NVRPA Board Votes to Rescind Potomac Overlook Development Plan

As expected, the full board of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) last night (March 21) voted to rescind its earlier approval of the entire package of development proposals for Potomac Overlook Park.

Paul Ferguson, one of Arlington’s two representatives on the regional park authority board, said the board voted unanimously on a “simple and brief” motion to rescind its earlier approval.

However, the NVRPA may try to revive some of its plans down the road. A Washington Examiner story published today says the Park Authority “is expected to delay some of the proposals ’for a year or so.’”

Last Nov. 15, without advance public notice or community input, the NVRPA board voted to approving “planning and implementation” of several changes to the 70-acre Potomac Overlook park, the largest remaining woodlands in Arlington County created as a nature preserve, educational center, and public park for “low-impact” recreational use.

The development projects included such high-impact facilities as a rental treehouse, zip line, climbing wall, large group shelter/concert pavilion, two-acre urban garden, and more than doubling the size of the park’s parking lot, among other changes.

Park users and Arlington residents strongly opposed the plan, based its clear violation of the park’s stated purpose as a nature preserve and low-impact recreational park, and on the lack of community input in drafting the plans.

At a standing-room-only public meeting March 19 sponsored by the Potomac Overlook Preservation Association (POPA), both Ferguson and Paul Gilbert, NVRPA executive director, announced they were withdrawing the plan and would ask the full board to vote to rescind their earlier approval of it.

At the NVRPA board’s meeting last night, the board did so.

POPA has pledged to work with the Park Authority to ensure any future plans for Potomac Overlook are compatible with the land’s mission as a nature preserve and low-impact recreational park.

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Park Authority Abandons Potomac Overlook Development Plan

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) last night (March 19) backed off from its controversial construction plans for Potomac Overlook Regional Park in north Arlington, and agreed to “hit the reset button.”
 
Following an outpouring of resistance from park users and Arlington residents, who deluged county and regional park officials with emails protesting the plan, NVRPA officials announced Tuesday that they were withdrawing the entire proposal and would ask the full NVRPA board of directors to officially repeal the plan at its quarterly meeting this Thursday (March 21).
 
The nearly 70-acre Potomac Overlook Park is the largest remaining contiguous woodland in Arlington, which is ranked as one of the most densely populated counties in the nation and is considered “built-out.” The park is a crucial wildlife habitat area with significant environmental and archaeological elements, including the sites of successive Native American encampments.
 
As unveiled last month, NVRPA planned to build several new recreational projects at Potomac Overlook, including a treetop shelter, a zipline, a new music stage/large-group shelter, an artificial rock climbing wall, a two-acre urban garden plot, a youth group campground, and a new parking lot that would more than double the current parking area. It also proposed taking over control of the adjoining Marcey Road Park, owned and maintained by Arlington County, including its tennis and basketball courts.
 
Park users and local residents voiced strong support for certain aspects of the plan, such as greater efforts to control invasive species and rebuilding the park’s aging birds-of-prey shelter and deteriorating trails),  but quickly organized to block the development projects. The newly formed Potomac Overlook Preservation Assn. (POPA) established a website and Facebook page and encouraged an email campaign to local officials.
 
Objections centered on two key points:
 
  • The land was explicitly set aside by Arlington County nearly 50 years ago as a nature preserve and public park for low-impact recreation—a mission that would be violated by the high-impact recreational facilities sought by NVRPA.
  • Area residents were excluded from the planning process and given no justification for the changes or opportunity for input prior to their release.
 
NVRPA officials subsequently dropped a couple of elements to their plan, including the zipline and climbing wall, but to no avail. On March 11, the Donaldson Run Civic Association (DRCA), which represents the area closest to Potomac Overlook, sent county and park authorities a letter detailing objections to the plan, and asking NVRPA to repeal a board vote last winter authorizing the project.
 
At a standing-room-only meeting Tuesday evening in Arlington sponsored by POPA and attended by more than 250 people, park authority Executive Director Paul Gilbert and NVRPA board member Paul Ferguson, accepted both of the civic association’s requests, and pledged to seek a repeal of the original authorizing vote when the NVRPA board meets on March 21.
 
In announcing its reversal, NVRPA officials acknowledged their public outreach process was flawed, and said the overwhelmingly negative public reaction to their plan convinced them not to proceed. Ferguson said the Park Authority would create a natural resources advisory committee group “open to everyone.” Gilbert indicated it would at least a year before the Park Authority would have time to revisit any new plans for Potomac Overlook.
 
Users of the park immediately welcomed the park authority’s reversal, praised their quick response to the growing community pressure, and pledged to work cooperatively with the authority in future planning efforts.
 
