2017 Community Engagement for VA Highlands Park

January 2016

Friends of Aurora Highlands Park Proposal submitted January 11, 2016 to DPR and County Board:

  • Friends of Aurora Highlands Parks “The primary element of this proposal is the removal of the two softball fields from the west side of Virginia Highlands Park. This area can then be opened up and integrated into a general purpose space available for use year-round that can achieve designs shared by great public parks” January 2016
  • “The majority of these facilities are so use-specific that people are prohibited to use them for any other activity, even when they are not in use which is the majority of the time. In fact, the softball fields are greatly underused relative to other facilities and especially to open space
  • “Over the years, available passive green space and mature trees in Virginia Highlands Park have been usurped by facilities specific to only two uses: sports and playgrounds. Organized league sports predominate, while excluding the majority of the neighborhood’s age-diverse population. Currently under construction, the county is continuing to add more facilities, leaving only a tiny fraction of green parkland for other uses.”

MEETING January 2016 DPR to go over proposal. DPR and Aurora Highlands community members to discuss the Friends of Aurora Highlands Proposal.

February 2016

Aurora Highlands Civic Association Proposal

  • Aurora Highlands Civic Association proposal.  February 4, 2016 “This is not a proposal for a specific park design. It is to replace the exclusive softball fields on the west side with a different sort of community park.
  • “Incrementally, the commons has been lost to a multitude of specific uses over the last 30 years, severely limiting the open space left for socializing or unprogrammed recreation
  • “With the facilities for sports concentrated on the east side, this proposed redevelopment of the west side as open park space would bring the entirety of VHP back into a more appropriate balance of programmed and unprogrammed park space.”
  • PROPOSED SOLUTION
  • Open green space is the most flexible type of parkland. It is multipurpose space where you can have a picnic on a blanket or throw a frisbee.”
  • “Our proposal is to restore a balance to VHP by redeveloping the west side of the park with creatively designed open green space that complements the existing extensive active-recreation areas on the east side

Letter to the County Board for VHP

“Direct DPR to begin a community-wide planning process” “accommodate a multi-use green space update on the west side of VHP.”

MEETINGS. AHCA and DPR to discuss the civic association proposal during the year.

April 2016

Correspondence to DPR, asking for a clarification when a neighbor grew concerned that a contractor told them that another contractor had won the bid to work on the softball fields in Virginia Highlands. “A bid would assume that there was a description of work submitted for the west side of the park, yet residents are under the impression that the work on this side of the park is still yet unknown with opportunities for input in the near future.”

“There is nothing happening on the west side of the park. We anticipate starting a planning conversation with the neighborhood, stakeholder groups and other park users by the end of the year.  That conversation will then guide the County on phasing for future design and construction.  At this point nothing beyond the initial planning money is funded.  And I can promise you that nothing is moving forward without the public conversation.

4/8/2016

June 2016

AHCA residents and DPR to discuss parks in Aurora Highlands in general; dog parks, Nelly Custis, Virginia Highlands etc… Email follow up on June 23, 2016 mentions the softball fields.

July 2016

AHCA request for community update for AHCA newsletter.

“Virginia Highlands Park. The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) will be embarking on a Parks Maintenance Capital project this fall to renovate or replace existing facilities on the “west side” of the park. Prior to starting the design, DPR will use a variety of methods to engage with the Aurora Highlands community, other nearby neighborhoods, and users of the park in a discussion about the existing facilities and the future of the west side: what works well and what doesn’t, how facilities could be rearranged, and what other unmet needs are out there. DPR anticipates kicking off the process in the fall and then working with the community to develop concept plans over the course of the following 6 to 12 months.” – DPR

January 2017

Friends group’ Questionnaire submitted January 2017 and had asked multiple times for responses to the information: (See Correspondance between DPR and FoAHP in 2016_2017 about VHP )

Among the questions asked “Are there any constraints?”

Of the few responses ever given, “Although we are still developing the process and additional parameters may be taken into consideration, the following have been identified as constraints.  This process will not be addressing the tennis and basketball courts, rectangular synthetic field, grass community field or spray ground as these have been recently added or renovated.  It will also not address the Aurora Hills Library, Recreation Center and Senior Adult Center or Arlington County Fire Station 5.”

However these questions were ignored entirely:

  1.       Are there any known charges that need to be disclosed to the community about this project?
  2.       What other factors will be part of the scope, criteria and limitations for the designing of the park?

