The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Edith Wilson, president of the Shirlington Civic Association and a member of the Four Mile Run Valley Working Group, regarding plans for Jennie Dean Park.
On February 6, the Parks & Recreation Department provided the Four Mile Run Valley (4MRV) Working Group with the staff policy framework for Jennie Dean Park over the next 20 years. Here’s a different view of the situation faced by decision-makers.
This park concept is vastly improved over initial proposals, reflecting many compromises where there is no perfect solution, Markedly responsive to a wide range of sharply competing interests and community input, it does right by the environment by respecting the flood plain and resource conservation area (RPA) and planting many more trees. It increases total recreation facilities by creating a new rectangular field where soccer and other casual sports can be played. A brand new playground would be located in the center of the park amid greenery and away from noisy trucks and buses from County facilities and the cement plant. It leaves the majority of new parkland along S. Four Mile Run Drive for landscaping and open space.
There is a lot of history to our valley, but part of that history is the new elements too. Take us for example. Over the last 40 years, residential multi-unit housing was built along the south side of the stream from the Village westward to S. Walter Reed Drive. Twenty years ago Arlington County worked hard to create the Village of Shirlington, a landmark mixed-use urban village with a population that celebrates its diversity. The Shirlington neighborhood now has over 2,200 households with tens of thousands of regular visitors to its business areas. How can this work, though, since there is no park, playground, not even a school or church with open space, in this area? What was the County thinking?
The answer is that literally across the street, though not within the boundaries of the Shirlington neighborhood, are the parks our community depends on: the long landscaped strip along S. Arlington Mill Drive, the dog park, and Jennie Dean Park. Arlington residents from all over come here with their families and pets. Shirlington residents are out there every single day, often several times.
What makes the valley between Shirlington and Nauck special is our beautiful section of Four Mile Run stream. This is presided over by Marvin, the elegant Great Blue heron who lives on a small rocky island in the lower stream, a stretch few visit because it is blocked by a large softball field fence. The Great Blue heron is the largest of all the North America herons, If you are lucky, you can see Marvin gliding down the center of the stream at dusk, dipping like a trick pilot under the pedestrian bridge. There are raccoons, turtles, ducks, geese, snakes, fish and lots of other birds too. Providing public access to the stream and wildlife such as this was the guiding principle of the enormously successful 20-year-old stream restoration project from Shirlington Road eastward to the Potomac River. Now it’s time to extend that principle westward.
This area has a high risk of flooding. – why do you think WETA needs to leave its old production center in the middle of the park? Environmental rules and common sense mandate addressing these conditions but the current softball field location stands in the way. The proposal shifts this field away from the stream, leaving a large open space for many more water-absorbing trees, traditional picnic areas, a nature overlook and a riparian pathway. Moving this field, in turn, also creates space for a new rectangular playing field lying across the back of two slightly repositioned diamond fields. Again, two-thirds of the frontage along Four Mile Run Drive would still be turned into casual space with landscaping and room for an impressive park entrance.
As Arlington’s population and density increases, demand for park and recreation space is shooting up. No one neighborhood owns any of these parks, not even those of us close by. Let’s absolutely respect and honor the important history of this particular neighborhood – including the baseball and softball leagues that have been played here for decades — but let’s focus on the future we need to build together. Let’s share.
ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.
The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by long-time Nauck resident Portia Clark, the current president of the Nauck Civic Association.
My family has lived in Arlington for more than a century. I was raised in Arlington, and my children and grandchildren live here too. Some of my ancestors from the 1800’s are buried in the cemetery next to Lomax A.M.E. Zion Church, which was established in 1866. Lomax falls within the Four Mile Run Valley Study Area.
When I was young, I went to Arlington public schools. Yet, my mother growing up in Nauck, was not allowed to play in most Arlington County parks because of the color of her skin.
