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Parking to Shape Park

Citizens have their say before JPP Work Group

Moving last Wednesday's meeting of the Jones Point Park Work Group out of the Lee Center, where the two previous sessions had been held, did not dampen the attendance of those intent on expressing their opinions. Nearly, 30 speakers showed up for the group's first public hearing session.

Held in the cafeteria of George Washington Middle School, this meeting concentrated on public input concerning five possible scenarios in the planned development of the park, following completion of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project. All but one called for the establishment of at least one athletic field to be created either north or south of the new twin spans.

However, soon after Kirk Kincannon, director, Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs, opened the floor to public speakers, it became apparent that future park uses were intimately connected to the location and size of future park parking facilities.

"THE ONE THING we haven't spent a lot of time on is parking. We need to make sure the neighborhoods are not impacted adversely. And, it's important for the future park uses to have parking to support them," Kincannon said.

"This Work Group is here to hear all the issues and then our charge is to present a range of alternatives to City Council," he said. City Council will then make its recommendation or recommendations to the National Park Service, owner of Jones Point Park.

At the outset, Richard Baier, director, Alexandria Transportation and Environmental Services Administration (ATESA), reviewed a "Technical Memorandum" addressing the hydrology question at the spot where athletic fields north of the new bridge have been shown on three of the design schemes. Questions have been raised from the beginning as to the appropriateness of this location due to potential flooding and a high water table that impacts the abutting wetlands.

Undertaken for ATESA by EarthTech, a local consulting firm that also did the feasibility study for the Department of Parks and Recreation pertaining to the proposed All-City Sports Facility, the study concluded, "Playing fields will have no impact on the Potomac River floodplain in the area of Jones Point. Any future flood events will not be exacerbated by these playing fields."

Facing criticism of that conclusion, Baier said, "The study was to address two things. One, can fields be built there [north of the bridge]? And, two, what would happen if fields are built there? Before any fields are built there needs to be a much more detailed [hydraulic review] study done."

FIVE "SCHEMES" for proposed park development were presented. Speakers, at the end of their individual remarks, were asked to state their preference as to which they supported. Parking was not designated on any of the five renderings.

However, it was the parking issue that reopened the entire debate following the federal government's refusal to permit parking under the new bridge due to a perceived terrorist threat following 9/11. Original park plans called for 240 parking spaces to be located within the park confines under the new bridge.

The five schemes addressed at the public hearing were:

A - Two athletic fields north of the bridge - one east/west; one north/south

B - Two fields north of the bridge - both east/west

C - One multi-use field north of the bridge; one small field south of the bridge

D - One small field south of the bridge

E - No fields - Park to be used for passive and river recreation only

In answer to a request to remove the one field option from consideration prior to public comment, Kincannon said, "The city manager has urged that all options be available." This was buttressed by Baier who noted, "This is an open public hearing so all options are available for comment." Kincannon and Baier serve as chairs of the Work Group along with Jean Taylor Federico, director, Office of Historic Alexandria.

AS LEAD-OFF SPEAKER, Mark O. Wilkoff, chairman, Alexandria School Board, who was speaking for himself, said, "Over and over again we say how important these fields are for our youth. But, they are critically important for our entire city."

He was followed by Richard Miller, a resident of the 800 block of South Lee Street, husband of Tersea Miller, a member of the Work Group. "All citizens who have concerns about Jones Point Park should be encouraged to voice those concerns," he said.

"But, I think this group is composed of more who are predisposed to place two soccer fields north of the bridge. And, this calls into question the credibility of this Work Group," Miller said.

Frank Putzu, a resident of Juliana Place, and active in his civic association, maintained that, "Youth sports in or near a residential neighborhood are in no way disruptive to family life."

A question had been raised about night athletic events and lights disrupting neighborhood life. Kincannon assured the audience, "There are no plans to light any fields at Jones Point Park."

When questioned by one speaker if the city had contacted "the Corps of Engineers or FEMA" to determine if the proposed fields could be located in a flood plain, Baier said, "No fields are planned in the wetlands. Therefore, these fields are outside federal jurisdiction."

Judy Guse-Noritake, a member of the Work Group representing the Parks and Recreation Commission, asked if the park was "actually a national park." A representative of the National Park Service assured her it was. The entire park is a National Park owned by the NPS and leased to the city. It is also completely within a flood zone, according to city maps.

Richard Campbell, president, Yates Gardens Civic Association, pointed out that losing the 240 parking places, originally envisioned under the bridge, changed the entire equation of the park's proposed development. "When you lose all those spaces you have to reevaluate everything," he said.

This was backed by Michael Hobbs, president, Old Town Civic Association (OTCA). "The planned uses and the planned provision for parking are integrally related: neither can be effectively address in isolation from the other," he said.

"We [OTCA] believe it is imperative: One, that the uses of the park and the parking provided for those uses be coordinated so that their essential balance be maintained. And, two, that the park be configured so as to minimize any damage to the natural, recreational and historical uses of the park and the surrounding neighborhoods due to relocation of the parking," Hobbs said.

When it came to OTCA's endorsement of a particular plan, Hobbs said, "We believe that a single, smaller sized soccer field south of the bridge span would best meet the objective of optimizing the public benefit of this park while minimizing the damage to other uses of the park and the adjacent neighborhood."

REFERRING to the city's Open Space Plan, Yvonne Weight, a member of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Neighborhood Task Force, said, "If you look at this plan it becomes overwhelmingly obvious that this park should be maintained as passive use." Being in the flood plain, the open space plan notes, "active uses may have a negative impact on adjacent properties," she said.

Jennifer Bright, a South Lee Street resident, raised the issue of public safety due to increased traffic mixing with a rise in young family residents with small children in the same area. "This is a higher priority than either the recreational needs or the environmental issues," she said.

"I'm more concerned about the volume of traffic these fields will generate," Bright said.

Those arguing in favor of athletics field were overwhelmingly in favor of schemes A or B calling for two field north of the bridge. They based their position on the contention that the city lacks athletic facilities overall coupled with an increased interests in active sports from children to adults.

Jeff Murphy, a Sutton Place resident, parent of four boys, and a coach at T.C. Williams High School, said, "We are badly in need of more athletic fields," noting that fields had been lost due to construction of the new high school. When questioned by Work Group member Julie Crenshaw if he would "take fields wherever he could get them," Murphy answered "Yes."

The only testimony to draw any real adverse crowd reaction was when Svien Abramson, a supporter of either of the two field options, suggested taking away one of the community gardens in the immediate vicinity of the park for parking. "Those gardens are operated on a separate lease with the National Park Service," Kincannon said.

"Jones Point Park should be like any other park in this city. It should be for all ages. It needs to be for passive recreation as much as it needs to be used for anything else," Katy Canady said.

"To act like we must give this over to active recreation is very short sighted. The community gardens, here and elsewhere in the city, are a recreational use that should be a consideration as much as any other use," she said.

"I would support no more than one soccer field south of the bridge. This park should be intergenerational," Canady said.

According to Kincannon on Monday, following a review of their meeting notes, 17 speakers favored the establishment of one or more athletic fields in the park while seven favored no fields. He announced that the next Work Group meeting will take place in approximately two weeks.

At that time the first 30 minutes will be devoted to additional public comments. There will be another public hearing in June prior to the City Council submission, according Kincannon. No dates or locations for either have been established.