Prince William Conservation Alliance

Staff Recommendations to Park Authority Board - March 19, 2003

BACKGROUND

On January 25 Supervisor Griggs, Occoquan District, sponsored a community meeting for the Prince William County Park Authority plan to replace 3.5 acres of trees and the Eagle Scout Nature Trail with a driving range at Lake Ridge Park. About 160 citizens attended this meeting and most spoke to support preservation of the existing trees and trails.

The Prince William County Park Authority prepared a list of alternatives and presented them along with the staff recommendation at the Board committee meeting Wednesday, 7:00 p.m., Park Authority headquarters at 14420 Bristow Road, Manassas VA 20112.

Tree loss for original proposal as presented on January 25 - 3.2 acres
Tree loss for current staff recommendation on March 19 - 3.2 acres

Additional information gathered from a review of the site plans reveals plans for a netting system with a maximum height of 140 feet.

A copy of the Park Authority recommendations is attached. Below is a copy of a message from the Occoquan District Supervisor, Ruth Griggs, regarding the current staff recommendation for the PWC Park Authority's proposed driving range at Lake Ridge Park. Your comments are important to Supervisors and Park Authority Board members.

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TO: The Park Authority Board
FROM: Ruth Griggs, Occoquan District Superv
DATE: 18 March 2003

I received the following attachments from a citizen who has remained actively engaged in the discussion of the future of the proposed driving range for Lake Ridge Park.

Let me first say that I hope there has been some misunderstanding, because I would be so chagrinned if the information that is included in these documents is the final proposal. I have received many calls and e-mails over the weeks since January 25th from citizen's who were concerned that the Park Authority was not listening to them at that meeting. I told them that I was sure the Park Authority would take note of their comments and concerns and find a VIABLE solution to supporting the first tee program. How wrong I was to assert such faith in the process if this is, in fact, the final proposal.

Park Authority staff can not now suggest that they have "scaled down" the original first tee proposal from 4.5 to 3.2 acres of clearing when the ONLY proposal presented to the public on 25 January involved 3.2 acres of clearing and was roundly rejected by the public. This suggests that we first made things worse so we could appear to make them better and propose only what we planned to do in the first place.

I note that the Park Authority talks about fulfilling its commitment to the First Tee program. The Prince William County Park Authority has a commitment TO THE RESIDENTS OF PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY BEFORE ALL ELSE. To think otherwise is to have an organization that has completely lost touch with its appropriate mission.

A net around the existing open play area (alternative 2) is noted as a weakness to this alternative because it would be in an exposed area. I understand from residents who have done follow up work since the 25 January meeting that substantial netting will be required under the current proposal (Alternative 1) - yet that is not mentioned among the cons for that proposal. Does the PA anticipate the need for netting around alternative 1?

I notice that travel time for children in the Woodbridge area is suggested as a limitation for playing at other Park Authority facilities (alternative 7). However, in the 25 January presentation it was suggested that SAC programs all over the county would be traveling to this facility and thousands of children would, therefore, participate.

General's Ridge is certainly more centrally located if we genuinely anticipated the participation of SAC program children throughout the county. And, General's Ridge has difficulty achieving profitability - maybe this would help. However, I don't think it was ever realistic to suggest that SAC children from anywhere West of Hoadly Road would participate at Lake Ridge Park, given how long they would travel, during peak periods, to and from their SAC programs to participate. I only raise this issue because the staff presentation suggested that they would.

If the Park Authority does not own and operate the vehicles which would take children to Old Hickory, how did they anticipate that children from "all over Woodbridge" or all those SAC programs were going to participate in the first place? My children go to Springwoods Elementary school which is probably the closest school to this facility as the crow flies. However, the walk would be well over a mile to this program. How were children going to get there? Why can they not go to the program anywhere else by the same means?