The the only park open to her and her siblings was Jennie Dean Park. Arlington County’s then- Department of Recreation noted in its 1949 report that Jennie Dean Park was the county’s “sole recreation area for colored citizens.” In the Park’s historical markers, there are photos of my family members, friends and neighbors.
After decades of waiting, Arlington County is now focused on revitalizing Jennie Dean Park and the surrounding area in Nauck. I have seen the draft plans for Jennie Dean Park put forth by Arlington County staff. The plans are astoundingly tone-deaf.
The Nauck community hasn’t asked for much with regard to Jennie Dean Park, other than to revitalize it and to minimize the impacts on our community. We certainly have ideas for what amenities we would like to see in the Park, but we understand – maybe better than anyone else – that parks should be for the entire community. So, when the County told us that they wanted the same amenities to stay in the park – no more, no less – we understood that everything we discussed at numerous meetings could not go into the park.
We did insist, however, that respect be paid to the Nauck community. This means that the front of Jennie Dean Park, the portion fronting the neighborhood at Four Mile Run Drive, be left open for casual use. We want this area to be a gateway for the community to enter the Park. We want it to be green. We want it to be landscaped. We want it to have flowers and trees and open space.
Instead, the County has drafted plans to place a baseball field in that spot, instead of another part of the Park. A baseball field, especially one with fencing and stadium lights, is not welcoming. The County’s draft plan also hides a playground and shelter area away from the community it would serve. This County plan offers no connection to the neighborhood and its cultural heritage, except for a historical marker with some friendly faces on it. This plan will negatively impact our community in a number of ways.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, the County drew up plans, which it insisted were viable, that accepts the placement we requested and the honor we deserve.
The Nauck Civic Association has already voted – unanimously – that this draft plan from the County on Jennie Dean Park is a non-starter. We hope others will join us in expressing this concern.
The draft framework for the proposed Four Mile Run Valley area is now open for public comment.
The county is setting out to reshape the Four Mile Run Valley area — centered around the Shirlington and Nauck neighborhoods — while balancing the commercial, residential, historic, environmental and industrial needs of the community. This is the latest step in a process which began June 2016.
The plan includes the redevelopment of Jennie Dean Park, with the goal of maximizing the park’s open green space. It also includes the potential establishment of an arts district — with a clustering of studios, theaters and maker spaces — though the idea has received some criticism from groups that want more green space or playing fields.
Proposed park amenities include educational stream overlooks, improved access to the stream, and commissioned public art pieces or sculptures, per the framework.
Changes to the Shirlington Dog Park seem to be limited to minor changes to improve erosion and water quality issues. That follows a public outcry about a potential reduction of the dog park’s size.
Among environmental considerations, the document states that the “area’s history of [industrial] development suggests that there may be soil contamination in soil locations.” Further sections note that excrement from the dog park is another significant soil and water contaminant in the area. The need for “an eye toward environmental remediation, stormwater management, and stream protection” is cited in numerous sections of the draft.
Residents have until Friday, Feb. 16 to comment online. The plan is expected to be presented to the Arlington County Board this spring.
(Updated at 11 a.m.) The chairs of the Park and Rec and Sports Commissions have criticized the Four Mile Run Valley Working Group for focusing on a planned arts district, comparing it to the push that led to the creation of the since-closed Artisphere.
In a letter to working group chair Charles Monfort, Caroline Haynes and Shirley Brothwell said they are “disappointed” to realize the working group’s outcomes “may not be as transformative as they could have been.”
The pair specifically critiqued the group’s key focus on a two-block area west of S. Nelson Street near Jennie Dean Park, which has been suggested as the location for a new arts district. Some group members wish to repurpose the properties as an arts district, which could include traditional arts activities like painting and sculpting, among others, as well as businesses to build up nightlife nearby.
