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Votes

Fields or Trees?

Candidates sound off on a proposal to chop down three acres of trees at Jones Point Park.

Last year, the City Council voted to chop down three acres of trees at Jones Point Park to build two sports fields. The controversial decision prompted outrage in the nearby Yates Gardens neighborhood, where many residents feel that the trees perform an important barrier to flooding from the Potomac River and noise from the Capital Beltway.

“Jones Point Park has already suffered substantial damage as a result of construction activity associated with the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge,” said former Yates Gardens Civic Association President Teresa Miller. “While it can be reasonable argued that damage to the park in the form of destroyed trees was a necessity of bridge construction, it cannot be argued that the further destruction of trees in the park is an absolute necessity.”

The council’s decision is currently under review by the National Park Service, which is expected to make a recommendation on what to do with the park in May. With the next City Council certain to make a decision about the park, candidates are taking various positions on cutting down the trees — indicating a tension between the urge to preserve trees in environmentally sensitive areas and the growing desire for sports fields. The city now has 53 sports fields, and many people think that it needs more.

“We have such a high demand that we are using our game fields two to three times higher than the recommended level because of the current demand on programs,” said Kirk Kincannon, director of the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities. “The practice areas are getting at least that much use.”

In June, Vice Mayor Del Pepper was the only member of City Council to vote against the recommendation. Councilman Andrew Macdonald abstained. The rest of the council supported the plan that would remove a thicket of trees, which include a 30-inch silver maple, a 27-inch silver maple and a 28-inch sycamore as well as thick undergrowth.

DEMOCRATS are mostly in favor of the plan. Only Pepper and Macdonald vowed to oppose future efforts to destroy three acres of trees in Jones Point Park.

“I think that we should preserve the trees that are there,” Pepper said. “That’s why I voted against the proposal.”

Councilman Macdonald agreed with Pepper, describing his abstention last June as a mistake.

“It was a loss of conscience,” he said. “I’m 100 percent opposed to this.”

Timothy Lovain, the only Democratic candidate who is not an incumbent, said that he probably would have supported the plan to cut down the trees. He cited a study being conducted by Leon Younger and Prose, an Indiana-based consulting firm, that is expected to conclude that Alexandria needs 45 more sports fields.

“That’s an indicator of how many fields we need,” Lovain said. “It’s a tough decision. But this is an area that’s now cheek by jowl by a neighborhood.”

Councilman Rob Krupicka, who introduced the motion to cut down the trees, stood by his vote. He said that he was concerned about the lack of playing fields in the city, and he said that he was waiting to read the recommendation from the Park Service that is expected to be released in May.

“If the environmental study says we can’t do two fields, then I think they owe us another field in the city,” Krupicka said. “If I can get the federal government to buy us a field, then it’s a win-win situation for us.”

Councilman Paul Smedberg said that although he was concerned about hydrology in the area, he wanted to see sports fields at Jones Point.

“I proposed a compromise of one field north of the bride and one field south of the bridge,” said Smedberg. “Something was going to happen, and I didn’t want to not do something there.”

Councilman Ludwig Gaines said that he stood by his vote. Although he said that he is concerned about the potential consequences of cutting down the trees, the need for sports fields was an important issue in the city.

“It was a very difficult decision, but we had competing needs,” Gaines said. “I’m convinced that we can put the playing fields at Jones Point while mitigating the environmental concerns.”

REPUBLICANS are opposed to the plan. Townsend Van Fleet called it an “egregious proposal” that would destroy an important environmental resource. He said that the city has failed to maintain its existing parks properly, and that he thinks the National Parks Service should assume control over Jones Point.

“Trees are a part of our ecosystem, and every time you tear down a tree you are hurting air quality,” Van Fleet said. “There are other ways to skin this cat.”

Bernie Shulz described the Jones Point decision as one example of poor decision making by the current City Council. He said that he would oppose the plan if he was elected.

“We’re going to knock down all these trees just to make sports fields? I don’t agree with it,” Shulz said. “I question whether we need fields in this area.”

Pat Troy said that the trees at Jones Point provide an important environmental function, and chopping them down would be a mistake.

“It’s part of the flow of the river, and I think it’s essential that we keep it,” Troy said. “We’ve got to have parks, but I don’t want those trees to be chopped down.”

Ken Foran said that if elected, he would oppose the plan to cut down the trees.

“In Germany, if you chop a tree down you have to replace it,” Foran said. “You can call me a tree hugger if you want, but I think this is a mistake.”

Craig Miller joined his colleagues in a unanimous Republican opposition to the plan.

“I’m very concerned about the environmental impact of what’s going on down there,” Miller said. “I want to keep out waterfront as pristine as possible.”