Advocates seek earmarks for park purchases

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 10, 2010

Arlington County parks and open-space champions could see the County Board earmark money within a proposed $58 million bond measure for future parkland purchases.

The board will discuss and take action on the county's six-year, $1 billion capital improvement plan and corresponding bond measure Tuesday.

"We want the local government to be committing to the value of environmental education and preservation of open, green space," said Janet Nuzum, president of Friends of Gulf Branch Nature Center.

Arlington boasts it is "a progressive, environmentally conscious" county, she said, but with little money for parks and open space, it is "not necessarily walking the talk."

Michelle Cowan, deputy director of management and finance, said county staff members have not been given clear direction from board members "on how much they want to dedicate to parks and [open] space." She added, "I do know that it is clearly on their radar screen."

Parks and open-space advocates spoke out at public hearings and in written testimony against including $3.6 million in a bond measure for general land acquisition. They said parks should warrant specific funds that will not be used for any other purpose.

In past referendums, $4 million to $8 million was devoted to parkland every other year, said Lisa Grandle, park development division chief. As the economy fell, less bond money was allotted for parks. She said this is the first time in four years that parkland acquisition is included in a bond package.

Arlington has more than 2,500 acres of parks and open space, including ballfields and federal and Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority land.

"There is very little open space," Grandle said. "We are paying for the land, as well as any improvements" on it.

Steve Temmermand, chief of the county's Parks and Natural Resources Division, said the process can cost Arlington up to $4 million for one acre, based on the current real estate market, because the county has no undeveloped land.

The county must buy several developed parcels and piece them together to form larger acreage. Whatever is on the land must be demolished and the land restored to its natural condition to be used as parkland or open space, which is costly.

"Most of our parks are a good combination of natural areas and amenities," Grandle said.

Of the open and green space in Arlington, county natural resources specialist Greg Zell said, a small percentage of natural land is filled with native plants.

"Voluntary conservation easements are probably the best way . . . to expand natural areas in the county," he said, adding that such easements also require funding.

Zell has been working with park advocates and naturalists to create the Natural Resource Management Plan, which will provide guidelines to county officials and residents on how to preserve natural areas. Zell also would like the county to agree to put protections on about 126 acres, which he described as the "cream of the crop."

The Natural Resource Management Plan is being written and will be incorporated into the county's comprehensive plan.

Temmermand said he sees the report as a starting point for future conservancy.

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