“Because of these issues, we believe the 4MRVWG runs a very real risk of missing the target altogether and doing a disservice to the County Board and residents,” Haynes and Brothwell wrote. “The Board may get a clear vision of what some members of the working group prefer for a tiny portion of the study area, but constituencies in the surrounding neighborhoods and in the parks, recreation, and sports communities already have challenged and rejected that vision.”
Instead, the pair urged any land acquired in that area be used to expand Jennie Dean Park — especially if purchased with bond funds intended for parkland acquisition — and that the group develop more specific information about how arts are supported in the county.
“When bond funds voted on by Arlington taxpayers and designated for park land acquisition have been redirected toward arts purposes in the past, the results have not been positive; specifically, $4 million of such funds were redirected to build out the Artisphere,” the letter said. “We note that the arts were pulled out from [the parks department] after it became apparent that the Artisphere was financially unsustainable.”
“It remains unclear how the proposed arts hub would be financed or managed over time to become self-sustaining,” said the letter writers. “We do not want to repeat a costly mistake.”
Photo No. 2 via Google Maps.
A few years back, using tax dollars and bond money earmarked for recreational parks, Arlington County purchased five properties adjacent to Jennie Dean Park to add to the overall park space inventory. The County Board recently charged the Four Mile Run Valley working group (4MRV) with developing “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.”
Part of the overall 4MRV project involves developing a plan for improving Jennie Dean Park. The space acquired with bond money is ideally suited for use as additional, new park space to complement the existing Jennie Dean Park. The new space could add to the inventory of peaceful green space in the valley, something that many Arlingtonians, including residents of Nauck, Shirlington and other local neighborhoods, have asked for time and time again.
However, some in the 4MRV group have reportedly strayed from the charge and are actively working to re-purpose this property as an ill-defined and unfunded “arts district.” The hope and presumption is that Arlington County will be able to provide subsidies and other financial support to enable the birth and growth of this arts district. For reasons not made clear, arts districts proponents seem focused on locating the arts district in space previously suggested as new park space. The overall 4MRV planning process encompasses a huge amount of space beyond Jennie Dean Park, much of which could support an arts district fully, and some in the working group have even spoken up in favor of locating any arts district closer to the new Nauck Town Square, and not in the Jennie Dean Park area.
Arlington County already actively supports the arts. The County supports the arts with, among other things, the Crystal City Underground gallery space, the Arlington Arts Center, the Signature Theater, Synetic Theater, and a variety of public spaces for art displays. It is unclear where the funding for any additional arts support will come from, and no one in the 4MRV group has provided any concrete visions of support.
Shared public spaces are the county’s most precious resources. Opportunities to add green space in Arlington don’t come very often, and we need to take advantage of those few opportunities when they present themselves. The Arlington Soccer Association supports the arts in general, but in this specific instance, ASA opposes attempts within the 4MRV working group process to re-purpose this new open space as an “arts district.” Let’s use park space for park purposes, and take advantage of the ability to add to the County’s functional green space inventory.
Arlington Soccer Association
ARLnow.com occasionally publishes letters about issues of local interest. To submit your thoughts for consideration, please email [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.
Map via Google Maps.
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.
Photo No. 2 via Google Maps.
A man was stabbed in Jennie Dean Park near Shirlington this afternoon.
The stabbing was first reported just before 2 p.m. Tuesday at the park on the 3600 block of 27th Street S. That’s near Shirlington and the PBS NewsHour/WETA studios.
A man was stabbed in the arm and reportedly bled heavily before medics arrived. He was taken via ambulance to the trauma center at Inova Fairfax Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
The attacker was said to be an acquaintance of the victim. He fled on a mountain bike, according to scanner traffic, and remains at large.
Arlington County park rangers and Virginia State Police assisted Arlington County police on the call.
Neighborhoods across the county are getting ready for Neighborhood Day, set to take place Saturday and feature a wide range of events and activities.
The day looks to bring together neighbors to strengthen bonds on blocks and across the county.
