Euille's 'Hybrid Task Force' Under Way

Euille's 'Hybrid Task Force' Under Way

Yesterday and tomorrow clash over park's future uses.

During a City Council work session on Jones Point Park last month, Mayor William D. Euille announced the formation of a new "hybrid task force ... that represents all the interests" impacted by the park's future development.

"This new hybrid task force will hopefully be able to reach a compromise on the various issues in order to achieve a solution everyone can live with," Euille said at that time. The first meeting of this recently constituted Jones Point Park Work Group was held last week on Wednesday night at the Nanny J. Lee Recreation Center.

"Compromise" was not on the agenda.

"We have been asked by council to hold these meetings," said Kirk Kincannon, director, Alexandria Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities Department, who served as chair of the ad hoc group. "After we collect information and input, we'll come back to council with one or two selections for Jones Point Park."

Based on those final recommendations, the city's preference for the park's future development and uses will then "be sent forward to the National Park Service as the city's preferences," Kincannon said. As noted by Euille in the February work session, "This is not a City of Alexandria park. It belongs to the National Park Service."

AMONG THOSE participating on the panel last week was Audrey Calhoun, superintendent, George Washington Memorial Parkway. "I'm here tonight to listen and take notes," Calhoun told the other panelists and the audience assembled in the center's exhibit hall.

However, she did clarify, "We have a 25-year lease with the city [for the city] to operate the Park. As a result of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge construction it was time to look at possible changes to the park's use," she said.

"Those decisions on how to use the park came out before the 9/11 attacks. That was changed by 9/11. We now have to decide what to do with uses previously planned for under the bridge," Calhoun said.

Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and elevated security concerns, space under the new spans was to be primarily used for parking, as had been the case for the existing bridge prior to the commencement of construction. This would have provided immediate access to all planned park uses, including the river, without any spill over parking into nearby neighborhoods.

Until the February work session, there was a fear that, due to speculative Park Service deadline requirements for receipt of the city's park development preferences, plans proposed by such groups as the Yates Gardens Civic Association would not receive consideration. This was dispelled when Calhoun stated at that meeting, "We are not going to move forward until the city provides us with a plan."

BUT, SHE ADDED a caveat. "If that plan is delayed beyond the point when demolition of the existing bridge begins, you may have to settle for a walk-in park without any road," she said. That work is now scheduled to commence in May 2006, according to Ronaldo "Nick" Nicholson, VDOT's WWB Project manager.

Others on the panel to present their organization's desires and points-of-view were: Julie Crenshaw, Stakeholder Panel; Judy R. Guse-Noritake, Parks and Recreation Commission; James Gibson, chair, Youth Sports Advisory Board; Jill Bennett, Environmental Policy Commission; Kathleen Pepper, chair, Archeological Commission; Ellen Stanton, chair, Historic Alexandria Resources Commission; and Teresa Miller, Yates Gardens Civic Association.

Joining Kincannon as joint chairs of the Work Group are Richard Baier, director, Alexandria Department of Transportation & Environmental Services, and Jean Federico, director, Office of Historic Alexandria. Both panel statements and audience input were captured and facilitated by Jinni Benson who has been retained by the Parks and Recreation Department for that role, according to Kincannon.

Primary points of the discussion revolved around three basic elements:

• Whether to use the area south of the new bridge for a combination athletic/historic preservation/passive recreation venue or to limit it to only historic preservation/passive recreation.

• Whether to permit the creation of multiple adult size athletic fields north of the new bridge abutting the wetlands or to allow only one child size field there or south of the bridge or to develop no athletic field facilities within the park environs.

• What to do about parking and park access so that users of the facility do not impinge upon existing nearby neighborhoods.

THE GREATEST difference was between those advocating for increased athletic facilities and those opposed to that concept. Miller urged those present to study the Yates Gardens plan which calls for no athletic fields north of the bridge, while those speaking for archeology and historic preservation concentrated their arguments on "no athletic facilities south of the bridge."

"Any plan must give significance to the historic aspects of the park. We must maintain its vista and no features at all should be placed on the historic area. The Historical Commission is very much opposed to any sports activity south of the bridge. We take no position north of the bridge," Stanton said.

