respect for those neighborhoods as possible."
In a letter dated Feb. 10 to Mayor William D. Euille and City Council, Noritake said, "As a city, we will continue to get more dense. The demands for active recreation are increasing everyday...The uses of existing parks will have to change to meet changing demands.
"I know many people would like Jones Point Park to stay the way it has been for the last 20 years, but concurrent with its reconstruction we need to plan now for its use 20 years into the future and not look to recreate the past."
However, during the group's first meeting "the past" was very much on the agenda with spokespersons from the Alexandria Archeology Commission and Historic Alexandria Resource Commission as well as Federico, Office of Historic Alexandria, serving as a chair. At that gathering, both the Archeology and Resource commission representatives argued against placing athletic fields south of the bridge.
"Any plan must give significance to the historic aspects of the park. We must maintain its vista and no features at all should be placed on the historic area [south of the bridge]. The Historic Commission is very much opposed to any sports activity south of the bridge, We take no position north of the bridge," Ellen Stanton, HARC, said at that time.
She was joined in that opinion by Kathleen Pepper, Archeology Commission. "South of the bridge should remain as passive recreational use and for the preservation of historical items. We [Alexandria Archeological Commission] voted to maintain the southern portion of the park in a natural state," Pepper said at the original meeting. They maintained that position during this session.
To emphasize their historic preservation aspect, a pamphlet was circulated during the original session under the aegis of the Archeology Commission and Historic Alexandria which stated, "Jones Point Park is a true time capsule." However, during last Wednesday's meeting Federico said, "When I came to last month's meeting I became aware of the great need for athletic fields."
She was buttressed by Kincannon, who appeared to override desires to outlaw any athletic fields south of the bridge. "Council asked us to look at a plan for fields. One field south of the bridge is within what Council asked us to look at," he said.
ADDRESSING the suggestion of placing at least one athletic field under the bridge, Kincannon said, "The intent is have a hard surface under the bridge and there are concerns for health and noise, as well as bridge maintenance needs. It will be a less desirable area."
Noritake added, "We [Park & Recreation Commission] have recommended to Council not to put artificial turf under the bridge. Putting a field under the bridge would not be desirable."
Kincannon finally concluded, "The intent was to get to some conclusion tonight. But, it looks like we are not going to get there."
Following the meeting Kincannon said, "We were asked to form a Work Group to listen to the broader community — all who had a stake in the park. This group was not established to replace the Neighborhood Task Force. And, what we've heard now is that the Yates Garden group is willing to consider one athletic field."
He also noted, in reaction to a question concerning putting lights in the park for night activities, "We have no desire for lights in the park and never have."
The next meeting of the Work Group, scheduled for May 4 at Lee Center, is to be a public hearing. Proposals will included one from YGCA calling for one athletic field south of the completed bridge project, according to Kincannon.
A final staff report is scheduled to be presented to Council on May 24. Council is planning a public hearing on the proposals in June. A city recommendation for park development will then go to the National Park Service, owner of Jones Point Park.