By Chris Teale (File photo)
Tennis has been an enormous part of Jared Engeset’s life since he was 10 years old, so when he moved to Alexandria from Pentagon City with his wife, he was delighted to see that their new home on Colonial Avenue was close to a city-operated tennis court at Powhatan Park.
But when he heard one weekend morning of a draft city proposal that would replace the facility with outdoor fitness equipment at the park at 1010 Douglas St., Engeset was concerned enough to launch a grassroots campaign to try and save the court. With a website, www.saveourtenniscourt.com, and a plan to gather signatures for a petition he plans to present at the NorthEast Citizens Association meeting on June 17, he hopes to convince the city to rethink their plans in what he feels is a worthwhile cause.
“There are not many courts in the city,” said Engeset. “There are the four courts at Montgomery, there are two courts they just added over at the Potomac Yard area, which we feel like are utilized constantly. They’ve also added countless residents to this area, and there are not a lot of tennis courts.”
The idea to remove the tennis court is part of a draft plan to renovate city parks, including Powhatan, which was released in the spring and includes a number of other recommendations by the division of park planning, design and capital development within the city department of recreation, parks and cultural activities. The plan also includes moving the playground, moving the sidewalk back from North Henry Street to create a barrier between pedestrians and vehicles, creating a plaza and a green alley to capture stormwater, along with installing shade structures.
The report says the tennis court is rarely used, and that given that no more than four people can play at once, it limits others’ use.
Engeset disputes that claim and believes that with the expansion of residential development in the northern neighborhoods of Alexandria, it will continue to grow in popularity.
“Based on our feedback and how we use it, it does get used quite often,” he said. “Granted, only four people can use it at a time, but you only play tennis for an hour or two and then people come on after that.
“You go, and you wait for a court, and you play and you’re done. That’s how tennis players have grown up through city parks all their life, it’s nothing new that you walk out and someone is on a court. That’s pretty standard. If you just wait a while, they’re gone, and you go and play yourself.”
But Jack Browand, division chief in the city’s parks and recreation department, disagrees. Every two years, the department undertakes a needs assessment to survey what neighbors want in their local parks. He says that when the last one was completed in 2013, tennis courts did not rank highly on the list of residents’ priorities.
“Some of it is just visual observation; it’s also used when we had some of the community meetings and we asked people about their basic use for the park,” Browand said. “At that time [in 2013], there wasn’t a whole lot of discussion or interest from the community to keep it, so the conclusion was drawn from the data that we had.”
Engeset also criticized the idea that there is a great demand for outdoor fitness equipment among city residents, especially given the proliferation of fitness opportunities across the city.
“What threw us off the most is they wanted to replace the court and put outdoor adult fitness equipment there, which is a nice idea in theory, but this area is so fitness-friendly,” Engeset said. “There are so many gyms around the area. While our gyms aren’t necessarily cheap,
there’s also the [Charles Houston Recreation Center] within [six] blocks and there’s fitness equipment in there.
“The fitness center opened not too many years ago, so it’s a very new facility, very nice. We take tennis as fitness, so why remove something that’s already being utilized by residents and it’s already an existing structure.“
Browand said that characterization of fitness options in Alexandria is too simplistic, and that people instead wish to have opportunities to stay fit and want to do so outside as opposed to in an indoor gym.
“I think it’s just that this area is very highly motivated to stay fit,” he said. “Constantly near the top of the list are outdoor fitness opportunities. Trails always rank very high, there’s been a push for outdoor fitness equipment. That was all the rage many, many years ago.
“I think what people are looking for is that they want to have a fully integrated exercise and fitness opportunity, so while they’re doing the cardio, they then go and do some of the weight bearing or other types of exercises so they’re getting the full exercise benefit they’re looking for.”
The city is currently taking feedback on their proposals for all city parks through the end of June, including Powhatan. Engeset is looking to mobilize support for his cause by asking those interested to fill out the survey and state their opposition to the plan to remove the tennis court. He says he has had plenty of positive responses.
“There’s been a lot of feedback from residents, a lot of positive folks who were basically saying thank you, basically for giving it a voice,” he said. “A lot of people were saying that they thought it was only them that cared about this, just because nobody had voiced any opinion. We’ve really garnered support to try and save the court.”
Engeset also cites a community feedback survey on the future of Powhatan Park from the fall of 2014, in which 17 of the 19 respondents said they wished to preserve or enhance the court.
Meanwhile, Browand says that the department will continue to collect feedback in a variety of ways, not only via the online survey but also through public hearings, community meetings and poster boards that people can write on.
“The nice thing is, the plans aren’t final, so we hope our feedback and getting people out there, that we can save the court, the next version of the plan will include the court in it,” Engeset said.
Broward agreed that there is still plenty of time for planners to change their minds. The city will review all the feedback they receive and revise plans if necessary over the summer.