Park Plans Back to Square 1

Park Plans Back to Square 1

Council flips again, with dogs getting waterfront property.

For the third time in less than a year, City Council has made a decision about Windmill Hill Park. During a marathon public hearing Saturday, Council voted to go with the steering committee's original recommendations — keeping the volleyball and dog exercise area on the Potomac River.

During the hearing, 50 people spoke on the issue, both pro and con. Nearly all of those who spoke live in the neighborhood surrounding the park.

David Allbright set the tone for what Council heard during the nearly two-hour meeting on the park. He told Council, “I live at 435 S. Lee St., across from the park, and my 8-year-old daughter has grown up there,” he said. “The dog exercise area and the children’s play area are just too close together, and putting the volleyball court on the north side isn’t a good idea. Putting the dogs and the children so close together will just increase the likelihood that a child will be bitten and increases the tension between parents and dog owners. I would like to encourage Council to substitute the steering committee’s plan for the Council’s plan.”

Jennifer Hallings spoke in support of the steering committee’s design. “I have lived across from the park since the 1950s,” she said. “With the new design, we will lose one-half of the children’s play area, or 98 feet. This is about half of the space that is available for soccer practice, kite flying and other childhood pursuits. It will also cramp the best sledding in Old Town.”

Lawrence O’Connor has enjoyed the park most of his life. He said, “The crosswalks are a good idea. However, this doesn’t solve the problem. Right now, this is one of the few places where you can throw a baseball with your children. Also, the dog exercise area works well where it is.”

Teresa Miller expressed concern about the Council’s plan to move the volleyball court off the river and place it next to the basketball court. “I have a 12-year-old child who plays basketball at the park with a number of his friends from across the city,” she said. “It is very distracting to have a volleyball court right next to the basketball court as these kids try to enhance their skills.

"I also oppose the use of an enclosed dog park. Where the dog exercise area is now, dogs run toward the water and toward the end of Windmill Hill Park. For 30 years, parents have been at peace with dog owners. We also need to protect elderly people ... who are frail and, in some cases, in poor health. They don’t use the park near the dogs because they don’t want to be near unknown dogs. In the current location, the dogs are appropriately separated from them.”

Andrew Macdonald was the chairman of the Windmill Hill Park steering committee. He expressed concern about moving the volleyball court. “This is outrageous,” Macdonald said. “Putting sand next to a basketball court just doesn’t make any sense and is dangerous to those running and playing basketball.”

ROB ODLE SPOKE in favor of Council’s revised plan. “You have had a transparent, open process and more public hearings on this issue than most of us can conceive,” he said. “You have come up with a plan, it may not be a perfect plan. There has been far too much emphasis on where Old Town dogs swim and not nearly enough emphasis on where middle-class kids play. If I am willing to pay $100,000; I can have a wonderful new boat slip in front of my house; but nobody else in Alexandria will be able to keep a boat at the Old Town Yacht Basin.

"However, there does come a time when it’s time for closure. You’ve had a lot of public input, so please make a decision today. If that’s not possible, then, please God, not more public hearings,” he said.

Jack Sullivan was a member of the Windmill Hill steering committee. He told Council, "I voted to move the dog park off the river because I just did not feel that this was an appropriate use of waterfront property,” he said. “The task force disagreed with me and voted to leave it there. Council had the courage to move it to the other side of Union Street, and I hope you stick to your guns,” he said.

The plan (both versions of it) calls for removing the pilings, repairing the bulkhead and the seawall, and planting appropriate vegetation to reduce erosion along the shoreline. According to Sandra Whitmore, the director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Activities, the only thing that needs to be done to adhere to Council’s Saturday decision is to move the volleyball court back where it was.

“We still need to find approximately $3 million to make the major improvements in the park,” she said. “While we have not been turned down by any granting agencies, our preliminary approaches to some of the ones that are involved in conservation have indicated that they will not look favorably on supporting a park design that places a dog exercise area on the waterfront,” she said.

THE VOTE ultimately was 4-3, with Councilwoman Joyce Woodson changing her original vote from supporting Council’s plan to supporting the task-force plan on Saturday. Councilman William D. Euille voted originally for the task-force plan, then voted not to have another public hearing and, Saturday, voted for the task-force plan once again.

“The park has worked well as it was for 30 years, and I see no compelling reason to change it,” Euille said.

Vice Mayor Bill Cleveland has always supported the task-force plan. “If it ain’t broke, why fix it,” he said, and has said throughout the discussions.

Councilwoman Claire Eberwein has always been a proponent of moving the dog park off the waterfront. “What we have done here today is to sacrifice good public policy for the sake of politics,” she said.

Mayor Kerry J. Donley agreed with Eberwein. “I believe that we plan parks for people and for all of the city,” he said. “We have very little open waterfront land in the city, and we need to preserve it for the enjoyment of our citizens. We should plan for people, not for dogs.”

Councilman David Speck agreed. “If we could wipe the slate clean, I don’t know that any of us would put a dog park on a valuable piece of waterfront property,” he said. “And we shouldn’t.”