0
Votes

New Park Plan Strikes An Equitable Balance

Comments will be accepted by the NPS throughout July.

Unveiling their revised "Preferred Alternative" for the future development of Jones Point Park (JPP), the National Park Service (NPS) presented a compromise plan June 27 that addressed some of the most contentious issues that have stalked this project since they presented their initial proposal on August 18, 2001, just 23 days before the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 changed the ground rules.

Before a large audience at the Nannie J. Lee Center, David Vela, superintendent, George Washington Memorial Parkway, National Park Service, detailed the new alternative, designated "4A," that he described as "satisfying the goals of both the National Park Service and the City of Alexandria" for the redevelopment of Jones Point Park. He called it as "a carefully balanced program of active recreation, passive recreation, and interpretation of archeological, historic, cultural, and natural park features."

Central to his presentation was a revised plan for proposed multi-use athletic fields north and south of the new twin-span Woodrow Wilson Bridge and an increase in planned parking spaces from a previous 80 plus to 110. These would also be laid out in lines at the Potomac River end of the new access road.

"The purpose of this meeting is to share with you the revised draft Environmental Assessment. We will not be taking comments here tonight. Written comments may be submitted beginning tomorrow (June 28) through July 30. We have added a couple of days to allow for the July 4 holiday," Vela told the assembled audience of residents and local public officials.

"We will review and analyze all the comments following July 30. After that is completed a decision will be made as to either a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)" or a "Notice of Intent for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)." If a FONSI is issued, design and construction would follow. If an EIS is recommended, it would need to be funded and incorporated in the park's planning process," Vela explained.

He also pointed out that securing that funding and the ensuing environmental process would significantly lengthen the time to redevelop the park. VDOT has been pushing for a final decision because the Jones Point Park redevelopment is part of their commitment to complete projects the federal government is paying for under a mitigation agreement with Alexandria as part of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project.

"The new preferred alternative reflects public comment received during the Draft Environmental Assessment comment period beginning in August 2006. The Preferred Alternative would address resource management interests, enhance recreational opportunities, security issues, improve drainage conditions, and would minimize, as much as possible, the potential community and environmental effects of the proposed improvements," Vela said.

ALTHOUGH, there were those who still wanted two large athletic fields north of the bridge and those that wanted no athletic fields, either north or south of the bridge, most of those attending seemed to feel the Park Service had arrived at an equitable compromise. This assessment applied to not only the athletic fields but also when it came to a balance of active and passive recreation, historical preservation, access to the park and parking.

"I'm rather pleased with the plan I've seen so far. It seems to be protecting the neighborhoods and providing a balance in recreational facilities," said Alexandria's Vice Mayor Redella "Del" Pepper.

"But, I still want the federal government to return the parking they took away from under the bridge after 9/11," she said. The new plan does allow for an additional 160 parking spaces under the bridge for "secured event parking." However, use of these spaces would occur only under strict security measures that would meet federal requirements.

"It's close but still no cigar as far as what Council has voted for twice. But, the Park Service has proposed a plan that permits a compromise to satisfy most of the comments submitted after last August's meeting and it seems to satisfy most of the various constituencies," said Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille.

"This is a good compromise and almost identical to what I suggested to Council originally," said Councilman Paul C. Smedberg, who now co-chairs the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Neighborhood Task Force with Euille following the resignation of former Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald.

"My only concern is that 110 parking spaces may be too many. But, their configuration is much better," Smedberg said.

THAT NEW PARKING LAYOUT, coupled with only one smaller

athletic field north of bridge, also helps to mitigate another often voiced concern of residents during the planning process -- the potential loss of trees. However, it remained of concern at last Wednesday's meeting.

"The key question in my mind remains is how many trees are we going to lose. That's not spelled out," said Poul Hertel, civic activist and member of the Old Town Civic Association Board of Directors.

According to the plan some trees and brush will have to be removed from South Lee Street extended to South Royal Street to accommodate the newly configured park access road in order to have it conform to the 80 feet set back required by the federal government's security specifications. However, as Vela noted there will be reforestation both in the area of the road as well as east of South Lee Street extended.

ALTERNATIVE 4A contains the following similar components of the previous National Park Service preferred alternative: Park manager's office/comfort station; tot lot, promenade/boardwalk; access to the Mt.Vernon Trail; shoreline stabilization; proposed bulkhead, canoe/kayak launch, and fishing pier; rehabilitation of Jones Point Lighthouse and preservation of the D.C.South Cornerstone; and drainage improvements along the new access road.

Differences between the new Preferred Alternative and previously plan "relate to the location and orientation of the multi-use fields, the length of the access road, and the location and size of parking areas," according to Vela's presentation.

This plan addresses issues that were identified from previous park planning efforts, input from various interested public groups, individuals, and local, state, and federal agencies

Detailed elements of the new Preferred Alternative include the following:

110-space parking lot and vehicular turnaround located just west of the river.

One 110x60 yard multi-use field located south of the bridge approximately where such a field has traditionally existed.

One new 80x40 yard multi-use field located north of the bridge adjacent to two-thirds of the proposed parking spaces on the wetlands side of those spaces.

Tot lot relocated to the west and away from the river

Handicapped parking and access close to the waterfront and Mt.Vernon Trail.

Enhanced drainage infrastructure to address run-off.

Replaces the same amount of wetland acreage north of the bridge and east of South Lee Street.

Visual natural screening near the Yates Garden neighborhood.

Maintains natural surfaced playing fields with no lighting.

WHEN IT CAME to structure and use of the playing fields, Vela emphasized that those fields will be of "a natural surface at the present ground level." There will be no artificial turf or raised surface. There will also be no lighting for use after dark.

"Jones Point Park is part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. All of our facilities along the Parkway close at dark. That will also be the case for the park. Therefore, there will be no need for lighting," he said.

NPS will be accepting comments until the close of business on July 30. Their preferred method of receiving comments "is through the NPS Planning, Environment, and Public Comment" website at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/gwmp. Comments can also be mailed to: David Vela, Superintendent; Attn:Jones Point Park EA; George Washington Memorial Parkway; Turkey Run Park; McLean, VA 22101.