A controversial effort to get a bocce court built along the Bluemont Junction Trail has been shot down by Arlington’s parks department — for now.
Supporters wanted a 13′ by 50′ bocce court built along the trail, using $15,000 from a hoped-for Parks Enhancement Grant from the county and “sweat equity” from community members. The court would provide a fun and safe recreational opportunity to local residents young and old, supporters said.
Some who live in the neighborhood vehemently opposed the proposed bocce court, however, saying it would produce noise, trash, traffic and parking woes. Plus, opponents said, there were no public restrooms for bocce players along the trail.
At first, it seemed that Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) staff was supportive of the idea — disputing many bocce opponents’ objections in a letter to community members. But in March, DPR staff completed an evaluation of the bocce court proposal and concluded that the court should not be built along the trail in the neighborhood, but should be built in nearby Fields Park.
Furthermore, staff concluded that the court should be “standard sized” — 15.5′ by 76′. The cost to build such a court was estimated between $17,600 and $25,500, depending on the type of court surface used (staff preferred a more expensive but less maintenance-intensive synthetic surface). Either way, that brought the cost estimate above the $15,000 PEG grant limit.
“These costs do not include the cost of site work or the cost of additional amenities such as player’s benches or trash cans,” Arlington County Park and Recreation Commission Chairman Paul Holland wrote to bocce supporters. “Since the costs exceed the current PEG limits, a future PEG request will need to identify matching funds.”
But even if supporters wanted to reapply, another PEG grant might not be forthcoming in the near future. The grant program was not funded in the county’s upcoming 2014 fiscal year budget and consideration of new grant applications has been postponed indefinitely.
Bocce supporter and former Bluemont Civic Association President Judah dal Cais said he was disappointed that the parks department picked Fields Park for the location and 15.5′ by 76′ for the size, thus scuttling his application.
Construction is underway on a tiny park near Ballston Common Mall.
The park, adjacent to the Ballston Parking Garage at the corner of Glebe Road and N. Randolph Street, features a pair of bocce courts and enhanced green space. The park is intended to be temporary; the county plans to eventually replace it with a longer-term use.
More about the park from the county website: “Arlington County is constructing interim improvements at Glebe & Randolph Park including two bocce courts, site furnishings, accessible paths, and flowering shrubs that support a variety of butterflies, birds and insects.”
Construction is expected to wrap up “early this summer,” according to parks department planner Scott McPartlin.
A month after several leaders of the Bluemont Civic Association resigned after catching heat for their support of the bocce court, Arlington County staff is now being criticized by bocce opponents.
Last week, county staff sent a letter in response to concerns about the proposed bocce court raised by Bluemont residents. The letter, below, attempts to answer nine specific specific concerns.
Some bocce opponents, however, were incensed by the county staff letter, and saw it as proof that the county is predisposed to approve the bocce court despite their objections.
(The bocce court was proposed by Bluemont resident and then-Bluemont Civic Association president Judah Dal Cais. It is being considered for an Arlington Park Enhancement Grant. The Parks and Recreation Commission has received 12 PEG applications and will make funding recommendations on Dec. 18, according to Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish. The County Board is expected to have the final say on the park grants early next year.)
An anonymous bocce court critic wrote the following critique after receiving the letter.
The Parks Department ignored the fact that the PEG application was applied for by Judah Dal Cais without the permission of the BCA and the BCA had submitted a letter stating that it did not support the application. The application was therefore a fraudulent misrepresentation. Diane Probus of the county delayed release of the PEG application under a FOIA request because she stated that Judah Dal Cais had requested that he be permitted to replace some submitted documents.
A letter of opposition by over 100 adjacent neighbors was also rejected by the county. The planned bocce court exceeds the allocated budget.
The attached letter from the county shows the clear bias of the Parks Department.
Below is the county staff letter in question. Kalish says the letter does not portend county approval of the bocce grant.
“There’s lots of misunderstanding going on in this issue so the more facts we can get to more people the better,” she said. “It is NOT a letter saying a decision has been made.”
Bocce/Petanque Court Petition in Opposition to the Bocce Court
November 20, 2012
Bluemont Junction Park Context
The Bluemont Junction Park has recreational facilities to serve the community and offers a balance of developed recreational features and undeveloped areas. The park has one rectangular field in it which is programmed for youth sports, a railroad caboose with interpretive exhibits, as well as a trail that connects from Bluemont Park to the Ballston area.
The petition submitted by the group of Bluemont residents who oppose the project listed nine objections to the project which are listed below. Staff has provided a response to each objection.
1. No Parking areas for people visiting the court, creating parking hazards and inconvenience in front of the neighbors’ home.
Response: The proposed bocce court would be a neighborhood facility and easily accessible for residents within a 5 – 10 minute walk. On street parking is available along public roads such as Bluemont Drive, and at the end of several of the cul-de-sacs bordering the park for those park users who drive. Since there would be only one court which would not be programmed for team use, the site is unlikely to attract bocce clubs who desire large spaces in urban settings to play.
2. Narrow area roads that cannot accommodate increased traffic from visitors.
Response: See response above.
3. Violation of privacy by players and observers lingering for prolonged periods directly in front of area homes.
Response: Bluemont Junction Park is a public park and is already utilized by the public for bike riding and for various recreational activities in the open space which can be noisy for short periods of time. Landscaping could be installed to create a buffer between nearby houses, if needed.
4. No public restrooms.
Response: A park recreational facility of this type and size does not qualify for a temporary or permanent restroom facility. A park must meet several criteria before the county will consider building a restroom facility in a park. A few of the criteria the county uses for determining the need for restroom facilities include:
- A park which will have a large number (150+) users at one time;
- The level of routine and scheduled use of the facility;
- The type of facility which, if not programmed, attracts a dense grouping of people
- A park with a dense grouping of facilities of a certain type.