No response was ever given that mentioned that any facilities had to stay much less the only facility that the community specifically cited in two proposals to seek the viability of REMOVING in the community engagement process.

Emails with DPR with requests for information about VA Highlands park (FoAHP Questionnaire Attached)

“Thank you for encouraging the Friends of Aurora Highlands Parks group to attend the April 12th AHCA meeting.  We look forward to your participation and ideas.  The purpose of our attendance on April 12th is to introduce myself to the Association as the project manager and go over the upcoming process.  We would like to ask participants a few general questions to ensure that we are developing the best public engagement strategies to reach the community.  Substantive discussion relative to the park visioning and planning will begin at an ensuing kickoff meeting early this summer.  To answer your questions below, DPR will be managing this County project and retain a consultant team to provide planning, facilitation and conceptual design expertise.  Through sound engagement we aim to develop the plan with the community.  This framework plan will generally illustrate park amenities and their approximate size and location.  Working with the community, the planning will take a comprehensive look at the park including existing facilities, additional community needs, accessibility, circulation and storm water improvements.

The following in red are our answers to the questions you identified as most pressing.  As part of our consultant and County team’s existing conditions analyses we will address the questions in your questionnaire’s “Data about VHP and existing facilities” and “Fiscal Stewardship” sections.  We anticipate beginning this in a couple months once the consultant is in place.  Even the easier questions in these sections are technical and nuanced, therefore we need to conduct the appropriate analyses to ensure the information is timely and accurate.

When will the outreach process and anticipated design phases begin?

The framework planning’s public outreach/engagement will begin with the creation of the project webpage this spring.  Staff will also be attending the April 12th AHCA meeting.  The level of engagement on this date and through the 2nd Quarter of 2017 will be informational and also includes project/process introduction with the Urban Forestry, Parks & Recreation and Sports Commissions.  Wider community Consultation and Collaboration is anticipated to begin during the 3rd Quarter of 2017.  Design is currently unfunded and is anticipated to occur in phases.  The timing of final design for each phase depends on upcoming Framework Plan and CIP guidance.

What is staff outreach plan/strategy?

Staff’s outreach goal is to facilitate  communitywide, transparent and effective engagement.  We are working to develop the best strategy to ensure this is attained and will be prepared to describe this in detail on April 12th.

Are there any constraints?

Although we are still developing the process and additional parameters may be taken into consideration, the following have been identified as constraints.  This process will not be addressing the tennis and basketball courts, rectangular synthetic field, grass community field or spray ground as these have been recently added or renovated.  It will also not address the Aurora Hills Library, Recreation Center and Senior Adult Center or Arlington County Fire Station 5.

And how will public input be weighted given other county priorities if any?

Different questions and discussions throughout the project will require different levels of public engagement.  We continue to refine the process, however at this time we anticipate opening up multiple conversations for collaboration and consultation.  For dialogues involving public consultation we will obtain community feedback on alternatives and decisions.  Additionally we will keep everyone informed, listen to and acknowledge concerns and aspirations, and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision.  Conversations at the collaborative level will include partnering with the public in each aspect of the decision including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution.  In these discussions, we will look to the public for advice and innovation in formulating solutions and incorporate advice and recommendations into the decisions to the maximum extent possible.

I look forward to working with the Friends Group on this exciting project and will see you on April 12th!

 

FoAHP Questions about scope, criteria, limitations, charges.

  1. January 2017 FoAHP Questionnaire asks,
    1. Are there any known charges that need to be disclosed to the community about this project?
    2.  What other factors will be part of the scope, criteria and limitations for the designing of the park?
  2. February 2017 DPR responses:
      1. “As part of the Framework Plan we will identify any constraints and share these with the community at the beginning of the process.”
    1. March 2017 FoAHP: Are there any constraints? (repeat ask)
    2. “Although we are still developing the process and additional parameters may be taken into consideration, the following have been identified as constraints.  This process will not be addressing the tennis and basketball courts, rectangular synthetic field, grass community field or spray ground as these have been recently added or renovated.  It will also not address the Aurora Hills Library, Recreation Center and Senior Adult Center or Arlington County Fire Station 5.”
  3. April 2017, DPR gives Aurora Highlands Civic Association Presentation on April 12, 2017. (Repeats constraints listed in March email response, ‘This process will not be addressing the tennis and basketball courts, rectangular synthetic field, grass community field or spray ground, Aurora Hills Library, Recreation Center and Senior Adult Center or Arlington County Fire Station 5.’)

