Apparently, some in Alexandria can't let sleeping dog parks lie.
Just when it seemed the debate over where to put a playground for pooches in Old Town's Windmill Hill Park was dead and buried, tempers flared up again at Saturday's City Council public hearing. That's when a handful of residents besought the council, which made a final decision on Windmill Hill Park and its dog run back in May, to reopen the debate and take another stab at the issue.
The heart of the complaints? Some city residents think the council's 4-3 vote to approve a version of the master plan that moved the dog run away from the Potomac shoreline was a slap in the face to the citizen task force, which recommended that the dog park stay put. At the time, the year-long debate bitterly divided the council and residents, as factions accused each other of a slew of high crimes -- elitism, insensitivity to people with dogs and insensitivity to people without dogs, to name a few.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, several speakers lined up to rehash many of the old arguments -- that council members' concerns about the incidence of dog feces contaminating the river were overblown and that the process the city undertook was unfair and didn't allow for true citizen input. (The environmental contamination issue was another reason cited for why the dog run should be moved, along with land-use concerns).
Council members who bitterly disagreed in the spring about the future of the park went at it again as well in an impromptu debate Saturday, the citizen comments apparently reopening old wounds.
"The [council's] decision was made in an arbitrary manner," said City Council member Redella S. "Del" Pepper (D), who suggested that a new public hearing should be convened.
Pepper had voted to keep the dog park in its old location. She also held up an environmental report that she said indicated that dog feces -- as opposed to other kinds of animal waste that might be deposited into the water -- did not have the harmful effects that had been argued in the past.
Council member Claire M. Eberwein (R), who has taken the brunt of the ire of many residents, disagreed. She countered Pepper's comments with her own analysis that dog waste, just like other kinds, is harmful and that the concerns were valid. For good measure, she ended her analysis with this zinger: "Poop is poop."
And then this bit of perspective and context came from a passionate and obviously frustrated council member David G. Speck (D), who told cantankerous residents that a decision had been made and that it was time for everybody to move on, including the City Council.
"All of us are about to look like a bunch of damn fools . . . and I'm not sure if we haven't crossed that line," he said.
In the end, it was decided that there will be no public hearing or further debate, although council member Joyce Woodson (D) said that she was open to listening to further concerns that will be aired at an Old Town Civic Association meeting tonight. But others were pessimistic and were resigned to conclude that the discussions were "in the doghouse."
Three Feet and Many Yards
What a difference a year makes.
At the end of 2001, debate over the Samuel Madden Homes in Old Town, otherwise known as the Berg, was still at a pitch that had characterized the now decade-long issue. Sharp disagreement was aired over how many units the new townhouse development, which would include public housing units and market-rate homes, should have. Acrimony also enveloped the question of whether the residents of the 50-year-old public housing complex had been given a fair shake because they were the ones who were being displaced and scattered throughout the city. And there was concern about how all this was all going to be paid for.
On Saturday, debate over the planned 152-unit townhouse community on Pitt Street focused on the relatively minor detail of whether the homes should be three feet closer to the curb to preserve a bit of open space. It came up as the City Council considered whether to approve two rezoning applications by developer Eakin/Youngentob Associates Inc.
City staff recommended that the developer consider moving the homes back three feet so extra landscaping could be placed in front of the densely packed townhouses and provide some green. The fact that the City Council was debating an issue of open space "really shows how far we've come in the past 12 months," said Mayor Kerry J. Donley. "Everyone has a lot to be proud of."
But that didn't mean there wasn't some spirited conversation over those three feet. Some pointed out that moving the homes back would mean three feet of space in the back of the development would be lost, a fact that some thought would hinder the quality of life for many of the public housing residents -- many of whom will live at the rear of the complex.
"This [plan] decreases the space that [public housing residents] will have," said Melvin Miller, chairman of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority board of directors. "We are at this point because of the sacrifices of the people who lived on this site" and their needs should be kept at a high priority.
In the end, the council decided to keep the houses generally where they were and not cut into the residents' space in the back. Construction on the development, which has been in planning stages in one form or another for 10 years, will begin this spring.
"We're making real progress here," said Donley, who couldn't help but add, "particularly because no one has proposed making that space a dog park."