Despite enhancements, new Jones Point Park plan irks neighbors

Despite enhancements, new Jones Point Park plan irks neighbors

Jones Point Park will remain open during a long awaited revamping, but the concession is a hollow victory for some neighbors preferring the park remain unchanged.

Virginia Department of Transportation officials unveiled their final plans for the park, once a shipyard nestled alongside the Potomac, before a crowd of roughly 65 residents last week. When work is finished in September 2012, the park will boast multi-use recreation areas, a new Mount Vernon Trail route, boat launch, access road, parking, a playground and tot lot. 

The project initially sparked a controversy among neighbors when officials planned to close Jones Point during construction. Though theyve decided to keep the park open during construction, neighbor Yvonne Weight questions the projects value in the first place. 

State and federal officials planned like drunken sailors when they set about mitigating the bridge projects effect on the park, she said. 

There was tons of controversy over how much the park was going to be developed, Weight said. Theres a strong contingent of people who say we dont need any of this stuff. We just dont.

Weight has followed the project since its inception. Shes gone to the park regularly since 1964 and worries the work will drive away several eagles that have recently made Jones Point their home. 

The moneys already appropriated, but Weight wishes they could stamp a return to sender notice on the federal dollars. VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration split the roughly $15.7 million tab 80-20, officials said.

We just want [Jones Point Park] left alone, she said. We would love to just give that money back to President Obama. They could use it in a lot of different places.

Part of the problem may stem from the lengthy Woodrow Wilson Bridge project. The planning and construction left neighbors a little shell shocked, said Engin Artemel. He represented St. Marys School at the time and recalls residents concerns then. 

But Artemel, former city planning director, believes the park will be a real asset to the community when the project is finished. 

It has a passive park feel and the improvements theyre making is basically along those lines, Artemel said. Obviously, its a historic park and I think it should allow better use for the neighbors and for the trails Its still open and useful, but in a passive sort of way, without negatively impacting the neighborhood. I think it turned out for the best.

The original plan called for more soccer fields and more development, which didnt sit well, he said. The new design is low scale and will improve the park without detracting from the neighborhood.

Despite recreational additions to the park, some residents just dont want change.

Oenone Sparkman has enjoyed Jones Point Park just the way it is for about 20 years. Its one of the last parcels of wilderness in Alexandria, she said. Though some of the improvements dont bother Sparkman, she also worries the urge to tidy up the park will drive off the wildlife. 

But officials took pains to showcase their environmental improvements as well. Invasive species like phragmites, otherwise known as the common reed, that call the park home will be removed in favor of native wetlands plants.

The project plans also calls for shoreline stabilization and new turbidity curtains, which checks the diffusion of silt in water. 

Still, neighbors like Sparkman will need some convincing.

Theyre going to cut down some of the trees and tidy up the woodland area, which I think would be a shame, Sparkman said. Wild animals and birds like to have areas that are not tidy to live in.

In the end, Jones Point Park, home to the nations oldest inland lighthouse and one of the original markers designating the District of Columbia, likely will be a crowd-pleaser, Artemel said.