Council grapples with soccer field, historic preservation

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Before the Alexandria City Council could deal with the various land-use matters confronting them on Saturday, public parks and the lack of athletic fields took center stage.

More than two dozen parents, accompanied by their young soccer pla

yers, came to Council chambers to talk about fields one, in particular. At issue, the lawn at Windmill Hill Park.

For the past two years, the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities has issued a permit for two teams of young children to practice and play soccer games at Windmill Hill Park.

We did this because we stopped allowing the children to play soccer at Jones Point Park, Roger Blakeley told Council earlier last week. We were concerned about falling debris from the construction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, which was directly over the park. We just didnt think it was safe to allow the kids to use the field.

However, when Council adopted a plan for Windmill Hill Park in 2003, the lawn was designated as passive use. Townsend Van Van Fleet brought this to the attention of the recreation department last summer, as president of the Old Town Civic Association, and asked that the department cease permitting active uses such as formal soccer practices and Saturday games.

In July, Blakeley, the deputy director for parks, met with youth sports groups and told the representative from the Alexandria Soccer Association that the children would have to practice and play on some other field in the city, not at Windmill Hill.

Nothing happened until practice was set to begin. Then, when parents learned that their children would not be allowed to practice and play at Windmill Hill, which is near their homes, they complained to Council. On Saturday morning, City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa told Council that it was permissible for the recreation director to issue permits that allowed practice at Windmill Hill. The issue of Saturday games is still under discussion.

This is a travesty of the public process, said Julie Crenshaw Van Fleet. If I want to go out and play croquet with my friends and refuse to leave when the parents arrive with their children to play soccer, they are going to think I am a mean witch and I am not.

Councilman Paul Smedberg lives near the park and received a number of e-mails from concerned parents. The children only play games on Saturday morning and practice one or two days a week. There is a basketball court at the park that creates much more noise and traffic. I just dont understand why there is a problem, he said.

Business v. historic preservation
The Trophy Room at 220 King St. just celebrated its sixth birthday and that may be the last one it celebrates at its current location. Council voted 6-1 to uphold the decision of the Board of Architectural Review for the Old and Historic District not to allow the owner to expand.

At issue is whether the owner can raise the roof on a historic building, thus changing the character of the structure. This is one of the only free-standing flounders left in Old Town and one of the very few that was built for commercial purposes, said Peter Smith, Alexandrias expert on historic architecture. This demolition would affect the very character of a 200-year-old structure.

There are two structures on the property, the main structure, which faces King Street, and the smaller, stand-alone structure behind it. The business has grown over the past six years and the owner, Mike Zarlinga, wants to use all of the premises and add on to it to accommodate that growth. He proposed raising the roof to change the structure from 1 1/2 stories to 2 1/2 stories. The upper space is not usable now because it doesnt meet code, Zarlingas attorney, Duncan Blair, said.

Before deciding the merits of the case, Council learned about flounders. They were small structures usually meant for storage but sometimes used for living space, Smith said. The term flounder came about because windows were on one side of the structure only, like the eyes on the fish. The flounders have a half-dormer and a slanted roof.

The material that we are demolishing is from the 1920s. We are being very careful about preserving this structure. I just want to expand my business, Zarlinga said.

Blair was able to point to other historic structures that have been partially demolished and encapsulated. The BAR pointed to denials. Several members of Council expressed concern about the process and how Zarlinga was handled.

If we knew that we werent going to approve any type of demolition, why did we have a back-and-forth conversation with this applicant, making many changes to architectural drawings and causing him to spend thousands of dollars? asked Councilman Paul Smedberg.

Councilman Rob Krupicka agreed. There does seem to be an inconsistency here. On the one hand, we are saying you cant demolish this structure, and on the other hand, we are talking about how appropriate the new design is. This does not strike me as a particularly business-friendly approach, he said.

City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa explained the process. To make it easier on applicants, we do not bifurcate the process. We tell the applicant that, while we arent going to recommend demolition, if Council chooses to approve it, this is the kind of design we could approve. That saves time in going back to get a certificate of appropriateness from the BAR if Council decides to allow demolition. If Council wishes to change things, that is your prerogative, he said.

Smedberg voted against upholding the BARs decision.

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