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Peter’s Take: Open Spaces Plan Needs a Lot More Work

Peter’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.

At a February 20 work session, the County Board reviewed and discussed the latest draft of the Public Open Spaces Master Plan (POPS plan).

The Board properly decided to delay final adoption of the POPS plan until fall 2018. The latest draft is based on some serious methodological flaws and faulty data.

A revised draft is expected to be posted for public comment later this spring.

The final POPS plan should serve as a suitable guide to make investments in priorities that are analytically sound. This requires that the final plan be evidenced-based, internally consistent and responsive to the expressed priorities and needs of the entire community.

Draft POPS plan ignores the most important statistically-valid ETC survey findings

A major flaw in the current draft is its failure even to discuss the most reliable evidence of Arlington residents’ preferences for parks and recreation improvements. That evidence is captured in the cross-tabs of the statistically-valid ETC survey.

Each age group was asked to rank their priorities 1-8 for park and recreation system improvements. Every age group, as well as every geographic group, even households with children, came up with the same top two choices for improving our park and recreation system:

  1. Preserve trees and natural areas
  2. Acquire new parkland for passive–as opposed to active–uses

The final POPS plan needs to be designed around, and be responsive to, this vital information in the ETC survey.

Much increased clarity is needed concerning proposed Levels of Service for park uses

The current draft plan contains a chart which proposes future Levels of Service (LOS) for recreational and park activities. The draft also contains vague language about how the results were obtained, including “tak[ing] into account” some variables (pp. 241- 243). But, the draft does not explain how each variable was calculated, nor how each variable was weighted against each other variable. This is especially true for “resident priorities,” listed only as “high” “medium” and “low.”

The LOS comparisons between Arlington and what are alleged to be Arlington’s “peer cities” also are seriously flawed. The current LOS for sports fields in Arlington already is significantly (33-300%) better than those provided by all but one of the four peer cities identified. The only exception is St. Paul, Minn. which has triple the amount of parkland and twice the amount of overall land as Arlington.

The Friends of Aurora Highlands Parks group published two newsletters discussing other variables, parkland totals and field capacity. That discussion demonstrates that a disproportionate ratio of Arlington’s parkland is dedicated to fields compared to its peer city and national averages.

Conclusion

Attempts to set unrealistically high LOS goals for Arlington would be a profound mistake.

Such a mistake would be even more disturbing because the millions of dollars in costs/losses the community would be asked to absorb are unnecessary. Without sacrificing trees, natural areas or casual use open space to build excessive sports infrastructure, Arlington can continue to rival top-tier communities nationwide throughout the POPS planning horizon by:

  • increasing transparency in scheduling
  • optimizing utilization and monitoring it more closely
  • doing a better job of maintaining the sports fields we already have

The current draft POPS plan addresses none of these opportunities to be the best possible stewards of Arlington’s park and recreation system resources. The final POPS plan must do so.

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