Park Authority extends period for public comment on McLean Central Park concept

McLean Central Park redesign concept plan (via Fairfax County)

Community members have an additional month to share their thoughts on a proposal to add a dog park, amphitheater, and other amenities to McLean Central Park at 1468 Dolley Madison Boulevard.

Fairfax County Park Authority staff told Tysons Reporter on Thursday (June 10) that the deadline for the public to comment on the concept development plan has been pushed back from June 25 to July 30 in response to the amount of feedback that has come in since the plan was unveiled on May 24.

The project webpage has now been updated to reflect the date change. Comments can be sent by email to [email protected] or [email protected].

“As a planner, there’s no better input than from the people that actually use the park every day,” FCPA Project Manager Adam Wynn said. “That information is so valuable, and that’s really the reason we held this meeting, to get a gauge on all the time that’s passed from the 2013 master plan to now.”

The suggested elimination of a tennis court to make room for a dog park has drawn a particularly strong reaction, as local tennis players say the three existing courts are barely enough to accommodate demand amid surging interest in tennis and pickleball.

Chris Parel says he has been utilizing the McLean Central Park tennis courts regularly throughout his 30-plus years of living in McLean. Now retired, he plays with a group called the McLean All Weather Tennis Club.

“Our observation is that, certainly in the times when we are playing, it’s much harder to get a court,” he said. “There are more people waiting to get onto the courts.”

According to Parel, the McLean Central Park courts are especially sought-after, because they are wind-protected and the only ones in the area with lighting, enabling nighttime play. Meanwhile, some courts, like those at Lewinsville Park, are in need of maintenance.

“Love dogs, love the idea of a dog park, would like to see one at the McLean Central Park, but not to be pitted against a service, a facility in the tennis and pickleball courts that are established and that have a record of increasing use, if anything, in a McLean context, where court availability has actually been reduced,” Parel said.

FCPA Public Information Officer Judith Pedersen confirms that the Lewinsville courts need repairs, but there are no plans for a renovation, at least not within the next three years.

“We know that they need repairs, but they’re not the worst in the county,” she said. “Most courts need some type of renovation in McLean, and really, throughout the county, so it is a priority, but we have to sort of do the ones that are the worst first.”

She says the park authority has also observed an uptick in tennis court usage, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the county’s park facilities in general “are really operating at maximum capacity.”

The McLean Central Park project team emphasizes that the plan presented last month was a concept intended to gauge how the community’s interest in various amenities has changed since the master plan was adopted eight years ago.

A dog park was incorporated in that plan, but the tennis courts site is the only place one could be built without interfering with the park’s floodplain or the resource protection area, according to FCPA Project Management Branch Manager Paul Shirey.

“We got a lot of strong input that folks really want to keep the tennis courts there, so I think we’ve heard that loud and clear,” Shirey said.

While the tennis advocates have been especially vocal, Pedersen says feedback has run the gamut, from people who just want to see the trails or bridges renovated to excitement about an amphitheater, which is something of interest to the McLean Community Center.

The longer public comment period gives county staff more time to meet with community groups, such as the McLean Citizens Association, which approved a letter on June 2 seeking an extension.

Because of the extended comment period, staff won’t start refining the concept plan until August. The project design is expected to be finalized in early 2022 with construction starting that fall. It is being funded with $2.2 million from a parks bond approved in November.

“We put things out there for discussion based on our input from the past and what we see out there in practice, and this is exactly what we want to happen,” Pedersen said. “We want people to say, ‘oh, no, that’s a terrible idea,’ or ‘oh yes, that’s fantastic and we really need it.’ So, that’s what’s going on, that discussion.”

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