Ann Wilson, head of the civic association and primary author of the DRCA March 11 letter opposing the development plan, also praised the park authority’s new direction and thanked them for accepting the civic association’s requests. Steve Blakely, coordinator of POPA, said “the NVRPA did the right thing by listening to the community. They deserve full credit for that, and doing it quickly.”
 
 

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DRCA Asks NVRPA to Hit “Reset Button” on Potomac Overlook Plan

The Donaldson Run Civic Association (DRCA) March 12 issued a letter strongly opposing development plans for Potomac Overlook Regional Park, saying the regional park authority needs to uphold the land’s original purpose as a nature preserve and low-impact recreational park.

The DRCA noted that responses they have received from community residents “were overwhelmingly negative to almost all the proposals” from the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA), owner of the park, and that their members “believe that the park would best serve the region if its primary function continued to be a nature preserve.”

In addition, the civic association asked the NVRPA board of directors to rescind its vote of November 2012 to depart from its general management plan and approve the controversial development projects. The full letter is online here.

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March 19 Public Meeting on the Threat to Potomac Overlook

A public meeting on the NVRPA plan to develop Potomac Overlook from a low-impact nature preserve into a high-impact recreational site will be held Tuesday, March 19, 2013 in Arlington.

The meeting will run from 7:00–9:30 pm in the Fellowship Hall, Church of the Covenant, 2666 Military Rd., Arlington VA 22207 (near the intersection of Military and Marcey Roads).

This meeting is designed to inform as many Arlington residents and park users as possible about the little-advertised Park Authority’s plans to fundamentally change the mission and purpose of Potomac Overlook, and the implications for the park. This event is sponsored by the Potomac Overlook Preservation Assn. Officials of the NVRPA have been invited to attend.

 PLEASE ATTEND THIS MEETING—the public’s input is essential!

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The Threat to a Unique Park

This site is dedicated to saving a 70-acre gem of woodlands, trails, archeological sites, and educational gardens that is seriously threatened by an unwise development plan from  the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NRVPA).

EPSON DSC pictureThe park is located in north Arlington, VA, between Military Road and the Potomac River, just five miles and two stoplights away from downtown Washington, DC.  It borders the Potomac Heritage Trail, a 700-mile corridor of federal parkland in the Potomac River basin.

Heading to the Nature Center

Potomac Overlook Park was created in 1971 by a planning team from the National Audubon Society in order to provide an urban nature sanctuary within Arlington County—one of the most densely developed counties in the United States.

The park’s stated mission is “to provide a protected woodland sanctuary, in order to preserve environmental quality and species diversity,” to “enjoy low impact recreational activities and physical exercise,” to “provide environmental and cultural education,” and to “preserving undeveloped woodlands for protection of the environment, existing ecosystems and biological diversity.”

Potomac Overlook Nature Center

Potomac Overlook Nature Center

However, on Feb. 25, 2013, the NRVPA unveiled plans to violate that mission and fundamentally change the nature of Potomac Overlook Park. Among other things, the Authority would do this by:

  • Constructing a new parking lot that would more than double the size of the existing paved lot, and create a new transportation shelter for buses and large groups.
  • Building a new treetop shelter for rental use and adding a fee-based zip line to generate park revenue.
  • Tearing down the recently rebuilt  outdoor music stage, reducing the current music concert schedule, and building a bigger fee-based shelter for large groups.
  • Adding a new farmers’ market (Arlington County already sponsors seven farmers’ markets, including two nearby: at the county courthouse parking lot on Saturdays, and at Clarendon Metro station on Wednesdays during the summer).
  • Building a group campground, probably near the old Indian archaeological site.
  • Creating a two-acre urban garden (the park already has a large vegetable garden operated by volunteers and the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia).
  • Taking over the adjoining county-owned Marcey Road Park (about three acres, including the tennis and basketball courts) to be managed by NRVPA as part of its own multi-use master plan.

Volunteers removing invasive plants at Potomac Overlook

A couple of elements of the plan have merit insofar as they relate to ongoing maintenance of the natural areas and are consistent with enhancing the park’s purpose as a unspoiled nature preserve, such as invasive species management and rebuilding the park’s birds-of-prey shelter.

But the over-riding focus is to generate intense recreational use and fee-based revenue, rather than meet the park’s original and current mission to preserve and protect a rare woodland park already under environmental pressure.

Maypole dance at Potomac Overlook

Maypole dance at Potomac Overlook

It also would create significant new car and bus traffic  on a two-block  winding residential street narrowing to the park and already overwhelmed by visitors to three recreational facilities located on Marcey Road: Potomac Overlook Park, Marcey Road Park, and the Donaldson Run pool.

This site provides information on what the NRVPA’s plans and why users of the park are strongly opposed to it. We hope you will use this site to get informed, get involved, and help save Potomac Overlook from unneeded, unwanted, and damaging development.

– Potomac Overlook Preservation Assn.

potomacprez@gmail.com

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