Planning begins for Cameron Run Regional Park’s future

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Planning begins for Cameron Run Regional Park’s future
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By Chris Teale (File photo)

The next phase in the life of Cameron Run Regional Park should become clearer by early summer, because city council on January 10 approved a process to get the public’s feedback on its future.

Under a plan by the city’s department of recreation, parks and cultural activities, residents can weigh in
on possible future uses in a variety of settings during the winter and spring.

Staff would then return to the parks and recreation commission and city council with a conceptual plan, alternatives and recommendations for adoption. Under a proposed timeline by staff, adoption would be slated for May or June.

The park’s land at 4001 Eisenhower Ave. is owned by the city but leased to the Northern Virginia Regional Parks Authority, an inter-jurisdictional organization made up of Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties and the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax. Alexandria pays $4.60 per resident to help fund the authority.

NOVA Parks’ lease is set to expire in 2020, but it became embroiled in controversy last year after the authority proposed a 20-year lease extension, linked to a plan to buy the historic Murray’s Livery property at 517 Prince St.

But city councilors nixed that proposal after a contentious public hearing, instead de-coupling the two and choosing to pursue a $2.5 million purchase of Murray’s Livery through grants and other means. After a $900,000 grant from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation and owner Joseph Reeder’s donation of his equity, the city faced a shortfall of $350,000.

The 26-acre Cameron Run Regional Park is visited by more than 100,000 people each year, a third of whom are from Alexandria. The park raises about $600,000 a year for NOVA Parks, which pays a nominal leasing fee to the city each year. Currently, the park has batting cages, miniature golf and the Great Waves water park, which includes pools and water slides.

The process of determining the park’s future uses will take place with a slew of stakeholders in a variety of settings, not limited to city-sponsored public forums.

Jack Browand, division chief for planning and construction, in the city’s parks and recreation department, said other methods used will include the use of virtual open houses, social media and meetings sponsored by stakeholders among others.

Councilors agreed that representatives from Alexandria City Public Schools should be included in the process, with the express intention that the park be examined from a recreation standpoint and not as a potential school site to help ease capacity concerns.

But they were perturbed to hear that nearby Hensley Park will be included in the planning process, a park whose future had already been determined through discussions of the city’s large parks two years ago.

“I don’t want to compromise a really thorough, good look at Cameron Run and try to have that influenced by trying to jiggy what’s been approved at Hensley Park to try to make something work,” said City Councilor Paul Smedberg.

A recommendation from the parks and recreation commission in its endorsement of the plan, commission chairwoman Jennifer Atkins said in an interview after the meeting that it allows the parks to be examined in a broader context and could allow “connectivity” to its surroundings.

“We shouldn’t look at things in isolation,” Atkins said. “We should look at things in their context. To look at and discuss Cameron Run and that land as a recreational use, it’s a little bit silly to not look at what is around it. Hensley is right there. Part of this comes, if you actually look at the planning, there is discussion in both plans where it says that connectivity is important.”

The question of future uses at Cameron Run is complicated by the existence of a resource protection area, a sensitive environmental corridor to be preserved in a natural condition. But councilors appeared hopeful of what can be done, with City Councilor Del Pepper suggesting an ice rink as a possible year-round use.

“In my view, this all came about because of the community’s desire to see something else there,” Smedberg said. “We have a lot of space there that’s not being used to its highest capacity or use. The desire is for our changing community to see different types of programming coming from the parks and rec department.”

Atkins said it will be critical to manage expectations given the city’s budget constraints, and the changing landscape in an area of the city encapsulated by two small area plans.

“Public process is always a two-way street,” she said. “Part of it is understanding from the public how people use the site now, and what do people think should be at the site in five [to] 25 years from now. It is the major piece of land for recreation in that area of the city, which is subject to Eisenhower West and Eisenhower East redevelopment plans right now.”

City Manager Mark Jinks will return with a progress report and update for councilors later this year, before any decisions are made.

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