Two Alexandria city commissions have come out in favor of making Cameron Valley a city park rather than a regional facility as proposed by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.
The recommendation by the two groups, the Planning Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission, supports a similar recommendation made last month by City Manager Douglas Harman. Harman advised that Cameron Valley be developed for city use only, and that it be funded by cutting the city's annual contribution to the regional park authority by 90 percent over the next three years. The City Council is expected to consider the recommendation April 22.
Two years after the dispute over Cameron Valley began, city and park officials still appear divided as to how the 55-acre site should be developed. The site is surrounded by the Beltway, train tracks and industrial buildings and divided by a flood-control ditch and a proposed industrial road.
Some park agency officials question whether the site is appropriate for a regional park, particularly if the planned industrial road -- Eisenhower Avenue -- is widened to four lanes. The City Council voted last year to leave the road at two lanes, but city officials now want to keep open the option of going to four lanes if industrial development around the park warrants it.
The latest skirmish in the battle over Cameron Valley was fought over city dissatisfaction with plans for developing the site as recommended by a consultant hired by the regional park agency. The consultant recommended construction of a velodrome for bicycle racing, two soccer stadiums for regional matches and a swimming complex that initially would include only an outdoor pool.
Dissatisfied with the consultant's proposals, Harman has recommended reducing to $50,000 a year the city's annual $445,000 contribution to the park agency's capital budget for the next three years. The approximately $1.2 million saved over the three-year period would be used to develop all or part of Cameron Valley as a park.
If the council follows Harman's recommendation, it would be the first time that any of the six local jurisdictions in the 22-year-old park authority has withdrawn support from it -- a preceent park authority officials feel could hurt the agency and its efforts to buy and preserve park land in Northern Virginia.
But the dispute does not really appear to be over money, since the park authority already has committed itself to spend $1.2 million -- almost exactly what Alexandria would withhold -- on an urban park and has voted Cameron Valley the most likely place for it.
"We have the money in hand and could begin developing the park immediately if the city council and the (park authority) board can agree on what should go there, park authority Executive Director Darrell Winslow said this week.
The park authority has said it wants a park that is a regional attraction, and it hired the consultant last fall to come up with some ideas.
The consultant's initial suggestions, however, included none of the things city officials originally had expressed interest in: a tennis court complex or ball fields -- particularly soccer fields since soccer is the single most popular sport in Alexandria and Northern Virginia.
Playing fields are perhaps the city's most critical recreation need, says Timothy Elliott, chairman of Alexandria's Parks and Recreation Commission. The commission favors Harman's plan to withhold regional park funds and build a city park -- with lots of ballfields -- on at least part of the Cameron Valley site.
The planning commission last week reviewed the consultant's proposals and voted in favor of making Cameron Valley a "100 percent city park," according to Chairman T. Edward Braswell Jr. and also voted to keep Eisenhower Avenue a two-lane road, "although I don't know if the council will agree with us," said Braswell.
However, both Braswell and Elliott said their commissions probably would not oppose a regional park if it included the extensive playing fields and facilities the city needs.
Several city and park agency officials have been privately discussing the possibility of turning the entire park into a major Washington-area soccer center with a stadium and playing fields and woods over most of the site. National and international youth soccer tournaments are now held in the Washington area annually, but most of the games are played on fields scattered throughout the area.
While Harman said more playing fields are a high priority, he sees an idoor swimming pool at Cameron Valley as "an extremely high priority," because the city has no public indoor pool and no money to build one.
However, next year Fairfax County will have two large indoor pools near Cameron Valley. The school board, parks commission and many city officials still are arguing over whether an indoor city pool ultimately be at Chinquapin Park or next door at T.C. Williams High School, as recommended in other studies.
The suggested velodrome also has been criticized, but largely because officials said they are unfamiliar with bike racing and are not sure if there is sufficient interest to support one.
Elliott said one parks comission member wondered why, with bike trails planned through the park, "anyone would want to ride around in a circle."