Plans for a new Lorton Community Center next to the Lorton Library off Richmond Highway are moving along, but not everyone is supportive. Some argue there are better locations that would be more suited for the traffic, parking and green space preservation.
Chris Ambrose is the president of the Shepherd Hills Homeowners Association that backs up to Lorton Park where the new site is located. He was at the May 3 public meeting on the community center and wasn’t satisfied with the outcome to move forward with the plan which includes a grass rectangular field inside the new oval walking path, new playground, picnic areas, an indoor gymnasium, classrooms, exercise areas, community services and other recreational amenities.
“It’s a question of the size of it and where it’s located,” said Ambrose. The Lorton Community Action Center (LCAC) is currently in a house on the park grounds, and the plans will include moving LCAC into the new community center.
IN JANUARY, when the new recreation center planning was gaining speed, Ambrose started a petition and has gathered more than 1,000 signatures from residents in the area, including the neighborhoods of Hagel Circle and Williamsburg Square, right next door.
“While we support modernization of the Lorton Community Action Center and improvements to the library, any additional facilities and parking located on that property need to be minimized and construction in a way that leaves intact the existing track and grass oval inside the track, the playground and picnic area and preserves the two legacy large trees,” read the language on the petition.
Mount Vernon Supervisor Dan Storck (D) doesn’t think the new center will take up that much of the existing park. The park is now 1.9 acres and will be 1.7 acres with the new community center, according to Storck. Ambrose has looked at the plans and county data, calling it a “complete hocus pocus with the numbers.”
Leah Watson, a past official with LCAC who lives next to the park, thinks the space is too small as well. “It’s a very small park as it is,” she said, and values it as a part of their community. “I feel ashamed that we have to be fighting like this,” she said, but not speaking for LCAC.
The current LCAC website is supportive of the new center and the benefits of partnership between the county and and the Lorton Community Action Center.
Voters approved funds for construction in a 2016 referendum and the new center could be complete by 2022.
Ambrose has identified two other sites that he thinks would be better for the center, and the sites were part of the Lorton Community Center Steering Committee’s agenda on March 3, which can be found on their website. One site is on Lorton Road around the corner from the park, and the other is on a site they are calling the “Noman Cole Property.” Crossing this busy part of Richmond Highway would pose an access problem for residents of Hagel Circle and Williamsburg Square. That could be resolved with a pedestrian overpass as Ambrose pointed out, but those are expensive.
At the meeting May 3, the other sites were looked at in the slideshow but the focus was putting the center on the spot in Lorton Park right next to Lorton Library.
To Watson, one of the other spots would be better, and she cited the successful activity that was held at the park last weekend. “Just to sit there and breath the fresh air, that’s what a park is for,” she said.
AT THE PUBLIC MEETING Supervisor Dan Storck said a majority of the attendees were in favor of the new center, but Ambrose said it was the opposite. While Storck put the numbers at 75 percent in favor, Ambrose said it was more like 80 percent opposed. Ambrose also gave out 130 “Save the Park” stickers at the meeting. “People that support this don’t live in the community,” Ambrose said. Watson didn’t like the process either, and feels “they didn’t ask the whole community,” she said.
Storck looks at it as a win-win for both sides though.
“The best part of the site location chosen for the Lorton Community Center is that we get both a new community center where it is most needed, and we get to keep the park,” Storck said. “The next steps include the most important public engagement opportunities as we work with the community to determine final design, facility amenities and services,” he said.
Moving forward, Ambrose feels it might be a done deal but he won’t give up the fight, and has brought it up with other county officials, including County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova. It still has to go through the planning commission as well, and Ambrose isn’t comfortable with the way the official process has been going on Storck’s end.