"The Alexandria Archeological Commission believes south of the bridge should remain as passive recreational use and for the preservation of historical items. We voted to maintain the southern portion of the park in a natural state," said Pepper.

Alexandria Archeology and Office of Historic Alexandria circulated a pamphlet to attendees entitled "Jones Point Trek." On its front and back covers was a picture of Jones Point on February 19, 1919 showing the area as an active shipyard where the Virginia Shipbuilding Corporation constructed "12 steel ships for the World War I effort."

MAKING THE CASE for historic preservation, the pamphlet states, "The archeology and structures preserved here represent at least 9000 years of human history. Jones Point is a true time capsule: it preserves sites, buildings, and artifacts above and below the ground which are related to Alexandria's military, shipbuilding, industrial, navigational, domestic and recreational history."

In addition, "Native American sites and artifacts, dating back more than 9000 years, have been discovered on the original boot-shaped Point and south of Great Hunting Creek. Native populations lived here in seasonal camps ..." the pamphlet stated.

Also speaking against the creation of major athletic fields, Miller said, "We [Yates Gardens] are the most impacted neighborhood from the bridge project. And, we think the worst plan is to put soccer fields north of the bridge next to the wetlands where the hydrology has that area underwater even in hard rains."

Referring to the mitigation monies from the bridge project, Miller said, "We [Yates Gardens Civic Association] feel it would be much wiser to use that money to put soccer fields in a place more accessible to the entire city."

Speaking for the Youth Sports Advisory Board, Gibbons said, "Our position is that we have identified a need for additional athletic fields in the city. We are pro sports and we believe that active adults rear active children."

He also noted that the athletic field they were advocating "are not soccer fields. These fields are used for a variety of sports."

COUNTERING THE CASE for full size athletic fields north of the bridge, was Carolyn Merck, speaking on behalf of Old Town Civic Association, during the audience participation segment. "We disagree that adult athletic fields are needed here. We would propose one child-size athletic field in the event lawn area" south of the bridge, she said.

Merck read a statement issued by the national association for soccer which discouraged children from playing on adult size fields. She pointed out that she had coached children's soccer at one time and found that when they played on adult size fields the game "deteriorated into boom ball."

Escalating the discussion for increased athletic facilities, Noritake said, "We view this park in the context of the whole city. We are stressed for recreation sites in this city."

She maintained that "more children are coming into the city and the demand for athletic sites is increasing." However, public school population projections show a decrease in the years ahead, according to figures put forth in the recent Alexandria Public Schools budget document.

In a letter dated Feb. 10 to Euille and members of the council, Noritake said, "As a city, we will only continue to get more dense. The demands for active recreation are increasing every day ... The uses of existing parks will have to change to meet changing demands ... I know many people would like Jones Point Park to stay the way it has been for the last 20 years, but concurrent with its reconstruction we need to plan now for its use 20 years into the future and not look to recreate the past."

WHEN IT CAME to parking, both Noritake and Crenshaw supported what is known as "the 65 percent plan" which was originally put forth and supported by City Council. However, that called for all park parking to be located under the new spans. That has been outlawed since 9/11 due to security concerns on the part of federal and state governments.

"We question this decision by the government if the parking can be run by a parking company. We prefer to have the parking under the bridge reinstated and we don't want the wetlands impacted," Crenshaw said representing the Stakeholder Panel.

Prior to her statement, Crenshaw emphasized, "The Stakeholder Panel is a federal panel. We are not under the auspices of the city. We can comment, but we are not part of the city structure."

Noritake said, "We [Parks and Recreation Commission] put forward our thoughts on parking. We do not want one lot for 110 cars. We believe the parking should be more on the perimeter and nearer to the park entrance."

Bennett, speaking for the Environmental Policy Commission, said, "Our main concern is run off from parking lots wherever they are located."

Following panelist statements, various members of the audience expressed their views concerning the park's future development referencing the six plans on display in the room. Many of their sentiments were captured by Benson for further study and future Work Group sessions in her role as facilitator.

Most of those present came down on the side of historical preservation and passive recreation throughout the 60-acre area. As Merck stated, "Athletic fields are the odd man out here tonight."