This year’s events are:
Jennie Dean Park Historical Markers Unveiling Ceremony
At noon, the park’s new historical markers will be unveiled, followed by a tour of Arlington Food Assistance Center’s new office at 2708 S Nelson Street.
Seventh Annual Turtle Trot 5K Race
A chip-timed 5K race at Bluemont Park on a certified course. The race begins at 10 a.m.
International Migratory Bird Day Festival
From 9-11 a.m., celebrate International Migratory Bird Day by learning about migratory birds such as hummingbirds and osprey with hands-on activities, games, crafts, bird walks and more. Meet at Lacey Woods Park Picnic Shelter, 1200 N. George Mason Drive.
Tuckahoe Home and Garden Tour
The self-guided Tuckahoe Home & Garden Tour showcases recently renovated Arlington homes that solve common space and design challenges through creative remodeling.
Fairlington Home and Garden Tour
Tour a variety of renovated homes and gardens in Fairlington Village. Tickets are $10 each and can be purchased in advance or on the day.
Remove Invasive Plants
Increase native species diversity by helping with the return of ferns and wildflowers, and the animals that depend on them, in areas once covered in destructive invasive plants. The Gulf Branch Nature Center will host the event from 2-4 p.m.
Tara-Leeway Heights Community Day
From 1-3 p.m. at Big Walnut Park, the Tara-Leeway Heights community will host an event complete with food vendors, games and more.
LBCCA Celebration and Movie Night Series Kick-Off
The Long Branch Creek Civic Association will bring the community together to celebrate from 5-9 p.m. at Troy Park. The event will include a moon bounce, games and activities, potluck dinner, snacks, beverages and an outdoor movie screening.
Ashton Heights Neighborhood Yard Sale
From 8 a.m.-noon, visit the Ashton Heights neighborhood for a community-wide yard sale.
Arlington Man Arrested for Murder — A 51-year-old Arlington man has been arrested and charged in the strangulation death of a man in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The alleged crime happened Saturday afternoon. The suspect was arrested by U.S. Marshals and Arlington County Police in Arlington; we hear the arrest took place at a McDonald’s restaurant, but so far that has not been confirmed. [WHAG]
Couple Hopes to Find Owner of Lost Ring — A school custodian and his girlfriend are searching for the owner of a lost gold wedding ring. Dennis Avery found the ring in June following an event at Glebe Elementary School. The ring has engravings that offer clues as to who the owner may be, including a date and a pair of initials. [WJLA]
Self-Driving Cars Come to Arlington — State officials, Virginia Tech researchers and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) demonstrated self-driving cars for the media on the closed-off I-395 HOV lanes yesterday afternoon. A press conference for the event was held in Pentagon City. [WTOP, Fox 5]
Part of Park Is Being Used for Parking — A portion of the 22-acre Jennie Dean Park along Four Mile Run near Shirlington is being used as a temporary parking lot for ART buses and vehicles from Shirlington-based public TV station WETA.County officials have promised residents that the portion of the park used will go back to being a park, but admitted they didn’t have any other good options for ART bus parking at the moment. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Samer Farha
The temporary housing of buses is one of the topics on the agenda for a Sept. 1 community meeting, said county spokeswoman Catherine Matthews. The meeting will also discuss street parking, the upcoming Shirlington Crescent-Four Mile Run planning study and Jennie Dean Park.
“The meeting on September 1 (with residents from Nauck, Shirlington and Fairlington) will really just be to communicate about and implement some community planning efforts and address some outstanding neighborhood concerns,” Matthews said in an email.
County officials will attend the meeting to answer questions about any of the agenda items, Matthews said.
Buses will be housed at LaPorte property until 2017, when the new facility at the corner of S. Eads and 32nd Streets is expected to be finished, she said.
“In terms of parking buses here, the County does not foresee any major changes or delays to existing traffic patterns. All of our ART buses are CNG (compressed natural gas) powered and run on natural gas, making these buses cleaner and quieter in operation,” Matthews said.
