Latest Jones Point Plan Challenged

Latest Jones Point Plan Challenged

Latest plan by National Park Service re-ignites emotions on both sides.

If nothing else, the ultimate design of Jones Point Park, when finally approved, can be credited with increasing the sale and consumption of blood pressure medication. That became evident by the volume of e-mails received following the presentation the National Park Service's new Preferred Alternative 4A.

The June 27 presentation by David Vela, superintendent, George Washington Memorial Parkway, National Park Service, was intended as an information session only, and not a forum for public comment. So the only audience participation occurred at the various display areas. This did not mean acceptance of the new plan. Rather, it proved to be one more example of widening that schism between various groups..

Ever since the design of the park had to be revisited following the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 there has been ongoing controversy. The primary trigger is the removal of daily parking from under the new twin-span Woodrow Wilson Bridge mandated by the Federal Government as a security precaution. That requirement took out of play an estimated 260-plus parking spaces. It was exacerbated by the additional Federal requirement that Jones Point Road into the park be situated 80 feet away from the overhead roadway.

Prior to those actions Alexandria City Council had approved a design plan that called for a combination of active and passive recreation, archeological preservation, and access to the river for recreational purposes. That plan contained two large athletic fields north of the bridge adjacent to the wetlands.

There was opposition to those fields from the beginning, at that location and in general, for both environmental/hydrological and archeological reasons. However, opposition grew exponentially with removal of under-the-bridge parking.

The fear expressed by many in the neighborhoods near the park was that parking and traffic would become a constant source of irritation to residents due to use of the fields. Therefore, a concerted efforts has been made to have no athletic fields in Jones Point Park or to have only one field south of the bridge with increased parking within the confines of the park in line with federal requirements.

IN AUGUST 2006 the NPS unveiled its Preferred Alternative 4 which called for no athletic fields north of the bridge and one field south. It then accepted public comments. Based on those comments and in an attempt to "to conserve the natural and cultural resources, provide opportunities for interpretation and education, and provide a balance of active and passive recreation," according to Vela's presentation, the NPS unveiled a revised version, identified as 4A on June 27.

That, coupled with the story in the July 5 Gazette Packet, reinvigorated the dispute. This was particularly true of those advocating no athletic fields north of the bridge.

Those in favor of such fields were conspicuous by their absence from the recent meeting at Lee Center and in their lack of overt reaction to the new 4A Preferred Alternative. Reaction from those opposed to Preferred Alternative 4A was swift and combative. On July 2, a memorandum was distributed by Karen Simon entitled: "Heads up on Info on Comments for NPS New Alternative to Add A Regulation Sized Soccer Field to Jones Point Park."

It's opening line reads, "This is a "heads up" regarding what the plans are for the "attack" on the National Park Service change in their selected alternative for Jones Point Park.

Simon also maintains, "I have heard from reliable sources that the National Park Service wants our comments against this revision. We are preparing a petition ... targeting St. Mary's parents, fishermen, Old Town Civic Association, gardeners, Ford's Landing, Federation of Civic Associations, and other groups. Our goal is to get 2,000 signatures."

THE CLAIM that U.S.Rep. James Moran (D-8) has applied political pressure on the NPS to back the City Council preferred alternative is referred to by several emails of those expressing their displeasure with the story on Vela's presentation of June 27. Most of those anti-Moran comments either imply or overtly state that his influence was exercised covertly.

However, on Oct. 18, 2006, following the August unveiling of NPS's Preferred Alternative 4, Moran sent a letter to Vela sharply criticizing the Park Service's decision to advance that alternative. There is nothing covert about the letter.

Reviewing the overall history of the Settlement/Mitigation plan associated with the WWB Project and the future of Jones Point Park, Moran states, "I find it incomprehensible that, in the pending EA, the National Park service has rejected the Settlement Plan (as well as the federal commitment to undertake it), the City Pre-9/11 Plan, the common vision for JPP that it shared with Alexandria in 2001, and the partnership it had built with Alexandria over the years.

"And, I find it equally incomprehensive that it has proposed an entirely different "preferred alternative" for JPP - indeed, one that bears no resemblance to the earlier plans, breaks that partnership, and effectively destroys the vision."

He concludes his criticism of NPS's Preferred Alternative 4 by stating, "The new "preferred alternative" has another, less obvious consequence. It will not be a park that offers a broad array of different spaces and uses that attract residents from throughout the city. Instead, it will be a park that attracts far fewer users and, over time, will become a park for a small part of Alexandria. This is not what Jones Point Park has been or should be."