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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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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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Morning Notes

Vienna Debates Zoning Changes for Lot Coverage — As part of its ongoing zoning code rewrite, the Vienna Town Council held a public hearing on Monday (Sept. 27) to get feedback on proposals to ease the town’s 25% limit on lot coverage for residential properties. Commenters were split on whether to maintain the existing rules or allow more space for front porches, decks, and other structures. [Sun Gazette]

County to Give Update on Clemyjontri Master Plan Revision — “The Fairfax County Park Authority is holding a Public Comment Meeting to gather public input on the draft master plan revision for Clemyjontri Park. The meeting will be held on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021 at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria at Franklin Sherman Elementary School located at 6633 Brawner Street, McLean, Virginia.” [FCPA]

MCC Board Commits to Prioritizing Equity — The McLean Community Center Governing Board issued a statement yesterday (Wednesday) saying it will make diversity, equity, inclusion, and access top considerations when developing facilities and programming. The commitment aligns the organization with Fairfax County’s One Fairfax policy “to promote a responsive, caring and inclusive culture.” [MCC]

Photos: Wolf Trap Concludes 50th Anniversary Season — “The Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts closed out its 50th anniversary season over the weekend, with a giant gala that raised over $2 million.” [Washingtonian]

Firefighters Wear Capes to Cheer Up Inova Patients — “Earlier [Tuesday], #FCFRD firefighters rappelled down the @InovaHealth Children’s Hospital building to visit and encourage young patients. ‘I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.’ — Superman” [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department/Twitter]

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Morning Notes

New Fairfax County Police Chief Sworn In — Kevin Davis was formally sworn in as Fairfax County’s new police chief yesterday morning (Monday). The former Baltimore police commissioner begins his tenure amid intense scrutiny of his past conduct and the county’s hiring process. [FCPD]

Wolf Trap Wireless Tower Plans Put on Hold — Fairfax County has paused negotiations with Milestone Communications on a special exception application for a 114-foot-tall monopole on the Wolf Trap Fire Station site. The proposal drew strong opposition from community members, who argued that the structure would be inappropriate for the surrounding residential neighborhoods. [Sun Gazette]

Tysons Pandemic Recovery Survey Deadline Extended — Tysons Partnership has extended the deadline for its survey to evaluate expectations for the area’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic to May 21. Previously scheduled to close on May 14, the survey asks about people’s interest in returning to offices, transit, dining, and other activities that were disrupted by the pandemic. [Tysons Partnership]

Vienna Animal Hospital Proposes ExpansionVeterinary Surgical Centers, which is located in Suite 100 in the basement of 124 Park Street SE, wants to expand to the first floor, where it would add neurology treatment, a new imaging center with a waiting room, exam and operating rooms, and other facilities. The Vienna Planning Commission will make a recommendation on the proposal at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday (May 12). [Patch]

Clemyjontri Park Playground Named Best in Region — Virginia Living readers voted for Clemyjontri Park as the site of Northern Virginia’s best playground in the magazine’s “Best of Virginia 2021” competition. The McLean park’s unique playground was designed for children of all abilities, including kids who use wheelchairs, walkers, or braces and kids with developmental or sensory disabilities. [Fairfax County Park Authority]

Photo by Hilde Khan

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