Attention Del Ray dog owners: The Eugene Simpson Park will reopen to the public in the beginning of next year at the end of more than a year of redevelopment.
The formerly dusty, not-grassy park at 521 E. Monroe Avenue will be closed for the last three months of the year to allow for a “sod establishment period,” according to the city.
“Construction at the dog park continues with grading and site preparation for tree installation and sod installation this month as the start of the fall planting season approaches,” the city told ALXnow in an email.
“The developer has been working with staff on a few options to address the drainage issues within the dog run and will be submitting a revised site plan,” city parks planner Judy Lo told ALXnow. “We anticipate the northern section of the dog run will be re-graded with possibly additional inlets and/or bioretention and plantings. This type of work is best done in the fall when the temperatures start to cool.”
Photos via Facebook and City of Alexandria
Despite an earlier error that saw a hole dug into a lane of the track, the city says a light pole at the Hammond Middle School field is exactly where it’s supposed to be.
Last week, Alexandria Living Magazine broke a story that new poles were blocking track lanes at Hammond Middle School. Jack Browand, division chief of Parks and Cultural Activities, said a mistake caused a hole to be dug onto the tracks, but said that damage has since been repaired and the current light pole is where it’s located in the approved plans.
“The lights are exactly where they were approved to be,” Browand said. “There’s been no deception, no rogue staff decisions: the approved documents per the [special use permit] are 100% where the light poles are.”
Earlier documents showed the light pole located outside of the track, but Browand said the version ultimately approved by the City Council had the light pole installed inside the track.
Seminary Hill Association President Bill Rossello said some of the community frustrations come from a feeling that those changes were not clearly communicated.
“If you go to page 179 of the City Council staff report on Nov. 12 you will see the pole location is exactly where the poles are now,” Rossello said. “In eight public meetings, the poles were presented as being outside of the track. No one at the city ever verbalized [that change] to City Council. They did not verbalize that to the community and the ACPS resolution endorsing the project was based on the original location on the original [Special Use Permit].”
While there’s been some discussion of the current pole being located in the middle of a lane, the city said the area where the pole is located is not part of the track.
There's a commentary on government to be made out of an Alexandria, VA middle school installing new lights for its athletic field and track… right in the middle of the track, in running lanes 2 and 3.
— Jared Walczak (@JaredWalczak) August 17, 2023
“It’s absurd on its face,” Rossello said. “Who would put poles on a track?”
Browand said the area where the light pole is located is not a marked lane and the lines on the track note that the area outside of the pole is considered lane one. The fence around the field also bumps out into the track.
“Plans for the Hammond expansion do not demark that area as a lane, which is where the fence post is currently today,” Browand said. “The fence post, where the lights are now, were never labeled as a lane… The first full lane is the first unobstructed lane existing there. People presumed that the area against the fence was a lane but it’s not a lane.”
The issue has also divided city leaders. Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said the position of the pole was vague in the report:
It’s unfortunate that the city has put our youth and community in this position when it comes to the installation of the new field lights at Hammond Middle School recently. I walked the track with community members last week who were frustrated with the city’s inability to install these lights in a way that did not detract from the safety and usability of the track and, honestly, the field.
The contractors the city hired to install the lights made several adjustments and corrections while trying to follow the city’s approved guidelines, so that the angle of the lights were specific to night field use and not bother neighbors, but in the midst of these adjustments, the poles needed to be installed on the inside track lane on one side. I want to make clear that the contractors are not to blame for this. I spoke with our city staff and the contractor’s foreman at length. It’s challenging with little clarity in the SUP regarding the placement of the poles on the track. Honestly, the SUP does not clarify in writing that the installation is taking away a track lane and the discussion did not highlight this element of the installation when it came before Council.