5. Increase in trash and litter.
Response: Staff anticipates a minimal increase above what is found at the site currently from bicyclists and other activities in the park. Staff will adjust maintenance schedule should there be an increase in trash output at the site.
6. Use of scarce tax dollars for building and continual maintenance.
Response: The County Board allocates $100,000 per year towards the Park Enhancement Grant program to be used towards small park improvements such as is proposed in the application for the Bocce/Petanque court. The Commission and park staff evaluate the maintenance needed for each proposed project and factor that in when deciding on which project to recommend for funding. The applicant has committed to providing routine maintenance of the site.
7. Loss of green space, open space and multiple recreational uses at site of bocce court.
Response: A 13′ x 50′ (650 sq. ft.) court will remove less than .5% of open space in the 14.5 acre park. The court should be sited appropriately to minimize the loss of open space routinely used for informal recreation.
8. Neighbors along the trail severely impacted by noise and increased traffic from out-of-neighborhood visitors.
Response: See response to concerns #1 and #3 above.
9. Other bocce courts exist or are in development in easy access nearby, such as at Upton Park, Union Jack’s and Glebe-Randolph park.
Response: Union Jack’s in Ballston sets up a temporary indoor bocce court on Tuesday evenings for a bocce group to use. This bocce facility is private and has very limited availability. The Upton Park bocce courts are located in an isolated area of this park and have not been maintained adequately by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority to keep them usable. Two new bocce courts will be built at the Glebe and Randolph Park and they may be available for use by the community in late 2013.
Mass resignations. Emergency votes. Back-and-forth accusations. FOIA requests. Email flame wars featuring words like “duplicity,” “acrimony” and “gang-rape.”
It’s not a battle over the federal budget or abortion or any other hot-button topic of national, state or regional consequence. It’s the rancor over a proposal to build a single bocce court in Arlington’s Bluemont neighborhood.
On one side of the fracas is former Bluemont Civic Association President Judah dal Cais and his supporters. On the other side is a group of civic association members critical of dal Cais’ leadership and his bocce court proposal.
The Bluemont bocce/petanque court idea has been in the works since dal Cais first brought it up in 2010. While members of the Bluemont Civic Association voted, narrowly, in April 2012 to approve the idea of a bocce court somewhere in the neighborhood, the exact location of the court has remained controversial.
Dal Cais has insisted that the only viable location is along the Bluemont Junction Trail, between N. Emerson and Illinois Street — a central location that he says will serve as a meeting place for neighbors and ensure that the court is well cared for by residents. Many opponents of the bocce court say they don’t oppose the idea of a court, just the location; the green space around that section of the trail is narrow, they say, and the court would necessarily be located close to the yards of adjacent homes.
Opponents have cited parking, traffic, noise, litter and other concerns when arguing against the bocce court. Some also believe the court will attract outsiders and, perhaps, organized play by local bocce leagues.
“There were and continue to be significant concerns from neighbors at large and adjacent to the sites Judah proposes that a Bocce Court will be a destination for folks outside of the neighborhood,” said Maura Quinn, who has helped to lead opposition to the court. “Parking, trash, noise, lack of restroom facilities, and proximity to homes were all brought up over many months at BCA meetings. Many also believe that a cinder Bocce Court will cause significant dust/grime issues and will be unsightly in what is now lovely green space. There are Bocce leagues that play on grass throughout Arlington County calling into question the need for tearing out green space and replacing it with cinder.”
Dal Cais said all would be free to use the court, but doubted that it would be a suitable location for bocce leagues, especially with plans in the works to build multiple bocce courts in nearby Metro-accessible Ballston. He also cast doubt on fears of excess noise, traffic and littering, given that no more than 8 people can play bocce at one time and given that he predicts it will be played mostly by older adults who live in the neighborhood.
Opponents have suggested a number of alternative locations, including Fields Park, the area around Fire Station No. 2, the empty behind the Arlington Forest pool or the open space near the red caboose in Bluemont Parks. Dal Cais, who lives within walking distance of his preferred bocce court location, says the court will not be utilized and maintained properly (volunteers are to take care of the court, not the county) if it’s not in a central, “high visibility” location. He said the property owner closest to his preferred location has singed a letter of support in favor of the court.
The issue came to a head in September when it was revealed in the neighborhood newsletter that dal Cais was planning to submit an Arlington County Parks Enhancement Grant (PEG) application — asking for $15,000 to cover a contractor’s fee for building the court — as a private citizen. Opponents of the bocce court said dal Cais would not release a draft of the grant application to them — so they filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with Arlington County, which was eventually granted.
By this time, a petition opposing the proposed bocce court location was circulating among neighbors. Organizers say some 50-100 residents signed it. Opponents also say two people resigned from the Bluemont Civic Association’s bocce task force in protest of dal Cais’ private grant application. Then, on Sept. 27, the intrigue reached its height.
At a general membership meeting of the civic association, Dal Cais relinquished the chair in order to present a brief report on his grant application. Bocce supporters then describe an “ambush” of “hostile” questioning followed by a unadvertised motion and vote to send a letter to Arlington County opposing the bocce court location. The motion was allowed by the acting chair, passed and a letter was sent to County Board Chair Mary Hynes and several parks department officials.
In response, dal Cais’ supporters called an emergency meeting of the BCA Executive Board on Wednesday, Oct. 10 to “examine the unadvertised motion” and discuss the “tone and the lack of civility the audience directed at [dal Cais].” The meeting apparently did not go as hoped. Afterward, dal Cais, along with the civic association’s treasurer, webmaster, and parks and recreation liaison, all announced their resignations.