During Civic Association’s Q&A after the DPR presentation, a direct question about removing the softball fields was asked,

DPR’s  staff responds, ““There is no intention to remove the 2 softball fields.”

  1. Staff, follows up the statement by stating that the facilities are needed.

(No public analysis or data to justify this has been issued despite repeated requests by multiple community members/leaders since January)

Questions about field usage

  1. FoAHP Questionnaire asks (January 2017):
    1. Sq ft of programmed/dedicated spaces. (These are spaces that cannot be used for anything other than specific recreation/play).
      1. What are the reservation requirements
      2. Frequency of use
      3. What information is gathered about the type of users: resident, non-resident, neighborhood user or traveler, infrequent or frequent user?
  2. Civic Association President asks (March 2017)
    1. In addition to the specific questions that FoAHP raised, we would also like the following information:
      1. How many individuals use the softball fields during the year (i.e., what is the official team enrollment)? 
      2. What is the County’s budget for maintenance of the softball fields?

As of June 19 2017, no responses to these questions or a number of others have been given.

FoAHP and others requested information about the scope, limitations, criteria, any known charges months in advance and multiple times to DPR. In response, a list of facilities was given that were part of the criteria, but DPR did not disclose that they had no intention of removing the softball fields, a process specifically requested by the community to create unprogrammed green space…


Peter’s Take: Department of Parks and Recreation Needs A Civic Engagement Makeover

by Peter Rousselot — April 20, 2017  Source: Alnow 

Peter Rousselot

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.

A grudging admission by a representative of the county’s department of parks and recreation at a civic association meeting last week underscores that DPR still has a very long way to go to improve its civic engagement practices.

Background

In February 2016, the Aurora Highlands Civic Association developed a proposal to restore the west end of Virginia Highlands Park. The proposal was designed “to replace the exclusive softball fields on the west side with a different sort of community park.”

The 16-page AHCA proposal identified a problem and proposed a solution:

Problem: VHP is a popular and heavily used recreational facility that today is dominated by athletic space. The Pentagon City area, including Aurora Highlands, has insufficient park space to accommodate the broad constituency represented in our diverse and rapidly growing population.

Solution: To restore a balance to VHP by transforming the west side into a vibrant public park with creatively designed open green space that complements the existing recreational facilities on the east side.

The full proposal contains a detailed explanation why the softball fields should be eliminated.

Later that month, AHCA voted 35-0 to send a letter to the County Board requesting in part that the Board:

Direct DPR to begin a community-wide planning process to update the west side of VHP with the objective of achieving multi-use open green space that serves a broad cross section of Arlington County residents and a goal of updating the west side of VHP to include multi-use open green space within the next five years.

AHCA and Friends of Aurora Highlands Parks, which submitted a comparable redesign proposal, requested follow-up information earlier this year about the “scope, constraints, limitations, and any charges.” No DPR replies included any charge or limitation mentioning the softball fields.

Fourteen months after AHCA’s Proposal submission — on April 12, 2017 — DPR made a presentation to AHCA about elaborate (and apparently costly) plans DPR had to engage with the community about a VHP redesign. DPR representative Scott McPartlin repeatedly acknowledged that various community groups requested “civic lawns, green space, gardens, more trees…” He then asserted that was all very possible through the “transparent,” informative grand envisioning process he had just described.

After the presentation, Natasha Atkins, AHCA President, asked if the softball fields were then removable.

McPartlin’s response: “No. That is not our intention…The facilities are needed.”

Discussion

Regardless of the merits of DPR’s just-revealed conclusion that the softball fields could not be eliminated, DPR’s fourteen-month delay in responding to AHCA’s proposal to eliminate those fields, particularly with the off-hand acknowledgement finally extracted, is an inexcusable failure of civic engagement.

The centerpiece of AHCA’s 2016 proposal was the softball fields’ elimination and their transformation largely into open green space. AHCA reasonably expected a timely, open, and transparent public process in which:

  • AHCA could make its case,
  • Softball field proponents and any other interests could make their cases,
  • Sufficient data would be made available for informed discussion, and then
  • DPR would reach a transparent conclusion for or against retaining the softball fields with a reasoned explanation.

Conclusion

If DPR thought that the softball fields could not be eliminated, it should have responded to that effect within 30 to 60 days of receiving AHCA’s 2016 proposal. Otherwise, DPR should have launched a transparent public process specifically including the possible elimination of those fields.