No athletic fields north of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge adjacent to the wetlands within the area of Jones Point Park.
That is the recommendation of the National Park Service as a result of their Environmental Assessment Report released Aug. 18. The public and Alexandria government officials, elected and others, now have until Oct. 18 to express their opinions either in writing, via the internet, or during a public hearing set for Sept. 13 at the Radisson Old Town, 901 N. Fairfax St., from 6 to 9 p.m.
"We will have a court reporter present at the public session to record all comments. However, verbal testimony will be limited to three minutes at that hearing," said Brent O'Neill, environment protection specialist, George Washington Memorial Parkway, National Park Service. Written comments can also be presented at the public hearing.
Of the five alternative plans under consideration for the future development of Jones Point Park, the National Park Service, after an extensive environmental assessment of the site, chose "Alternative Four" as their "Preferred Alternative." This provides for maintaining the existing "multi-use" field south of the bridge within the park's primary area.
NPS's preference also addresses the other major stumbling block in utilization of the future park — parking. Alternative Four, as specified by NPS, establishes an 81-space parking area north of the bridge, near the river, in the vicinity of the existing parking area now being used as a bridge construction staging area.
Another 159 spaces under the new bridge are only available for designated events in the park and would be controlled by security measures, according to the report.
Parking under the bridge, as designated on original proposals for park development, was outlawed by the U.S. government for bridge security reasons following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. This removed more than 200 spaces.
In its report NPS said that "Alternative 4 is the environmentally preferred alternative based on its protection of environmental and cultural resources, widest range of beneficial uses without degradation, and benefits to visitor use and experience."
Alternative Four would also maintain a somewhat realigned access road leading from South Royal Street to the 81-space parking area. Different from the existing Jones Point Road, the new access road would bend north at the intersection with South Lee Street extended and join with South Royal Street at a turnaround adjacent to the South Royal Street community gardens.
The Preferred Alternative is basically the second plan submitted by the Yates Gardens Association which has objected to the development of any athletic fields north of the bridge based on a potential increase in flooding to the immediate residential area during heavy storms and potential damage to the wetlands. Their original proposal for no changes to Jones Point Park, or Alternative Five, was rejected by NPS.
Addressing flooding and vegetation damage concerns, NPS, in recommending Alternative Four, stated, "The Preferred Alternative minimizes impacts to resources [i.e.: forest cover and wetlands-through mitigation] and improves drainage conditions.
"This document acknowledges the issues highlighted through citizen comments and supports the proposed action to minimize, as much as possible, the potential effects of improvements to JPP. Though both supporting and dissenting comments were received, the Preferred Alternative considers all of the comments and serves as a compromise that provides a balance between them."
WHETHER THAT "BALANCE" REMAINS will be played out over the 60 day comment period. Based on reactions from various factions since last Friday that is somewhat speculative.
"We appreciate the hard work of the National Park Service and understanding the need of the this park being used for recreational purposes. However, we, as a City Council, are not pleased with their recommendation. But, we will continue to work with it accordingly," said Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille.
"We want multi-uses of recreational facilities. That will be part of the city's comments back to the park service," he said.
However, in apparently speaking for City Council, Euille's assessment of the NPS Preferred Alternative seemed to be contradicted by both the present and former vice mayors. "I agree 100 percent with their [NPS] Preferred Alternative. They put the emphasis exactly where they should. This treats all of the interests fairly," said Alexandria Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald.
"I think this will definitely turn out to be the better plan. It will maintain the wetlands and vegetation which is very important. I also like having parking near the water to aid people in gaining access to the river," said city councilwoman Redella "Del" Pepper.
"I think it’s important to maintain the athletic field south of the bridge. It's also good to provide for potential parking under the bridge for city events. Overall it’s a good report that strikes a good balance," she said.
That opinion was not shared by Judy Guse-Noritake, chair, Alexandria Park and Recreation Commission, a strong advocate for two full size athletic fields north of the bridge abutting the wetlands. "My first impression is that in general the Preferred Alternative doesn't seem to please anybody," she said.
"One of the things that cuts across everything is that no one wanted to see an emphasis on parking," Noritake said. However, parking has been a primary concern since under-the-bridge restrictions were imposed as a result of Sept. 11. Parking has generated extensive analysis and long discussions at both Woodrow Wilson Bridge Neighborhood Task Force meetings and sessions dealing with future JPP plans.
"I don't want to see it [the report] carried through with factual errors. Because we lease the park from the NPS it’s critical for people to weigh in. I would encourage everyone in the community to comment," Noritake said.
On the flip side was Teresa Miller, member, Yates Gardens Civic Association and WWB Neighborhood Task Force, who has been an equally strong advocate for no athletic fields north of the bridge. "We always hoped the Park Service would step up to the plate and show the same concern for Jones Point Park they have shown for all national parks," she said.
"The new superintendent [David Vela, George Washington Memorial Parkway] gets tremendous applause for recommending no athletic fields north of the bridge. That will protect our homes from potential flooding and the wetlands. This result is the work of hundreds of people over the years," Miller said.
Another outspoken advocate for protecting the wetlands from any encroachment was Richard Campbell, a hydrologist and former president, Yates Gardens Civic Association, who called from his new home in Atlanta, Georgia, after hearing of the report's recommendation. "I think this is a vindication of all we have been saying all along," he said.
"The hydrology of the wetlands has to be protected. There should be no development next to the wetlands other than what has always been there," Campbell said.
The two City departments most impacted by the report and the future of Jones Point Park from both recreational and environmental standpoints are Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities and Transportation & Environmental Resources. Both will be called upon to evaluate the report's recommendations during the comment period.
"We need to look at it very thoroughly because it is not what we put forward in June. Our plan is to have our analysis and recommendations ready for presentation to Council on Sept. 12," said Kirk Kincannon, director, Parks & Recreation.
"It's kind of misleading to show event parking under the bridge. It could be very expensive for us [the City] to provide special parking there during an event that would meet the security requirements of the federal Government. We also need to look at our long range recreational development plans if the two fields north of the bridge are not to be developed," Kincannon said.
Richard Baier, director, Transportation & Environmental Services, sees the report as "trying to balance all the needs." His department serves as direct liaison with Virginia Department of Transportation on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project and the project's impact on the park and its environs.
"They [NPS] took a lot of time in developing this report. They are obviously putting a lot of emphasis on community issues and listening very intently to the community. They have put a lot of emphasis on the wetlands and any intensified uses that might impact those wetlands," Baier said.
Printed copies of the report are available for public view at the following locations: George Washington Memorial Parkway Headquarters, Turkey Run Park, McLean; Potomac Crossing Consultant Headquarters, 2901 Eisenhower Ave., Unit C, Alexandria (WWB Project headquarters); Libraries throughout the City of Alexandria; Sherwood Hall Regional, Martha Washington, and John Marshall libraries in Fairfax County; Arlington Central Library in Arlington; on the NPS Planning, Environment & Public Comment Web site at http//parkplanning.nps.gov/gwmp.
Comment correspondence should be addressed to David Vela, Superintendent, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Turkey Run Park, McLean, VA 22101. NPS will consider all comments postmarked by "the close of public view period," Oct. 18.