Construction to build the new ART facility begins Sept. 9 and is expected to last 18 months, according to the project’s website. The new two-story facility will have spaces for bus maintenance, bus washing, a gas station and parking.
The meeting will also discuss planning efforts for the Jennie Dean Park and Shirlington Crescent-Four Mile Run area. Both projects are in preplanning phases, Matthews said.
The Shirlington Crescent-Four Mile Run Planning Study is planned for 2015, according to the project’s website, and will look at the land use in the area.
“The goal will be to develop a vision and long-term planning guidance for the area, which includes primary industrially zoned properties,” Matthews said in an email. “We will be examining potential land use changes, transportation improvements; and environmental issues, given the proximity of the Four Mile stream.”
At the same time, the county will also be creating a master plan for Jennie Dean Park, but the project is still in the early stages, she said.
The Arlington County Board has scrapped the affordable housing-oriented “Public Land for Public Good” initiative, voting unanimously last night to wait for the findings of its new Facilities Study Committee.
The county’s new, 24-member Facilities Study Committee will broadly look at all county- and school-owned land and evaluate what facilities are possible on different sites in the county.
The Arlington Planning Commission recommended the County Board set aside the initiative — which was intended to identify county-owned property that can be used for affordable housing or new schools — last month. County Manager Barbara Donnellan agreed with the commission yesterday in her recommendation to the Board.
The action was taken “because the planning commission urged us to do so and told us they thought a better approach to this was to do the study committee, which we have launched,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said at the meeting. “I think that makes sense.”
Along with scrapping the initiative, the County Board voted to move forward with studies for the renovation of the Lubber Run Community Center, renovation of Jennie Dean Park in Shirlington and the future of the Salt Dome facility and Fire Station 8.
“The Lubber Run Center needs to be redone,” Donnellan said. “The opportunity is to look at what we’re currently providing there and how it can be updated.”
While those studies continue, the Board unanimously decided that no standalone affordable housing may be built on current parkland or open space.
“As we launch into the facilities study committee, we do not have the luxury to rule anything out based on the buildout of our 26 square miles of space as far as our facilities are concerned,” Board member Walter Tejada said. “This is going to challenge everyone again and it’s going to make us uncomfortable in our seats at times. But the time has come.”
Donnellan’s response to the criticism the Public Land for Public Good initiative received from the public, the planning commission and the Long Range Planning Committee was to defer to the Facilities Study Committee and simply say “criteria for locating new uses on county lands will be reconsidered,” and public facilities policies will be “revisited and built upon.”
An aging county-owned building near Shirlington is being torn down as part of the expansion of Jennie Dean Park.
The LaPorte Building at 3600 S. Four Mile Run Drive was purchased by Arlington County for $3.6 million in 2002, as part of a long-range expansion plan for the 22.4 acre park. It was most recently used as a temporary construction office during the expansion of Arlington’s Water Pollution Control Plant. The building was vacated by the plant contractor in late 2010.
Now, the county is preparing to finally tear down the run-down structure. The demolition will be conducted in an environmentally-responsible manner, officials say.
“Rather than using traditional means and methods, the County’s contractor will deconstruct the building,” said Dept. of Parks and Recreation Construction Management Specialist Brenda Parker. “This entails taking apart the building in order to reclaim, reuse and/or recycle as much of the materials as possible.”
After the structure is town down, the lot will be turned in to open space.
“Once the building is removed, the area will be graded and seeded, a portion of the fence will be removed, temporary landscaping will be installed around the site perimeter and benches may be added at the corner of S. Four Mile Run Drive and S. Nelson Street,” Parker said. “That work should be completed by early 2013.”
An adjacent, existing parking area will be maintained, however, in order to temporarily store equipment and Arlington Transit buses while a new ART facility is constructed. Use of the temporary storage area is expected to last through the end of 2013, at which time the parking lot will be demolished and converted to open space.