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Zoning change could make it easier for Alexandria to add new trails and playground equipment

Playing at Four Mile Run Park in Arlandria. (staff photo by James Cullum)

The city is a victim of its own bureaucracy when it comes to parks, but a new zoning change (docket item 8) essentially lets the city get out of its own way to make park improvements.

A staff report said that the city is currently hamstrung by requirements that virtually any type of improvement or change at a park must go through the city’s special use permits (SUP), a lengthy process that involves public and city leadership hearings and review.

The new change would make certain park improvements, like adding new playground equipment, easier to do as an allowed use rather than requiring the city to go through the public hearing process.

According to a staff report:

Since adopting the [Public Open Space and Community Recreation Zone] in 1989, many of the items identified in Park and Recreation Commission endorsed Park Improvement Plans have required additional Special Use Permit (SUP) approvals to construct or install items in the City’s parks. While complete renovations of City parks require development approval through public hearings, smaller improvements such as playground replacement or relocation, or safety improvements such as backstops and netting, scoreboards, and storage are all categorized as uses that also require additional approval through public hearings. As a result, improvements that are identified in Park Plans based on community needs and input are delayed by redundant approval processes.

Currently, only unimproved geographic features, like woodlands or preserves, are allowed without public hearings. Even passive facilities like trails, picnic areas and fishing sites are only permitted with approval at a public hearing.

Since 1994 there have been 29 SUPs for park sites. Four of those were Alexandria City Public Schools trailers, four were for athletic field or dog park lighting, and four were for large-scale park redevelopment — which will continue to require SUPs.

The staff report said as parks are increasingly in demand around Alexandria, the zoning change would let the city respond to needs more quickly.

“Park Improvement Plans must be implemented to keep pace with the City’s aging park infrastructure and as demand for high-quality park amenities continues to increase,” the report said. “These amendments would allow staff to implement Park Plans quickly and efficiently, while continuing to include the community, park users and neighboring properties.”

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