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Back to Drawing Board for Potomac Overlook Plan

Treetop shelter similar to one proposed for Potomac Overlook Regional Park (photo via NVRPA)The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has scrapped a plan to add amenities to Potomac Overlook Regional Park (2845 N. Marcey Road) after an outcry from residents.

The NVRPA had floated a plan to add a tree house overlook, a youth camp ground and a small urban farm to the 67-acre park, among other additions and renovations. In response, residents who live by the park formed a group called the Potomac Overlook Preservation Association, and bombarded county and NVRPA officials with emails protesting the plan.

The plan, opponents said, would shift the park toward a more high-impact recreational use rather than the current use for nature preservation and for low-impact recreation.

At a meeting held by the preservation association last night (Tuesday) — attended by a standing-room-only crowd of more than 250, organizers said — NVRPA officials said they would throw out previous plans and restart the public process of considering improvements to the park.

In an email to ARLnow.com, NVRPA Executive Director Paul Gilbert said the authority realized it had fumbled the public presentation of the plan.

The issue is one of process and semantics more than anything else. While it was our intention (and our actions) to seek public input before we moved forward with any of these ideas, many in the community read our meeting minutes and reached the conclusion that we had made final decisions. In truth we had not done any site specific planning or determined the ultimate feasibility of these idea.

Because of this miscommunication, some looked at the Power Point that had been presented and reached worse case scenarios about many of the ideas. We were never able to have the conversation with the community that we wanted and because opinions were formed we realized that we needed to reset the process and start over. The characterizations that these plans somehow changed the nature of the park were never well founded. We simply got off on the wrong foot.

We will probably discuss some of these ideas in the years ahead, because many of them were very good. But we will be more careful in issues of process and semantics in the future.

Site plan for Potomac Regional Overlook ParkIn a press release, the Potomac Overlook Preservation Association said it supported some parts of the plan, and will work to shape future plans.

“Park users and local residents voiced strong support for certain aspects of the plan, such as greater efforts to control invasive species and rebuilding the park’s aging birds-of-prey shelter and deteriorating trails,  but quickly organized to block the development projects,” said the organization. “Users of the park immediately welcomed the park authority’s reversal, praised their quick response to the growing community pressure, and pledged to work cooperatively with the authority in future planning efforts.”

The president of the preservation association, Steve Blakely, said NVRPA “did the right thing.”

“The NVRPA did the right thing by listening to the community,” he said. “They deserve full credit for that, and doing it quickly.”

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