Old Hickory would probably be the most cost effective option, as we would use a driving range a private developer already plans to build in a creative public private partnership (we have those for the skate rink and other facilities) and Old Hickory is not far from the proposed Lake Ridge Park site. Although we do not know whether or not they would be willing to participate in the program, we apparently didn't try to find out. Since we don't have the money to do the work on the driving range now, per information provided at the 25 January meeting, it would appear we have plenty of time to make contact with the representatives for Old Hickory and attempt to arrange some kind of access to their facility. They might appreciate the revenue and the good PR that comes from working with a program for kids.

I am aware that the Park Authority maintains that citizens should have voiced their concerns about the proposal at earlier meetings. Let me tell you that if I had ANY idea the proposal involved the elimination of as many trees as it does and the disfiguration of the park that it involves, I would have been up in arms. I think many people, like me, assumed it would have been accommodated within the existing cleared areas of the park. I saw nothing in the original advertisements for the meeting that indicated the level of clearing that would be required. The Park Authority has made more of an effort to contact golf participants throughout this process than other users of the park. While this is apparently consistent with park authority efforts to contact participants in any sport for which a proposal is under consideration, it is no wonder that more vocal opposition to this project was not heard in the early days of its consideration. I would suggest, too, that as this is a multi-use park facility, it is inappropriate to target one group of users and not all others.

This is a park at the heart of a community. It is one of few "treed" areas left in an area rapidly clearing for development. Even many of those who support the facility indicated that, as Prince William County is quick to clear trees for another strip mall, why would they mind a driving range. I don't consider that to be a glowing endorsement. The Park Authority has an opportunity to do right by a community here AND still accommodate the first tee program. That is the option that should be chosen, no other.

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STAFF RECOMMENDATION

(Original on Prince William County Park Authority letterhead)

March 19, 2003

To: Park Authority Board
From: Debbie Andrew
Subject: First Tee Program at Lake Ridge Park

In the spring of 2002 the Park Authority Board adopted a master plan of Lake Ridge Park which included a driving range to accommodate the First Tee Program. The First Tee has awarded the Park Authority a $100,000 grant to build a driving range at Lake Ridge in support of their program. This grant was accepted in December of 2001, and the first check for funding was received after the master plan was approved in 2002. Since that time our staff have been working to raise additional funds to support the building of the range, and a plan for the driving range has been approved by the County’s planning department.

In the fall of 2002 a citizen came forward at a Park Board meeting to share her dissatisfaction with the plan to clear about 4 ½ acres of trees at Lake Ridge Park, and lose a walking trail, to accommodate the proposed driving range. Since that time the staff has developed an alternate plan for the driving range, reducing the clearing to about 3.2 acres, and enhancing the walking trail in the park.

A public meeting was held January 25 where a number of citizens expressed their dissatisfaction with the plan to clear trees and build a driving range at Lake Ridge Park. The comments from the citizens seemed to be consistently in support of the First Tee program, but against the clearing of trees in the park. At the following Park Authority Board meeting, the Occoquan District Board member asked staff to prepare alternatives to the original plan of clearing for a driving range. Those alternatives are described below. There is still some outstanding information on some of the alternatives; this information will be available at the meeting on March 19, 2003.

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Alternative list from Debbie Andrew attached to Park Authority Letter dated March 19, 2003 (retyped by M. Schultz, no electronic copy available)

Alternative 1 – Construct the driving range according to the revised plans, clearing approximately 3.2 acres of trees, providing 15 hitting stations.

Pros
- First Tee program can go on as originally planned with up to 30 children per class.
- Driving range will be available to the public, generating additional revenues to support the First Tee program, keeping program tuitions affordable and develop scholarships.
- Safety netting is significantly reduced from original plan, and is hidden from public view on two of the three sides.
- Walking trail is enhanced, with a longer safer trail that links to a trail into the community.
- Project conforms to the Park Authority commitment to the First Tee.
- Public transportation, sidewalks, and the surrounding housing development provides access for participants to safely visit the facility.

Cons
- Clearing of 3.2 acres of woods.
- Partial loss of trail constructed by Eagle Scouts.

Alternative 2 – Develop a driving range moving hitting stations to an area where existing Mini Golf Course is currently, with range crossing the open play area and slightly into the edge of the woodlands.

