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Letter to the Editor: Best Use of Hensley Park?

— If you care about kids in Alexandra, listen up. The City Council is about to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to a private developer to lease for 40 years 14 acres of Alexandria playing fields at Hensley Park on Eisenhower Avenue. Developers would build an elite sports club there that, according to their own model, could cost the typical Alexandria family of four $4,900 to join and $4,200 a year thereafter just to belong.

Moreover, according to statements of their attorney at a July 19 meeting of the Alexandria Parks and Recreation Committee, the developers would not pay cash for the lease from the city. Instead they would provide an equivalent level of club services, to be distributed in playing time as city officials might designate. Meanwhile hundreds of Alexandria kids (and adults) would be denied the use of three existing softball and one football-sized field at Hensley Park for at least 40 years and probably beyond.

To its credit, the Parks and Recreation Commission, and particularly its chair person, Judy Noritake, has expressed strong reservations to the proposal that would transform Hensley Park from much-used playing fields, open to all our citizens, to a regional playground for the rich. You might think that City Council would immediately have turned this down. But no, the process is moving forward to issue a request for proposals (RFP), likely to be answered only by the initial proposing developers. Just issuing that RFP would signal: “Yes, Alexandria is willing to bargain away its scarce park land to the highest bidder.”

Rather than moving forward on the RFP, the City Council should hold a public hearing at an early date in the fall that discusses the ethical and public policy principles that should underlay the disposal of city open space, and indeed if that should even be considered. Listen to the community, including the Parks and Recreation Commission, and then decide whether to go ahead with an RFP. If public opinion is negative, drop the idea and move forward on other plans for Hensley Park, some already drawn up by the city staff. Those plans, by the way, include our kids, not exclude them by imposing prices only plutocrats can pay.

I urge everyone who reads this letter to learn themselves about the proposal and then write, call or e-mail City Council to express a view. My confidence is that with an informed response from the rank and file of Alexandria citizens, our kids will continue to have Hensley Park as a place to play ball.

Jack Sullivan

Alexandria