Alexandria Taking Steps

To Preserve Its History

We are writing to respond to a letter recently sent to The Post regarding the interpretation of African American history in the city of Alexandria [Letters to the Editor, Extra, July 14]. Two sites were mentioned in the letter: an addition to an existing building on the block where the L'Ouverture hospital once stood, and the Freedmen's Cemetery.

The L'Ouverture hospital site on which the construction will occur is privately owned; currently, an adjunct building used by Shiloh Baptist Church stands there. This building will be rehabilitated and enlarged to provide modest apartments for low-income seniors.

In approving this project, the city has required the builder to allow for an archaeological study to be completed on the site. It will provide us with a wealth of information about the history of the site, which then can and will be interpreted for all citizens. The developer has agreed to include signage on the site that will illustrate and interpret the historic importance of the block. Were it not for this project, the site would not be subject to archaeological study, and the interpretation of the site would be based on fewer primary sources.

The acquisition by the city of Alexandria of the Freedmen's Cemetery site is progressing. Public hearings have been held, and once the demolition of the gas station that is located there now occurs, an archaeological study will be conducted to determine the location of the graves and paths.

The plans for the cemetery and memorial will be determined only after the study has occurred, to ensure the most appropriate design to honor the African Americans who are buried at this site.

In conclusion, the city of Alexandria is strongly committed to interpreting its history for the benefit of the citizens, and all efforts are being made to be respectful of the history of all members of our community.

Ellen Stanton

Chair

Historic Alexandria Resources Commission

Kathleen Pepper

Chair

Alexandria Archaeological Commission

Focus on Maintaining

Our Existing Parks

I was somewhat dismayed by Alexandria's recent decision to create additional parks at Jones Point ["Neighbors Fear Park Proposal Will Harm Area," Extra, Aug. 4]. How can the city justify additional parks when it fails to police and maintain its existing parks?

My specific issue with the city stems from the May 2004 arson of the children's playground equipment in Powhatan Park. Following the arson, Powhatan Park had no playground equipment for about one year, through the summer and fall of 2004.

At a community meeting in January, the overwhelming consensus of the NorthEast Citizens' Association was that the playground equipment attracted undesirable activity in the park, namely illicit drug use and sale, open-air sexual activity, and gambling. Consequently, rather than compel or insist that the Alexandria police department execute its responsibility to adequately police the park, the civic association chose the path of least resistance and recommended to the city department of parks and recreation that the playground equipment at the park be scaled down so as not to attract "undesirable users."

While new equipment was eventually installed at the park in April, it is not challenging for most of the children who frequent the park, particularly my 5-year-old daughter. The older equipment was challenging to children of most ages. The new equipment is best for children ages 2 to 4, despite the contention of the parks and recreation department that it is suitable for children up to age 10. At an informal meeting of several parents, civic association leadership, parks department officials and a police representative on July 26, a parks and recreation official acknowledged that the equipment "might not be fun" for kids to play on. Further, compared with other parks throughout Alexandria, Powhatan Park is woefully substandard. One of the basketball hoops is missing.

While I appreciate my neighbors' concerns regarding illicit activity in Powhatan Park and anywhere in my neighborhood or the city, I do not appreciate punishing children for the undesirable activities of the minority of the community. Neither the parks department nor the civic association leadership sought to reach a compromise, particularly one in which a children's playground would be created in the empty lot adjacent to the fire station on Powhatan Street. Parks officials cited the high risk of injury to children should the fire department be called to service. I am sure that that risk is no higher than the risk of a child becoming ill as a result of contact with used drug paraphernalia, used condoms or bodily secretions that may be present in a park where drug use and sales and sexual activity occur.

Additionally, parks department officials cited budgetary constraints that would impede the acquisition of any new equipment. Between 2004 and 2005, my real estate taxes increased by one-third. Over the 12 years that I have lived in Alexandria, my real estate taxes have increased threefold. Further, following new development projects, the assessable property base has likely increased by 50 percent or more over the past 12 years. Accordingly, the city of Alexandria should not be crying poverty, seeing as the city recently approved the construction of not one but two new parks.

In the long run, the issue is moot for my family. As I indicated to Vice Mayor Redella S. "Del" Pepper in an e-mail, in the spirit of Jesse Jackson, I can elect which governmental jurisdiction receives my tax money, and my family has chosen to begin the process of paying taxes to another jurisdiction. In other words, we are electing to move outside the city of Alexandria. In the interim, we will also choose to make our retail purchases outside of the city so that the city benefits as little as possible from our tax dollars.

John Scalia Jr.

Alexandria