After six years of debate and disputes over issues as varied as parking, security and soccer fields, the Alexandria City Council is set to vote next week on a plan for upgrading Jones Point Park.
But the process of redesigning the park, which has never been easy, remains controversial in the days leading up to the council vote. The primary issue is whether to build new athletic fields at a time when local soccer leagues are filled to bursting, or instead focus on preserving the park's open space and wetlands.
"I think it's an embarrassment that we have wasted so many resources, so much staff time on this," said Judy Guse-Noritake, chair of the city's Park and Recreation Commission and an advocate of building two multipurpose athletic fields in the park. She was a member of a city-appointed work group that was unable to reach a consensus on this and other issues.
The renovation of the popular Old Town park is necessary to accommodate the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge being built above it. The council originally approved the plans in 2000 after lengthy meetings with city officials, neighbors, dog lovers and soccer parents. The council's design called for, among other things, two regulation soccer fields and a children's playground.
But the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks changed everything. Because of concern that the new bridge could be vulnerable to a terrorist attack, city officials announced last year that they had to scrap a proposed 242-space parking lot for the new Jones Point Park and find a new place for it, either in the park or off-site.
The work group then tackled the parking issue but was unable to agree on a new park design, as many of the same issues decided in 2000 -- primarily the number, size and location of the planned athletic fields -- reemerged.
The group wound up forwarding the council two alternatives, known as Scheme A and Scheme E. Scheme A would include two multipurpose athletic fields north of the bridge, 110 parking spaces between Royal and Lee streets, and children's play areas. There are already two small athletic fields in the park, used for everything from soccer to rugby.
"The fact that we would even contemplate taking these fields out is mind-boggling," said Guse-Noritake, who is pushing for Scheme A. "You want those kids out there running around as much as they can. From a proactive community investment standpoint, we should try to meet the needs of anyone for an athletic field."
Scheme E, which was pushed by the Yates Garden Civic Association, representing the neighborhood near the park, is known as the "no field" option. It would eliminate recreational fields and include 80 parking spaces south of the Royal Street community gardens.
"Everything can't be accommodated," said Richard Campbell, president of the Yates Garden group. "The huge fields would totally take away the passive open space of Jones Point Park. There aren't many places in this area where you can go and walk or fly a kite or throw a Frisbee."
In a June 10 report to the council, City Manager James K. Hartmann said staff members are recommending the adoption of Scheme A.
Roger Blakeley, deputy director of the city's Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, said that demographic and other changes have made the need for athletic fields more pressing.
"Lots of minority cultures love activities that are played on sports fields," he said. "We all have to recognize that as our community changes, as a recreation department we need to be on top of those trends and look to the future. We don't have enough fields now to meet the demand."
Campbell said the Yates Garden association is now pushing a compromise that would leave one small athletic field south of the bridge.
Some sort of compromise is the likely outcome of the council vote, scheduled for Tuesday after a public hearing on Monday, said council member Andrew H. Macdonald (D).
"I think the council is sensitive to both sides. It's a very delicate balance," Macdonald said. "I just don't think the park is the appropriate place to add more soccer fields than what existed before, especially because of September 11."
The City Council's public hearing will be at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall.
But the council vote will not be the final say. The city will forward its recommendation to the National Park Service, which will make the final decision after more public hearings.