If you scrutinize the drawings depicted in the SUP, the drawings are also not detailed to the point of the location of the set back of where the poles are supposed to be, whether inside the field fenced area or outside, and questions if the distance met all requirements. Since the corrections it may [be fixed], but it has destroyed one if not two middle school track lanes that tax payers subsidized over 10 years ago because we needed a nice West End track… It would help minimize confusion, frustration, and incongruities in the future for our city’s staff to be more specific in their written explanations of what exactly the plan is for field lights installation that may affect track usage for our youth and the community.
Jackson said she hopes to see thick padding added to the poles for safety, similar to padding added to goalposts.
Mayor Justin Wilson said the location of the pole is a reasonable, if imperfect, solution:
Both my kids run track, and my son is now running in college, so I’m sensitive to the issue.
I went out there on Saturday with my daughter to inspect. The fence already obscructs the lane. It’s ‘Lane Zero’ as my daughter called it. It’s not a usable lane.
It was a reasonable, albeit not perfect, accomodation to reduce the light spillover for the neighbors on that side.
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.”
A set of bleachers built for the 2023 George Washington Birthday Parade earlier this year could end up at an Alexandria athletic field.
At a City Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 25, the city is scheduled to accept the donation of the bleachers from the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association.
The donation of two 10-row bleachers is valued at $22,990.
“The George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association has no further use for the bleachers,” a report said, “and has offered them to the City for placement at a City athletic field(s) to support community programming.”
Alexandria’s Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities (RPCA) is looking for public comment on a plan to overhaul Eugene Simpson Stadium Park (426 E. Monroe Avenue).
RPCA said the community has identified several needs at the park that the new overhaul hopes to fix. Among major changes for the park is a change from natural grass and dirt to astroturf, along with changes like new trails, bleachers and more.
RPCA is hosting a community meeting later this month to go over the planned improvements and field questions from the public.
“Join the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities and the Department of Project Implementation at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park (426 East Monroe Ave) on Wednesday, April 26th at 7 p.m. for a community meeting and open house,” the RPCA said in a release. “The project team will present the proposed renovation plans for Eugene Simpson Stadium Park and will be on hand to take questions from attendees. In case of inclement weather, the meeting will be held at YMCA Alexandria at 420 East Monroe Avenue.”
The plan has been in the works since 2014 but includes an amendment from 2021 with new improvements that came from community feedback.
According to the RPCA website, plan includes extensive improvements:
- Install a planted tree buffer with native vegetation along the E. Duncan Alleyway
- Extend the hardscape trails to the north-eastern section of the park
- Install a new ADA compliant access off E. Monroe to the dog park and rectangular fields
- Install new bleachers at Big and Little Simpson
- Improve the dugouts at Big and Little Simpson
- Install additional storage at Big Simpson
- Install a dedicated concessions stand at Big Simpson
- Install a new passive use and picnic area adjacent to the concession stand
- Improve traffic flow and expand the parking lot
- Install synthetic turf at Big Simpson to address drainage and playability issues
- Re-grade the natural turf field at Little Simpson to address drainage issues
Alexandria has kicked off the new year with a glimpse at some of this year’s biggest priorities.
A memo from Director of Planning Karl Moritz, published ahead of Planning Commission meeting this Thursday, lays out some of the work priorities for the city over the upcoming year.
Planning and Zoning
There are some major items on the plate for Planning and Zoning, most of which involve updating some of the city’s older outdated plans for locations around the city.
- Alexandria West Plan: With some major developments reshaping the West End over the coming year, the city launched last fall an 18-month planning process for a large swath of the neighborhood. The process includes updates to the 1992 Alexandria West Small Area Plan and the 2008 Beauregard Plan, combining them into a sort of super-plan for the West End. According to the memo, priorities for that plan include “addressing topics such as equity, housing, mobility, land use, parks, infrastructure and safety.”
