While several neighbors along Polk Avenue shared thoughts on city plans to replace a stretch of parking with a sidewalk, there was no discussion from members of the Traffic and Parking Board before they unanimously approved the plan.
The city is planning to build a new sidewalk that connects two dead-end stretches of sidewalk that cut off abruptly into dense underbrush. The city said the sidewalk construction will help students in the neighborhood walk to Polk Elementary and Hammond Middle School.
“There is an existing sidewalk on the north side,” said Alex Carroll, complete streets program manager for the City of Alexandria. “What this forces people to do when they’re walking on the north side is make one of two choices: cross the street or continue walking in the street to continue on their journey. When there are cars parked on the north side, they end up being placed virtually in the middle of the street.”
Carroll said this problem is exacerbated at the west end of that stretch of road, where the street curves and drivers don’t have the best view of pedestrians crossing the street.
The city’s plan is to remove nine parking space and a small portion of Polk Park — including three trees — to complete the northern sidewalk.
“There are currently 50 on street spaces on Polk Avenue,” Carroll said. “There are three single-family homes on Polk, each of which has a private driveway. Based on staff’s assessment, we feel there is sufficient parking supply to meet demands in this area.”
Some neighbors, meanwhile, shared concerns about the project’s impact on neighborhood parking and, to an extent, the impact on the park.
“We worked to get the land for this park for many many years,” said Shirley Downs. “Maybe you think it’s proprietary, but we really care about this park. We also care deeply and extensively about permit parking.”
Jeremy Hogg, whose children attend Polk Elementary, said he was one of the individuals that originally requested something be done on the street to help pedestrians, but said he disagreed with the plans staff drew up.
“I saw buses come around the corner, I saw vehicles going very quickly: It is an area that needs to be addressed,” Hogg said. “That being said, I’m not in support of this area as put forward. I think even one of the board members said ‘wait a minute, only two options have been put forward and they both involve the elimination of nine spaces?'”
Hogg said the parking spaces on the far side of the street are frequently full and removing them will eliminate the street parking in front of his home. Instead, Hogg suggested removing a few spaces and reconfiguring the plans to add a slightly larger retaining wall.
“Will effectively eliminate all the parking on my side of the road and we will be forced to walk a block away,” Hogg said. “I’m concerned that we’re not going to have ample parking.”
But Jack Browand, division chief of Parks and Cultural Activities, said any plans that involve pushing further into the park could compromise the well-being of some of the park’s largest trees.
“There’s both direct and indirect tree loss,” Browand said. “By pushing the sidewalk in there would be a direct loss of trees. Also, we have to be wary of the critical root zone. When you start cutting into the hill and putting in other stuff, you start cutting into the root zone. So you may not have direct tree loss, but if you start cutting into the root zone you start losing trees outside of the footprint of the construction area because with some of these larger trees that critical root zone is quite large.”
Browand said the city is interested in getting more people to explore Polk Park, but said there are also no plans to make significant improvements. A single trail runs through the park, but it’s in poor shape.
“There are opportunities and we’ve had internal [discussions] with the installation of this sidewalk,” Browand said. “It would provide a better access route to the entrance of this park… There could be opportunities to get more people into this park. It is a naturalized park, there aren’t significant improvements planned because it is intended to be more natural.”
Without discussion, the Traffic and Parking Board voted unanimously to endorse the city’s plan to remove the parking spaces to create the sidewalk connection.
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.”
Plans for the revitalization of Joseph Hensley Park (4200 Eisenhower Avenue) are headed to review at the Planning Commission and could see new field nets added to the popular athletic fields.
The Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities (RPCA) is requesting three 20-foot tall netting and fencing structures, with two backdrop structures along the first and third baselines of the two diamond ballfields and another netting structure along the east side of the rectangular field.
The goal is to keep athletic equipment contained to the recreational facility and not crashing through nearby windows and cars.
“The netting provides additional safety to pedestrians, park users, vehicles, and the adjacent roads including I-495 from aerial projecting balls associated with the normal use of athletic fields,” the application said.
The RPCA is asking that additional height be allowed to raise the nets up to 30 feet in height if necessary. The application said after the fences are constructed, the RPCA will determine if the additional height is needed for public safety.
The new structures are scheduled for review at the upcoming Sept. 6 Planning Commission meeting.
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.
Work is scheduled to start next month on one of Alexandria’s more bizarre projects: putting a set of historic ship hulls recovered in Old Town back underwater.
Ben Brenman Park Pond (4800 Brenman Park Drive) near Cameron Station will be playing the part of Davy Jones’ Locker for the project. The city is hosting a meeting on-site next week to discuss the project.
“The public is invited to attend a Community Pre-Construction Meeting about the upcoming project to place the Robinson Landing Site historic ship timbers in Ben Brenman Park Pond,” the city said in a release. “The meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 19, 5:30 p.m. at Ben Brenman Park at the maintenance access point on the pond along Deer Run Court.”
After the ships were uncovered in 2018, they were kept in tanks of water to prevent the wood from decaying. The timbers keep their shape when submerged but if the wood dries out they could crumble. Some pieces of the largest ship have been undergoing restorative treatment and study at Texas A&M, but timbers from the other two ships have been taking up space in a DASH bus facility since their discovery.
In an earlier meeting, City Archaeologist Eleanor Breen said Ben Brenman Park Pond was chosen as having the least risk of contamination or damage to the frames while also being the easiest to access. Breen said signage will be added to the park explaining the history of the ship fragments. Meanwhile, a study of a potential waterfront museum is scheduled to start later this year and could be a permanent home for at least one of the ship hulls.
The city release said fieldwork at the park is expected to run from May 2 to May 27.
