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Park Authority board approves arts center option at Clemyjontri Park

A conceptual plan for Clemyjontri Park’s third phase of development (via Fairfax County Park Authority)

The Fairfax County Park Authority has officially opened the door for an arts building at Clemyjontri Park in McLean.

The park authority board voted unanimously on Jan. 12 to revise the Clemyjontri master plan to include an arts center or a similar community-serving facility as an option for its next phase of development.

“The revision gives the park authority the flexibility in how Clemy may be further developed,” Timothy Hackman, the board’s Dranesville District representative, said. “If in fact it is, it creates the potential for new and exciting opportunities for the community and the county.”

FCPA initiated the master plan revision process in December 2020 after the nonprofit McLean Project for the Arts unveiled a proposal earlier that year for an arts center at Clemyjontri, which is best known for its colorful, accessibility-focused playground.

Originally adopted in 2002, the park’s master plan breaks its development into three phases. The first phase involved the construction of the playground and main parking lot in 2006, and it was followed by the addition of a secondary parking lot and trails in 2019.

Under the newly revised plan, the county has two options for the third and final phase:

  • A local history museum or a meeting and event space in the former home of Adele Lebowitz, who donated the property to the park authority
  • A new arts center building

If the arts center comes to fruition, the plan calls for the Lebowitz house to be preserved, an overflow parking lot to accommodate larger evening events, and outdoor amenities, such as a gazebo, outdoor classrooms, and a gathering area with gardens.

The building itself will have space for social events, galleries and exhibitions, and classrooms, FCPA senior landscape architect and project manager Doug Tipsword told the Park Authority Board’s planning and development committee prior to the vote.

Tipsword noted that park authority staff heard some concerns at community meetings about the proposed facility’s size, visibility from residential neighborhoods adjacent to the park, and potential noise and traffic impacts.

The master plan dictates that existing trees on the north side of the Lebowitz house be preserved as a buffer and new evergreen shrubs planted on the park’s east and west sides.

In response to questions about the arts center’s size, county staff revised their presented design to emphasize that it’s conceptual, not a literal representation of what the building will look like.

“Specific details on facility design, usage, hours of operation, those kinds of things are reviewed and approved via separate public processes prior to development,” Tipsword said.

Now that the master plan revision has been approved, the park authority has to submit a more concrete proposal to the county’s planning department and go through the special exception and public facilities review processes, which both require public hearings.

While MPA is the most likely candidate to operate the arts center, the park authority will consider other possible partners as well.

“I think the park authority, to give everybody some comfort, will in fact analyze any such proposals thoroughly and will be sensitive to any overall community interests that may be expressed,” Hackman said.

Map via Fairfax County Park Authority

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