- Zoning for Housing/Housing for All: Another major project that started late last year and will continue through 2023 is the city’s Comprehensive Zoning for Housing and Housing for All Package” — a whole-cloth review of the city’s housing policy to try to work affordability into regulations from the ground-up. In a previous memo, Moritz said the goal is to remove policies and regulations that were intended to support exclusion and segregation, as well as creating new more equitable policies and boost the supply of both committed and market rate affordable housing. The goal is to complete the plan by the end of 2023.
- Vision Plan: This planning process will look at documenting and updating policies established in the various Small Area Plans dating back to 1992. This process is set to start this summer if staffing and resources are available.
- Duke Street Plan Update: This land use update is set to follow some of the ongoing plans around transforming transportation along Duke Street.
Alexandria’s Parks and Recreation Commission will discuss funding for three city park projects next week.
Up for discussion is a $436,000 project to install a launch area/paddling access at Four Mile Run Park, $21,000 for student gardens at Samuel Tucker Elementary School and a $25,000 pocket park at Lake Cook.
The projects are part of the fiscal year 2023 Community Matching Fund, which allows groups to get one-to-one funds for conservation and beautification projects. The Community Matching Fund started in 2017, and has so far funded more than $200,000 for athletic fields, new community gardens, and renovated playgrounds.
City staff recommend that $73,000 in matching funds are approved for the three projects.
“The Fund is designed to foster public/private partnerships and cultivate innovative ways for residents to have a greater stake in improving the park and recreation facilities that they use,” staff said in a report.
The Commission will discuss the projects at 7 p.m. on Thursday, October 20, at the Dr. Oswald Durant Memorial Center (1605 Cameron Street).
A system upgrade to the city’s Department of Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities (RPCA) website could be a windfall for local residents who, today and tomorrow, can access most rec center amenities without charge.
The city is updating its WebTrac service today, leaving RPCA unable to access household information, handle reservations or registrations, or process payments or refunds.
The upshot for local residents is that today (Monday) and tomorrow (Tuesday), all recreation centers in Alexandria will be offering complimentary amenities — because they can’t charge.
“We encourage you to visit your neighborhood recreation center and enjoy fitness rooms, soft play rooms, swimming, drop-in programming, and several other amenities, all free of charge,” the RPCA website said. “RPCA encourages WebTrac users to check their household information beginning September 21 to confirm all information is accurate in advance of using the system for upcoming registrations or reservations.”
During our Webtrac system upgrade, ALL rec centers will offer complimentary amenities on Sept. 19-20. Enjoy FREE access to fitness rooms, soft play rooms, swimming, drop-in programming & more.
For more info, please contact our Registration and Reservation Office at 703.746.5414 pic.twitter.com/AN37pl0rmw
— RPCA, Alexandria VA (@RPCA_AlexVA) September 18, 2022
Image via RPCA/Facebook
The City of Alexandria is planning to host a meeting later this month to discuss plans to light athletic fields around the city.
The idea behind adding lighting is to provide additional capacity to accommodate an increasing strain on the city’s fields. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, July 21 at the Patrick Henry Recreation Center (4653 Taney Avenue).
“The addition of athletic field lighting will provide additional capacity to accommodate current and increasing scholastic and community program needs within the City’s fixed field resources,” a release said. “The project will support the City Council 2022 Community Priority to Support Youth and Families by expanding for capacity for youth programs, and the City’s goal of providing equitable access to facilities and services.”
But the prospect has already been met with some community pushback from neighbors who say the lights create a nuisance, in part because they allow athletic activities to continue late into the evening. Plans to light an athletic field at Alexandria City High School were the subject of a long-running battle between the school system and neighbors that was eventually settled in 2020, with games played under the new lights starting in 2021.
The City Council has already approved funding for the lighting of two athletic fields pending a special use permit approved by the Planning Commission and City Council. The release said the lighting of additional fields would likely be a three-to-five-year process.
