If last Saturday's attendance at the National Park Service Open House — designed to gain input from the public on the future development of Jones Point Park — is any indicator, the interest level is approaching comatose. According to Park Service figures, only 42 people attended and few completed a comment form.
Three walls of the ballroom at the Radisson Hotel Old Town displayed four alternative designs for the park as well as the Park Service's timetable for actions and a description of the planning process. The ultimate decision is projected for the winter of 2005 or spring 2006.
The one design option missing from both the pre-open house literature and the easels in the ballroom was the so-called original "Yates Gardens" Alternative which did not provide for any athletic fields in the park. However, there was a version of the Yates Gardens Civic Association preference showing one athletic field south of the completed bridge which was designated "Alternative 4."
"We decided that no playing field was not acceptable based on the financial settlement with the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project," said Audrey F. Calhoun, superintendent, George Washington Memorial Parkway, National Park Service. The Park Service owns Jones Point Park as a part of its national open space inventory. The city leases the site.
"We had hoped that a lot more people would turn out. But, I think we were competing with the weather. This was the first nice weekend in a while and many people probably had other things to do or wanted to be outside," Calhoun said.
As for any preference shown for the four alternative designs, "reactions seemed to be all over the place. There was no real clear preference indicated," Calhoun said. However, attendees were given the option to either e-mail or regular mail in their comments, according to Calhoun. "People took the forms with them saying they needed more time to put their thoughts down. They have until Nov. 4 to get them into us," she said.
ARRIVING AT AN NPS recommendation is a 10-step process. "This is actually step four — getting the public reactions and comments. After we get all those comments we move to steps five and six which entails compiling and analyzing the input as well as identifying alternative approaches," Calhoun said.
Steps seven and eight require preparing a draft Environmental Assessment. This evaluates the environmental impacts of the alternatives and identifies a preferred alternative, if one is selected. Steps nine and 10 call for making the preferred alternative available to the public for further comment. A final environmental assessment is then prepared that includes those public comments as part of the draft document.
The final step is the publication of a "Finding of No Significance" or a "Notice of Intent" to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, "if it is determined one is needed to make a decision," according to the Open House literature. The conclusion is then published in the Federal Register.
"If we find there is a severe impact to the environmental resources that can not be mitigated, that's when we go to a Notice of Intent to prepare an environmental impact study," she said. The public review will be a public meeting, according to Calhoun.
"We still feel we have an opportunity to change the outcome based on the environmental impact," said Richard Campbell, president, Yates Gardens Civic Association. Nearby residents of the park and others living in the adjacent Old Town area have been vocal in their opposition to any athletic fields north of the new spans.
As indicated on two of the alternative plans displayed at the open house, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has done further study of the site and found that wetlands would be impacted by athletic fields north of the new bridge. In the case of Alternative 1 a wetlands patch touches the western rim of one proposed field and in Alternative 2 a wetlands patch is within the western side of one proposed field.
Alternatives 2, 3 and 4 all call for parking at various plots north of the new bridge adjacent to the proposed athletic fields. Alternative 1 places all parking at three sites between South Lee Street extended and South Royal Street.
PARKING HAS POSED a stumbling block to park development planning since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. These caused the federal government to outlaw parking under the new bridge unless strict security measures are enforced. This resulted in a loss of approximately 240 spaces which would have been located in an area traditionally accessible to park users.
Access to the park was also adversely impacted by the events of 9/11 since the future Jones Point Drive is required to have an "80-foot offset" due to federal government security concerns. According to NPS literature, "that negates the use of Jones Point Drive as an access point" as it presently exists. Three of the four alternatives show a new access road.
At various public meetings pertaining to future park development, parking has sparked debate among the various factions. Literature for Saturday's open house specifically stated, "Changes in parking and access in the park must not impact adjacent neighborhoods."
Saturday's open house also afforded those attending the opportunity to meet Calhoun's successor, following her retirement on Oct. 28. William Carroll, a 30-year veteran of the Park Service, is presently stationed in Ohio with NPS.
"I will be arriving here sometime in early December," he said. "Until then my deputy will be overseeing things," Calhoun added.