Prince William board to vote on 2nd entrance to Hellwig park

George Hellwig Memorial Park has added ballfields recently and is planning more, driving up usage.
George Hellwig Memorial Park has added ballfields recently and is planning more, driving up usage. (Courtesy Of Prince William County Park Authority)
By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 12, 2010

Prince William County supervisors are not likely to have a quiet return from their summer recess Tuesday, when they are scheduled to vote on a controversial proposal to add a second entrance to George Hellwig Memorial Park.

Prince William County Park Authority officials are seeking the board's approval at the 7:30 p.m. meeting to purchase a 10-acre parcel of land that would connect the park to a new exit to Aden Road. Park Authority officials said the second entrance is needed as the park grows, but some residents said they are concerned it would place more traffic on a dangerous road and disturb wetlands.

"I am appalled by the recent Park Authority's proposed project to build an unnecessary second entrance," Prince William resident Heather Milton said in an e-mail to Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large). "The completely superfluous Aden Road extension will course through the current Rural Crescent, disrupting the safety and security of the neighborhoods . . . wetlands and forestry."

Hellwig park, in the Brentsville District off Bristow Road, contains walking trails, numerous soccer fields and four new diamond sports fields. Park Authority officials said two more diamond fields will also be added, one of which is under construction, as part of a public-private partnership.

Authority officials said it is important to add a second entrance not only to ease congestion at the front access point -- which officials have received the go-ahead to improve -- but to provide emergency medical, police and fire officials a second option in emergencies. The county Planning Commission denied the authority's request, but the authority appealed.

"Our concern is the safety of the kids and anyone else who uses the park," said project supporter Chris Thom, vice president of Coles Little League, which recently moved to the park after the construction of the new ballfields. "You already have hundreds of soccer kids there, and now you are adding hundreds of baseball players all trying to use one entrance."

Opponents of the project said Aden Road is a dangerous road with blind spots that doesn't need more traffic, especially when the front entrance is poised for improvements. Some said that because the road backs into an area where few live, many drivers will just exit and circle back around to the clogged road near the front entrance.

"Just because a lot of our members don't live right off Aden Road, it doesn't mean people won't use it," Thom said, adding that he expects people will exit to Aden Road and head to Route 234. "If we identify there is an exit in back, people are not going to then go back to the same intersection they want to avoid."

Thom said Coles Little League has started an online petition, which had 80 supporters as of Friday afternoon. But opponents have argued to the board that the road would destroy wetlands and waste taxpayer money in tough economic times.

"How can you say you need a back door when you are still fixing the front door?" Prince William resident Christine Learman said in an interview. "I would say this is a boondoggle, which is fiscally irresponsible and destructive to land. There is no justification to spend our tax dollars on a superfluous road."

Park Authority spokeswoman Dianne Cabot said money used to expand the fields was part of general obligation bonds for county parks approved by voters in 2006. The bonds also included money for general land purchases up to $3 million.

The proposed land acquisition would be funded through existing proffered funds, but an exact cost is unclear as negotiations with the developer continue. Cabot said that even if the Park Authority buys the land, work might not begin immediately because funds for road construction are not available. Cabot said the authority would work to protect the wetlands.

"Do we have to disturb soil to build a road? Yes. But are we going to completely destroy the wetlands? No," Cabot said, noting that a 100-foot buffer would line the road. "We are going above and beyond the zoning requirements. . . . We're just trying to create a safe situation in the park."

County Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) said that he is leaning toward voting against the access road but that he wants to hear from residents Tuesday. He said he would rather see the money spent on parks in the Linton Hall corridor, which "has the greatest need." Covington said traffic is also a concern because there are no plans to widen Aden Road.

Stewart said he would not support the proposal because soccer needs and the Park Authority's limited resources dictate that the money be spent on "fields, turf and lights."

He said he will pitch a new proposal for access to the park Tuesday, but he declined to provide details.

"We've been working to try and find a solution to congestion at the park entrance, and I'm optimistic we have found one without the need of that second entrance," he said.

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