Council Divided on Jones Point Park

Council Divided on Jones Point Park

Park Service plans to ban athletic fields north of the bridge.

<bt>City Council's division over the National Park Service's 2006 Environmental Assessment as to the future development of Jones Point Park was clearly visible during Tuesday night's meeting with Councilwoman Redella "Del" Pepper and Councilman Paul Smedberg expressing opposing points of view. None of the others made any definitive statements.

In discussing testimony at NPS's Wednesday night public hearing Smedberg said, "What we have to ask for is what this Council has voted to approve three times." That is the plan that calls for two full size athletic fields north of the new bridge.

Conversely, Pepper put her colleagues on notice that she intends to support the NPS Preferred Alternative of no athletic fields north of the bridge while maintaining a smaller athletic field south of the bridge. "Although I will fight endlessly for more fields in the City, I don't think there should be any fields north of the bridge," she said.

She then made the motion to approve the City Manager's two primary recommendations as to the NPS Environmental Assessment report, released August 18, and scheduled public airing at the Old Town Radisson Hotel September 13. They were:

•Request the mayor testify at the NPS meeting to "express the City's concerns about the location of the proposed parking, the community garden realignment, the loss of playing fields, and the use of the event lawn for organized sports. Staff recommends that the Mayor advise the NPS that City Council will be seeking further mitigation (monies) for the loss of fields, parking and open space and will submit its formal position on the plan before the October 18 deadline."

•Schedule the NPS Environmental Assessment for public hearing by Council at its Tuesday, September 26 legislative meeting and Council consideration at its Tuesday, October 10, legislative meeting.

One item which was not disputed was the effort to seek additional mitigation monies to purchase land elsewhere in the City for recreation purposes should the NPS Preferred Alternative become the future design for the park. That was also recommended by Kirk Kincannon, director, Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities Department, during his presentation to Council.

"The NPS recommendation does not meet the mitigation requirements. We definitely should seek additional mitigation funds if the NPS Alternative is adopted," Kincannon said.

In making his presentation to Council, Kincannon presented a four page matrix comparing Alternative One, Council's preferred design concept, to Alternative Four, NPS's preferred design concept. In effect the matrix captured the details of each proposal from the 123 page report.

As Kincannon noted the events of September 11, 2001, was the defining factor in altering the design concept for the park. Following the terrorist attacks the federal government prohibited all future parking from under the new twin spans for security reasons. That removed 200 plus parking spaces from park use.

Another security measure imposed on future park access was an 80 feet set back of Jones Point Road from the bridge. This will cause some loss to the Lee Street community gardens as well as a new configuration where Jones Point Road meets South Royal Street.

The NPS, in their report, proposed the reestablishment of parking under the bridge, but only for special events. It would also require controlled security measures for those utilizing that parking. Those measures were not defined by NPS nor were the costs associated with them.

"The event parking under the bridge is a worthless offer," said Pepper. "I think we should initiate a serious search for alternative sites for the athletic fields -- not just a gathering of possibilities -- but a serious search."

Councilman Rob Krupicka said, "Essentially the events of 9/11 have been used to harm Alexandria in the development of this park." He also expressed the opinion that maintaining an athletic field south of the bridge "interferes with the dog walkers."

To that Smedberg pointed out, "For decades that area has been jointly used by neighbors, kids playing on the soccer fields and the dog walkers with no apparent problems."

Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald noted, "One of the pluses of the Park Service's proposal is that parking on the north side of the bridge is closer to the river making those facilities more accessible to park users. But, we need to seriously look at ways to recapture the community benefits we have lost."

Following the September 13 public hearing and after the close of the 60 day public comment period, October 18, NPS is scheduled to issue their final recommendation. That document will be sent to the National Capital Region Director for approval and signature.