A Four Mile Run Valley Working Group member says some colleagues and the county are trying to turn property near Jennie Dean Park into an “arts district,” against the wishes of others on the group.
Michael Grace, who sits on the group as its liaison to the Parks and Recreation Commission, said the Arlington County Board is under “incessant pressure” from some members to repurpose five properties adjacent to the park at 3630 27th Street S. in Shirlington.
The properties were bought through a combination of tax dollars and bonds issued specifically for parks purposes, and Grace said the group is split on using them for an arts district instead. A wider plan for the area released in January suggested various park improvements, sports facilities and an “arts walk.” The group has previously struggled with the future of the Shirlington Dog Park, which the County Board sent back to the drawing board earlier this year.
“The fault lines are basically that there’s two constituent opponents,” Grace said. “One is people who actually live right near there… The other is people who operate businesses in the area, and I think they view an arts district as potentially more lucrative for their businesses compared to more park space.”
Another problem, Grace said, is also that proponents do not have a fully-formed plan for a new arts district, but appear to want traditional arts activities like painting and sculpting among others, as well as businesses like “wine bistros, designer coffee bars and restaurants” to build up nightlife nearby.
“No one has been able to answer crucial questions about an arts district such as (1) what it would contain, (2) who would pay for creating it, and (3) how it would sustain itself financially,” he wrote in an email.
Grace said the County Board should keep to its original mandate to the working group for “a vision for the comprehensive replacement and realignment of existing park features (exclusively for park purposes) and the addition of new park amenities to meet the growing demand for active and passive recreation, cultural resources and natural resource preservation.”
He added that there remains broad support for adding to the county’s parks, including at a “Visioning Workshop” held last December, but not for taking away properties originally bought to help the park.
“To be fair, some people did stand up and say they’d like to see more arts-type activities in south Arlington, the Four Mile Run Valley, but not one such individual advocated taking properties that were always intended for traditional park purposes and turning into an arts district,” Grace said. “There’s no public support for that that I can ascertain at all.”
A county spokeswoman said there is “no plan” to turn properties surrounding Jennie Dean Park into an arts district, and that instead the current draft for park plans includes acquiring additional land for its expansion. The spokeswoman noted that the County Board requested that land west of S. Nelson Street be explored for an arts district, and that a subgroup of the working group is working to define what that would entail.
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