City staff said in earlier meetings that there are three fields that could be lighted as early as FY 2023:
- Francis C Hammond Middle School, 4646 Seminary Road
- George Washington Middle School, 1005 Mt. Vernon Avenue
- Jefferson Houston K-8 School, 1501 Cameron Street
Two other fields, one at Patrick Henry K-8 School and Recreation Center (4643 and 4653 Taney Avenue) and Eugene Simpson Stadium Park (426 East Monroe Avenue) can’t be lighted until 2024 and 2025 respectively.
“If you are unable to attend the public hearing, comments will be accepted by mail or email [[email protected]] until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, July 20, 2022,” the release said. “Please mail written comments to RPCA, ATTN: Jack Browand, 1108 Jefferson Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.”
Alexandria’s athletic fields could get new lights to keep games running later, but the prospect has already drawn backlash from some field neighbors who say the lights only create more of a nuisance.
In a community meeting last week, Jack Browand, division chief of Parks and Cultural Activities, said the lights are part of a push by city government to extent the usable hours of the city’s overcrowded fields.
“We are faced with an increased capacity of all of our athletic programs in the city, both with ACPS and the community,” Browand said. “We are looking to utilize existing resources, which are not growing tremendously and maximize their return on investment. For every lighted field, specifically, those that are synthetic turf, you can add approximately 1100 hours of additional use. That’s an average of about 3 to 3.5 hours per night by having lights on the field.”
Browand said adding lights to the fields hits a few city goals, including expanding capacity for youth programs and providing equitable access to city facilities.
There are several options Browand presented for locations where fields could have lighting added, but some of those options are limited by other factors like construction timelines. The project also has budgetary constraints: it costs approximately $402,000 to light a field and the city has approved $804,000 to light two fields in FY 2023.
There are three fields Browand said the city can begin adding lights to as early as FY 2023:
- Francis C Hammond Middle School, 4646 Seminary Road
- George Washington Middle School, 1005 Mt. Vernon Avenue
- Jefferson Houston K-8 School, 1501 Cameron Street
Two other fields, one at Patrick Henry K-8 School and Recreation Center (4643 and 4653 Taney Avenue) and Eugene Simpson Stadium Park (426 East Monroe Avenue) can’t be lighted until 2024 and 2025 respectively. Browand said construction is expected to start at Patrick Henry in summer 2023 to be finished in 2024.
Additionally, Browand said any proposal to add lighting to any location is still subject to special use permit approval and further funding considerations. Browand also said the lights would be designed with the goal of limiting the impact of lights beyond the field and surrounding track.
Alexandria is no stranger to controversies involving lights at athletic fields.
Most of the speakers at the meeting expressed reservations about the impact of lights on the neighborhood, both in terms of light pollution but also the potential of creating a post-sunset hangout location.
Susan Nelson, a neighbor near Francis C Hammond Middle School, said she and her daughter both play soccer in Alexandria but said she was opposed to lights on the field:
What we see, with our own eyes — this isn’t fake data or people running tests at random times during the day — is adults playing after hours, adults fighting, playing shirtless at a school, which would in most cases accused of inappropriateness around children, beer bottles, hard lemonade bottles, trash, abandoned cars. And that’s without lights. The shortage is a city created problem and now we’re going to push this through when people in this neighborhood don’t want it. We’re professionals. We already have problems with that field without the lights there. I don’t know who is letting their child out to practice at 10 p.m. at night… I can’t believe this is being brought up as a legitimate thing.
Browand said if lights went forward for fields at Alexandria City Public Schools locations, the city would work with school security to monitor the fields for that sort of activity and check for abandoned cars.
The proposal on lighted fields is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission and City Council in September/October.
According to the city website, additional meetings are scheduled for:
- June 16: Park and Recreation Commission at 7 p.m. (In person only) Charles Houston Recreation Center, 901 Wythe St.
- June 21: Community Meeting #2 at 7 p.m.
- July 21: Park & Recreation Commission Public Hearing at 7 p.m. (In person only) Patrick Henry Recreation Center, 4653 Taney Ave.