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Peter’s Take: Will There Be ‘Room For All’ in Arlington’s New Parks Plan?

Peter RousselotPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On July 11, Arlington posted a “Preliminary Draft” of its new Public Spaces Master Plan. This draft reflects considerable thought and effort. I encourage you to provide your comments by the newly-extended August 31 deadline.

The PSMP (p. 2) seeks to provide the foundation for:

a network of publicly- and privately-owned public spaces that connect the Countys established neighborhoods and growing corridors to natural areas, protect valuable natural resources, provide opportunities for structured and casual recreation, and ensure access to the Potomac River, Four Mile Run, and their tributaries.

Today’s column discusses only a small number of issues raised by this 272-page draft.

Discussion

I have highlighted previously  the urgency of preserving and materially increasing Arlington’s inadequate park and recreation resources to address dramatically increasing demands from the projected county population growth of 63,000 people (29 percent) by 2040.

The PSMP core “Strategic Direction 1 – Public Spaces” seeks to “ensure equitable access to spaces for recreation, play and enjoying nature by adding and improving public spaces.”

These proposed changes can help reach this goal:

Counting “parkland” 

The PSMP states (p. 44): “Arlington has over 2000 acres of parkland, both County and non-County owned…”  However, without greater clarity as to what is being counted as “parkland” (e.g., possibly all APS facilities and “unusable” portions of the federally-owned GW Parkway are included), this global number appears inflated and misleading.

The relevant issue is the amount of additional parkland needed in Arlington to meet present and future demand.  See the “Population-Based Standards” chart (p. 90).

New “Public Space” 

Proposed “Action” 1.1 (p. 70) states: “Add at least 30 acres of new public space over the next 10 years.” Inclusion of this land acquisition goal is critical and has widespread community support.

However, “Natural Areas and Wildlife Habitats” ranked as the second highest outdoor need on the statistically valid 2015 Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment Survey, and county citizens are consistently calling for more natural green space: “We want natural grass, trees, and a place to relax.”

This goal should be clearly focused on the county acquiring more “green parkland” or it will be “fulfilled” in large part by more hardscape plazas and/or synthetic turf in our urban corridors.

The PSMP should also incorporate the three separate sub-categories of “natural lands”, “unstructured” (or “casual use”) areas, and “structured” areas, i.e. athletic fields and courts I previously recommended. This should also provide explicit prohibitions on any loss of natural lands and “casual use” areas.

New Land Acquisition Policy

While hopefully facilitating parkland acquisition, this policy needs revisions to avoid filtering out critical present and potential “natural lands” and “casual use” areas. Higher points must be awarded to such “natural lands” that don’t have “special features.” Criteria affording points to such “casual use” areas need to be added. Points should also be reallocated from existing plans where parcels may already have been developed to parcels with strong community support identified on an “ad hoc” basis.

Conclusion

The PSMP is a new step forward for Arlington’s park and recreation resources.  Although creative mechanisms to acquire more parkland are identified, our critical need for preserving and increasing our parkland — particularly our “green parkland” — can only be met with a strong commitment by the County Board in our budgets and CIPs for the foreseeable future.

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