“Now that the Nova Board feels we’re serious about it, now we’re getting somewhere.” — Councilman John Chapman
With all of the discussion going on around the city’s long-term plans for Cameron Run Park, Councilman Timothy Lovain had an idea: take a visit to the park himself and see what kind of activities go on there during the average winter day. The city is in need of greater park space, and its eye has turned towards Cameron Run, dominated by a large aquatic facility that’s closed during the fall and winter.
“It was the middle of the day on Sunday,” said Lovain. “I was there for 45 minutes. One car came into the parking lot, turned around, then drove back out again. A bicyclist stopped at a picnic table. Those were the only other humans I saw. Whatever happens, we need much more intensive and year round use of this park. With the recreation needs we have, that’s imperative.”
The city’s relationship with the Northern Virginia Parks Authority (Nova Parks) over Cameron Run has been a source of frustration at meetings throughout the year as the city decides whether or not to renew its lease. While the City Council ultimately decided at the Dec. 16 meeting to try to continue working with Nova Parks over the next few months to find a mutually agreeable solution, it’s clear something will have to change at Cameron Run.
The City Council voted to endorse seven priorities for Cameron Run park as the guiding principles of the park’s future in city plans. The priorities are for a well maintained and accessible park that fits the needs of city residents year-round. The park should offer some amenities for free and family entertainment for a reasonable cost, while not putting an undue burden on city resources. One priority called for the site to have an aquatic use, though whether that facility is some form of the existing water park of a new indoor facility is to be determined.
Since the topic was brought up for discussion at the Nov. 14 City Council meeting, Jack Browand, division chief for the Department of Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities, said Nova Parks came to the table with the city to discuss how to frame a potential partnership.
“I’m concerned about continuing a partnership with them,” said Councilman Paul Smedberg. “We have to ask that tough question, have they been good partners up to this point?”
“It’s unfortunate to see, at the last minute, new energy injected into the conversation the city has been talking about for years; about having a year-round space,” said Councilman John Chapman. “Now that the Nova Board feels we’re serious about it, now we’re getting somewhere.”
Many of the Alexandria citizens speaking on the public hearing expressed similar frustrations about the handling of Cameron Run Park.
“There’s batting cages, but not much else to do there,” said Daniel Beeson, a resident of Cameron Park and representing the Eisenhower Partnership. “There are things that could be done to make it happen. The [Eisenhower] area is going to be a mini-Manhattan… and there’s a 20-30 year process for West End development as well. This will become a central park. It represents a major opportunity for green space for folks living and working there in the near future.’
Jennifer Adkins, chair of park and rec commission, also emphasized the need for year-round facilities at Cameron Run Park and said Nova Parks had been largely non-responsive to requests from the city to work towards that.
“Throughout this process, across many public meetings, we would periodically ask representative of Nova Parks ‘Hey, what about partnering with us to invest in aquatics center or indoor pool use?’ No. How about investing in this way or that way to transform park? The answer was consistently no. At one point, they came up with a plan they said would do something: add a lazy river, which is still a seasonal use, and throw a dog park into a corner to get dog park people to come and testify. It did not reflect an understanding at all of these priorities. [It] did not reflect anything we’d discussed with the public.”
Like Chapman, Adkins said she was happy to hear Nova Parks start to express an interest in partnering towards the goals but was frustrated it took threatening to not renew their lease for it to happen.
“OK, why did this suddenly come up in mid-November?” Adkins said. “Because all of the sudden the city is taking a hard look at this city asset and trying to figure out how to best use it to serve its citizens.”
But for many on the council, despite these frustrations, it was too early to give up quite yet on the Nova Parks partnership.
“I think after 36 years of an arrangement between city and Nova Parks, that in a way, they have earned the right of first refusal to negotiations,” said Lovain. “To strike them completely opens up a can of worms. To have a nine-month window to first try to negotiate with Nova Parks and at the end, if those are unsuccessful, then existing lease will expire.”
As part of the consideration of interim and long-term uses for Cameron Park, the City Council declared that if partnership negotiations based upon the priorities are unsuccessful by Sept. 30, 2018, then the existing lease would expire on July 1, 2021 and the Cameron Run parkland would revert to city control and custody for use for public park and recreation purposed with the goal that it become a recreational complex providing year-round active and passive uses.