Arlington: County Board Clashes Over Playground Construction

Arlington: County Board Clashes Over Playground Construction

If there’s one place in Arlington where you're likely to see more arguments than at a playground, it's the County Board. An argument between neighborhood residents against their civic association and the Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee escalated to a disagreement between members of the County Board, but one that ended with unanimous approval.

A $800,000 upgrade to the Nelly Curtis Park was presented to the County Board would include a new playground, which upset some residents in the newly formed “Friends of Aurora Highlands Park,” who argue that the area already has an overabundance of playgrounds and needs more green space.

Sarah McKinley, chair of the Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee, defended the upgrade. McKinley noted that other features in the plan, like the playground scale and the tricycle loop originally planned, had all been reduced or eliminated as part of trying to compromise with concerned neighbors.

“We’re never going to have a project that is [supported by] 100 percent of the community, but we do have clear support,” said McKinley, who argued that allowing the opposition from the local residents would subvert the process and “hijack democracy.”

Though there is a playground directly across the street from the planned one at Nelly Curtis park, County staff noted that the playground served a 2 to 5 age range, and the new park would serve ages 5 through 12, but some still had concerns.

“I feel very uneasy, given the concerns that [a minority in the community] have raised,” said County Board Member John Vihstadt. “Some of the answers from staff we’re hearing for the first time tonight.”

Vihstadt said that he would prefer the board defer the item until March for a more robust debriefing. Vihstadt said he was unsure whether the opposition had legitimate issues with the process or if they were just sour over the playground being built. But this wasn’t a view shared by his County Board colleagues. County Board Member Jay Fisette echoed McKinley’s argument that the process had included input from the disgruntled neighbors and that allowing their frustrations to stall the park development would be a disservice to the democratic process.

“I think the Neighborhood Conservation program is a citizen-driven, grassroots program that’s incredible democratic,” said Fisette. “It isn’t perfect, but it evolves itself. The community drives that process. I haven’t voted against an [Neighborhood Conservation] project, I don’t see it as my role to second guess.”

Ultimately, Vihstadt said he didn’t disagree with the park project enough to vote against it, and the board unanimously approved the upgrade to Nelly Curtis park.