Ewald Park is in notoriously rough shape, but the City of Alexandria is looking for grants to start revitalizing the Duke Street park.
At a City Council meeting scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday), the Council will consider a grant application (Item 14) to the 2022 Land & Water Conservation Fund in an effort to help finance the park revitalization originally approved in 2015.
A report from 2015 details the pretty sorry state of the 3.9-acre park.
“Today the park features a playground, basketball court, swimming pool (closed), and open field,” a city report from 2015. “It previously held tennis courts, though they were removed in the
early 2000’s. The former tennis area, pool and playground sit high on a hill and are not well seen from the Duke Street. The topography and hidden areas of the park have contributed to on-going safety concerns in the park, as frequently noted by the Alexandria Police Department.”
The report said that a pool in the park opened in 1969 but closed in 2012 because it was so lightly used, despite being the only pool on the west side of the city at the time. The existing playground is hidden behind the pool house and features outdated equipment and is inaccessible to people with disabilities.
There is a field at the site frequently used for casual soccer games, but there are no programmed games at the site.
“The City and its affiliates do not program the field, rather it is a site that players know to go to for unscheduled recreation,” the report said. “The field is in poor condition due to its heavy use and lack of proper irrigation and drainage.”
The plan the city is seeking grant funding for would transform much of the park space. The park would get a second basketball court with the possibility of added lighting. The dusty open field would be renovated with new turf and added irrigation, with a possibility of using synthetic turf and adding lighting. The closed pool would be replaced with two new multi-use courts.
The current decrepit playground would be replaced with a new forested area, while the former tennis court would be replaced with a more modern playground. The park would have new pedestrian access and better parking.
Photo via Google Maps
To help neighbors tired of ball-related destruction, Alexandria is planning to add some new nets to a field just off Duke Street.
Alexandria is planning to put up some towering new netting around the Witter Recreational Fields (2660 Witter Drive).
“The proposed netting will extend above the existing six-foot fence an additional twenty-four feet for a total height of thirty feet,” the staff report said. “The netting provides additional safety to the adjacent right-of-way and private property from aerial projecting balls associated with normal use of the athletic fields.”
The report said the netting was requested to provide some safety of park users and users of adjacent properties.
The new proposed netting is scheduled for review at the April 7 meeting of the Planning Commission.
Photo via Google Maps
Alexandria’s Park and Recreation Commission is deciding whether to add pickleball courts to more local tennis courts and is looking for public input on the decision.
At a virtual public hearing on Thursday, Feb. 17, the Commission hosting a public hearing to get public feedback on the proposal. The Commission is looking at where to put the new courts, as the funding has already been allocated for the needed infrastructure and court markings.
“The Park & Recreation Commission will provide a recommendation to staff regarding locations to expand pickleball court installations in the City,” the city said in a press release. “The Department of Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities (RPCA) requested additional funding in FY2022 to provide infrastructure and court markings to provide more pickleball courts and improve the level of play for pickleball users. In response to the Department’s request, RPCA received $20,000 to expand pickleball facilities in FY2022.”
The project is budgeted for $20,000 with each location costing $4,000 to renovate.
A city report said that the city is already in the process of converting single-use ball courts into multi-use courts, with Lee Center Courts and Mount Vernon Court already having pickleball facilities added to the existing tennis courts.
“Pickleball has increased in popularity in the last several years,” the report said. “RPCA requested additional funding in FY2022 to provide infrastructure and court markings to provide more pickleball courts and improve the level of play for pickleball users.
The conversion would involve adding movable nets with new lines demarcating pickleball courts on each side of the tennis court.
The report said the following courts could get renovated for pickleball use:
- Armistead L Boothe Park (four pickleball courts)
- Chambliss Park (four pickleball courts)
- Chinquapin Park (five pickleball courts)
- Eugene Simpson Stadium Park (four pickleball courts)
- Lee Center (four pickleball courts)
The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. and can be attended via link on the city website.
Photo via Frankie Lopez/Unsplash
NOVA Parks Ice + Lights welcomes 50,000th visitor — “Ice & Lights in Alexandria was an all-new attraction for the public when it opened in 2019. New displays and attractions are added every year to keep it fresh and appealing.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]
Alexandria sees COVID cases surge, locals urged to reduce risks — “Those precautions, the city specified, include considering moving holiday celebrations virtual, testing, getting a booster shot and avoiding travel if possible.” [WUSA9]
COVID-19 booster shots: where to find them in Alexandria — “Boosters available in Alexandria help protect against omicron and delta variant infections, and lessen the symptoms if you do get sick.” [Patch]
Jury convicts marijuana trafficker of drug-related murder — “A federal jury convicted an Alexandria man yesterday of murdering another man in retaliation for robbing him of an ounce of marijuana, and trying to convince a witness to lie for him to cover it up.” [Department of Justice]
The Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities has announced a suite of winter activities for locals of all ages starting early next year.
The city has a seasonal rotation of activities, with everything from full sports and activity camps to lighter day-activities. The age range of the activities varies wildly. The full list is available online and broken down by category.
Registration is scheduled to start on Wednesday, Dec. 15, at 9 a.m. for city residents. Registration launches Friday, Dec. 17, for nonresidents. Interested parties can register online or in-person at the Registration and Reservation Office at Lee Center (1108 Jefferson Street).
“Get ready for a flurry of fun this winter with a variety of in-person options for all ages, plus new virtual programs,” the city said in a press release. “Winter registration applies to classes, leagues and activities occurring from January through April. All current health guidelines for staff and participants will be met, including use of face masks and enhanced cleaning between activity periods.”
Photo via City of Alexandria/Facebook