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Alexandria, Va., puts on ice a plan to extend water park lease, buy historic home

The Northern Virginia Park Authority wants to buy one of the most authentic and unaltered houses in Alexandria, Va. — Murray’s Livery, 517 Prince St. in the city’s Old Town. The house was built in 1772, and generations of one family lived there for 184 years. It is privately owned. (Patricia Sullivan/The Washington Post)

The Alexandria City Council voted unanimously Saturday to delay until fall a decision on whether to extend the lease for the popular Cameron Run Regional Park, which also puts on hold a chance to buy one of the oldest residences in Old Town.

The proposal, which became public during the past week, would have linked a 20-year lease extension on the water park to a chance to buy a 244-year-old house at Prince and St. Asaph streets.

The regional parks authority said that with a lease extension, it could get a loan that would allow it to improve the West End park and buy the Old Town home. The authority’s option to buy the house expires at the end of the month.

But council members and a number of local residents were unhappy with Nova Park’s connection of the two properties, its perceived rush to complete the deal and the question of whether the water park is the best use of the 26 municipal acres in an increasingly dense city that needs more recreational space.

“I don’t like tying” these properties together, said council member John Taylor Chapman (D). “If we’re talking about recreational space as apples, why are we given an orange?”

How a lease for a water park could preserve one of Alexandria’s oldest homes

Cameron Run Regional Park — which draws more than 100,000 visitors each year, one-third of them from Alexandria — is owned by the city but operated by Nova Parks. Its water park, open three months of the year, raises about $600,000 annually for the authority after the deduction of costs for operating the water features, mini-golf facility and batting cage.

But some local interests, including residents and the Park and Recreation Commission, have asked whether there could be better, year-round recreational options for the property in the growing Eisenhower Valley.

Park commission members also were furious about what they called an end run around their group and the failure of the City Council to give adequate public notice about the proposal, although discussions had been underway for two or three years. They pointed out that Nova Parks has little to no plan for how the authority would use the historic home on Prince Street after its purchase; the plan calls for allowing current owner Joseph Reeder, 89, a lifetime tenancy to remain in the house tax-free after the $1.5 million sale.