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Park Authority tweaks proposed plan for Clemyjontri arts center

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust speaks at Clemyjontri Master Plan revision community meeting (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Fairfax County Park Authority has opened a 30-day public comment period on its draft plan to allow an arts center at Clemyjontri Park in McLean.

The comment period commenced Thursday night (Oct. 28) with the county’s first public meeting on the proposal since it kicked off the Clemyjontri Park master plan revision process in December.

Possibly the first exclusively in-person public meeting that the park authority has held during the COVID-19 pandemic, the gathering at Franklin Sherman Elementary School was subdued, with county staff appearing to outnumber members of the general public.

The community members in attendance, though, seemed open to the idea of an arts center, albeit with some wariness regarding its potential size and noise and parking impacts.

“As long as there’s screening, the building isn’t too tall, and it stays within the walkway boundary, I’m okay with it,” said a man who lives adjacent to Clemyjontri on the west side. He noted that the park “has been a great neighbor so far.”

Another McLean resident stressed that he’s “not against the arts” but fears the building could end up being too large for the 18.5-acre park, crowding out the families who use its unique playground.

“I just don’t want to see us do something to the park that we’ll regret,” he told Tysons Reporter after the meeting.

The master plan revision focuses on the last of three development phases planned for Clemyjontri Park.

With second phase completed in 2019, the third phase in the current plan calls for the existing house and gardens to host a local history museum or community meeting and event space. It also suggests adding a “small parking area” for event staff and people with disabilities.

The Phase 3 conceptual design in the proposed draft Clemyjontri Park Master Plan (via Fairfax County Park Authority)

Under the revised plan, the house would still be preserved and refurbished, but phase three would instead focus on a new arts center with gallery, studio, and classroom spaces and outdoor amenities, such as a courtyard with gardens for events and a gazebo.

The draft also proposes an overflow parking lot to accommodate increased demand from the arts center as well as tree and shrub plantings to enhance the buffer to adjacent properties and maintain the park’s “natural setting.”

Presented to the Park Authority Board on Oct. 22, the draft plan adheres closely to what was proposed in December, but FCPA staff made a couple changes, including specifying that the plants used for buffering be evergreens in response to public feedback.

“The master plan is for the most part conceptual in detail,” FCPA senior landscape architect and project manager Doug Tipsword said. “However, in this case, clarifying evergreen plants rather than deciduous plants is an important detail for ensuring the intent to mitigate sound and visual impacts has a year-round effect.”

Staff also added a provision for public art, sculpture, and seating along Clemyjontri’s perimeter trails “to further enhance the natural trail experience,” according to the draft. Tipsword says that idea grew more out of refining the conceptual design than as a direct response to public input.

After the public comment period ends around Nov. 27, county staff will revise the draft plan again based on the new feedback before presenting a final plan to the FCPA board for its approval, which could potentially come in January.

If the revisions are approved, the park authority says it will be able to develop a more detailed plan for the development as it goes through the county’s public facilities review and special exception processes.

The county could also start looking for partners to manage the arts center. As the group behind the proposal, the McLean Project for the Arts would be a likely candidate, but it’s not guaranteed, Tipsword says.

“I am thrilled that this proposal has made it to this point,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said. “It is not a done deal…Personally, I hope we’re able to work this out, because I believe it would be a very positive thing.”

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