Years of wrangling came to an end on July 14 when a Master Plan for Nottoway Park was approved by the Fairfax County Planning Commission.
Nottoway is an approximately 90-acre park located on Courthouse Road, just outside the Town of Vienna. It includes one soccer and five baseball fields, a volleyball pit, six tennis courts, three basketball courts and playground space.
Nottoway also has open areas, picnic shelters, 346 parking spaces, trails through wooded areas and is home to the historic Hunter House.
The Master Plan was under periodic review by the Fairfax County Park Authority. Early in the process, the authority proposed removing some trees in order to install a maintenance facility, among some other changes.
Amid strong citizen opposition, the authority deleted the maintenance facility and then proposed removal of a different section of trees, about 3 acres, to make room for a soccer field. The authority does not currently have funding to implement the construction of the field. Also included in the plan is a new, 6.75-acre wooded area that the Park Authority purchased. The new area is to be left undisturbed.
Although public hearings had taken place during the Master Plan revision, residents were upset that no formal public hearing took place after the release of the plan including the soccer field. Residents did have an opportunity to submit written comments. The Park Authority Board approved the plan unanimously in December 2004.
The plan was then sent to the Fairfax County Planning Commission for review. Under state law, the commission must review such projects to ensure that they are in conformance with the county’s Comprehensive Plan in terms of location, character and extent. The plan is not subject to further review.
THE PLANNING COMMISSION conducted a public hearing on May 19. Since then, the Master Plan has been revised to clarify the trails system in relation to the new field.
Planning Commissioner Ken Lawrence (Providence) noted that the Planning Commission does not have the authority to comment on Park Authority procedures. “The Fairfax County Park Authority is a legally separate entity,” Lawrence said. “The Park Authority is responsible for its own planning process.”
The park’s location and size are not changing much, Lawrence said. “The crux of the decision, I believe, is whether or not [the new field] would substantially alter the character of the park,” he said.
The park already has soccer fields, and will continue to have trees, in fact a net gain of 3.75 acres of trees, Lawrence said. “In my judgment, this does not constitute a substantial change in the general land use,” Lawrence said.
Commissioner Laurie Frost Wilson (At-Large) took issue with the process. While she did not believe that the substance of the plan was flawed, she thought the Park Authority should have conducted another public hearing — particularly since the trails were revised. “I do not believe the legal process that the Park Authority Board must hold … were followed in this case," she said.
A hearing should have been taken place after the revision to the trails plan, something Wilson said she could not even research on her own.
Other members of the commission disagreed. “If there is any substantial change to Nottoway Park, it is a change for the better,” said Commission Chair Peter Murphy (Springfield).
Commissioner Walter Alcorn (At-large) disagreed that a new hearing was necessary, saying that the point of hearings is to then make revisions based on the public comments. “You don’t then necessarily go back and have a whole new public hearing after you make those changes,” he said.
The commission voted 9-1 in favor of the plan. Wilson was opposed, Commissioner John Byers (Mount Vernon) abstained and Rodney Lusk (Lee) was absent.
After the vote, Murphy hailed the plan. He said that his only problem with it was in removing the maintenance facility. Not maintaining park facilities properly will be far more expensive in the long run, he said. “We need to have maintenance facilities in our parks,” he said. “Let’s get real.”
Commissioner Frank de la Fe (Hunter Mill) agreed. “I wasn’t going to say a word,” he said. “But I’m glad you did.”