Manassas council member wants another look at proposed bike trail

April 18, 2012

A Manassas City Council member supported another look last week at a bike trail that has proved controversial with some residents.

The proposed Winters Branch bike trail extends an existing path by 2,600 feet and connects the Georgetown South and Wellington communities, allowing riders and walkers to get into Old Town.

After a City Council session in March, council members voted to take the trail out of the city’s budget after Wellington residents voiced concern that having a public path close to their homes would bring crime to their neighborhood and said the project’s $629,000 price tag was too high.

Officials were split on the issue. Council members Mark D. Wolfe (R), Marc T. Aveni (R) and Jonathan L. Way (R) voted against the trail, and the other three council members wanted to include it in the city’s budget.

Mayor Harry J. “Hal” Parrish II (R) broke the tie by voting to take the trail out of the budget.

Last week, however, at a city budget work session, Wolfe voted to put the item back in the city’s capital budget.

“We thought that was really . . . underhanded,” said Greg Tsukalas, a Wellington community member who has led neighborhood opposition to the trail. “It’s a really expensive trail, and we don’t take the safety of our families . . . and our community lightly.”

Wolfe said in an e-mail that he didn’t support the original proposal because it was too expensive. As a part of putting the dollars back in the budget, he directed city staff during last week’s meeting to try to come up with a less expensive proposal and to work with “neighboring property owners to see if a win-win scenario with regard to the path can be arrived at,” he said.

No funds would be expended in the next fiscal year, he said, while the city works toward a better solution. “I do think that this project . . . can be of value to the city and its citizens.”

Aveni and Way again voted against the trail.

Aveni said he and other residents thought the issue of the bike trail had already been resolved. “You’re talking about a penny on the tax rate for a bike trail that nobody wants,” he said.

Parrish said Wolfe’s move was within the council’s rules. However, he said he understands how some residents feel about the vote, technically a “straw poll” indication of where council members are on budget issues. The fiscal 2013 budget has not yet been formally voted on or adopted.

“They thought it was done, and now, out of the blue, it is resurrected,” Parrish said of the trail.

The city has already bought about 80 percent of the land easements required to construct the path, said Nick Gardner, the city’s assistant director of public works, leaving $480,000 for the rest of the work. He said city officials have shown that crime is not worse around bike paths.

“You couldn’t guarantee . . . absolutely we’ll have no crime on this path,” Gardner said. “But you also have to look at the overall picture.”

Tsukalas said many residents are concerned about being directly connected with the Georgetown South community, which had three murders last year and other crime issues.

Hannah Senft, president of Georgetown South’s board of trustees, said residents in her neighborhood want the trail because it would provide youths walking access to the Boys and Girls Club as well as a path into the city.

She said the community’s perception of Georgetown South as having a lot of crime is misplaced.

“I don’t think it’s any more dangerous to live in Georgetown South than it is to live in Wellington,” she said.

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