Pros
- The First Tee program can go on as originally planned with up to 30 children per class.
- Limited size driving range will be available to the public, generating some additional revenue to support the First Tee program. Current walking trail is undisturbed.
- Project conforms to the Park Authority commitment to the First Tee.
- Clearing is limited to about 2.5 acres of woodland.
- Safety netting is reduced from original plan.
- Public transportation access is still available.

Cons
- Loss of Mini Golf Facility ($16,000 per year revenue loss).
- Loss of Open Play Area.
- Limited range size will limit public use of the facility, reducing money available to support the First Tee program.
- No enhancement to existing trails.
- Netting will be highly visible from parking lot.

Alternative 3 – Provide netting around existing open play area, eliminating large tent, providing a short driving range area.

Pros
- First Tee program can go on in a modified format, with restricted flight area for the balls.
- Limiting driving area will be available to the public.
- Project marginally conforms to the Park Authority commitment to the First Tee, will require re-submission of First Tee grant.
- Existing trails are undisturbed.

Cons
- Loss of Open Play area.
- Significant netting required, in an exposed area, to provide the necessary safety for park patrons, all three sides of the facility, as well as the top.
- Revenue generated by range for public use will be very limited, providing little to no support to the First Tee program.
- No enhancement of existing trails.
- Public transportation remains available.

Alternative 4 – Develop six additional hitting stalls adjacent to four existing hitting stalls.

Pros
- First Tee Program can go on in a limited basis.
- Hitting stalls will be available to the public on a limited basis, operating at or near break even.
- Mini golf, open play area and large tent area are undisturbed.
- Project may conform to the Park Authority commitment to the First Tee, a portion of the grant would have to be returned, will require re-submission to First Tee.
- Walking trails are undisturbed.
- Clearing would be limited to about ¼ acre.
- Public transportation remains available.

Cons
- First Tee classes will be limited to 20 children in size.
- Instructional opportunities are limited with practice site limited to 15-foot ball flight.
- Revenues from extra hitting stalls will not be sufficient to subsidize the First Tee program tuitions.
- Walking trails will be not enhanced.

Alternative 5 – Consider other Park Authority property in the nearby area to develop the Range and transport the children for the driving range portion of the program.

- Staff has been unable to identify an alternative site in the Lake Ridge area. The stadium site was a suggested location, however, current plans to build a new stadium on that site will utilize available space.

Alternative 6 - Utilize the driving range at Old Hickory Golf Course to support the Driving range portion of the program.

Pros
- No trees will be cleared at Lake Ridge Park.
- The existing walking trails will remain in tact.
- The driving range portion of the program can be conducted on a full size range.

Cons
- Old Hickory is not yet open.
- Old Hickory is a private facility, with no obligation to coordinate with the Park Authority to provide this program.
- Children will have to be transported to Old Hickory and back to the park.
- The Park Authority does not own and operate transportation for the public, and school buses are cost prohibitive.
- The cost of the First Tee program will increase to cover the cost of utilizing a private driving range and the loss of revenue from a Park Authority operated driving range.
- The First Tee grant money will have to be returned.

Alternative 7 – Utilize the baseball fields in the county landfill area after the ball fields are relocated to another site. At this time the ball fields are currently in use, or in the process of being renovated for use. No idea of when, or if ever these fields might be abandoned.

Moving the entire First Tee program to one of our other golf courses is not offered as an alternative here due to the fact that the original plan for the program including expanding to these courses. Generals Ridge will begin offering the First Tee program including expanding to these courses. Generals Ridge will begin offering the First Tee program this spring on a limited basis. The limitations to a youth program on an 18-hole course will be a challenge for the staff to deal with. Starting the program at our other courses does not address the issue of providing the First Tee program to the children in the Woodbridge area, without considerable travel time.

The staff recommends developing Alternative 1, limiting the clearing to 3.2 acres of woods, enhancing the walking trails and fulfilling our commitment to the First Tee.


Tree Preservation at Lake Ridge Park and Golf Course
Tree Preservation/Forest Management in Prince William County
Prince William Conservation Alliance