McLean Central Park redesign concept plan (via Fairfax County)

A plan to overhaul McLean Central Park has won over the support of the McLean Community Center (MCC), but the organization recommends Fairfax County make a few changes to help alleviate safety concerns raised by some locals.

The MCC is a county-run and taxpayer-financed program that offers activities, classes, shows and more for McLean adults and children.

In a letter to the Fairfax County Park Authority, the 11-member MCC Governing Board highlighted three parts of the plan that will help improve programming at the park: an amphitheater, an accessible drop off point, and public art.

In its letter, the MCC says it currently utilizes the park for several activities, including a Sunday Summer Concert Series that brings music and performances to the park gazebo, but the gazebo is too small to fit the kind of programming that it wants to provide.

“While the MCC regularly provides programming at the current park gazebo, this facility is small and does not provide scalable space for current and future programming,” the MCC said. “The MCC Board supports the development of a sustainable amphitheater space furnished with technical equipment, public seating, and accessible and environmentally sustainable restroom facilities.”

The MCC says there are an average of 150-275 participants in the free Sunday Concert Sessions, though sometimes that has been as high at 450 people. The board requests that the amphitheater be designed with that capacity in mind.

The existing gazebo also has no technical infrastructure and inadequate electricity, the MCC says, which causes the organization to incur a $2,000 cost in labor per-event. The MCC also has a modular sound system valued at $87,000 that needs replacing every five to seven years.

The MCC says the overhaul proposed by the county would help the park better serve as a community gathering place.

“The lack of accessible outdoor performance and cultural space in the McLean area limits the nature of cultural exchange and dialogue,” the MCC said. “The countywide Strategic Plan prioritizes cultural and recreational opportunities. The improvements to the [McLean Central Park], including the Amphitheater, support these goals and the ability to bring all generations together.

The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) had shared earlier concerns that turning the park into an attraction could create problems for nearby residential neighborhoods. The MCA also expressed skepticism that there is a need for a large ampitheater.

In a June letter to the park authority, MCA President Rob Jackson cited possible pedestrian safety issues, suggesting the county should study traffic impact and mitigation alternatives and have a professional conduct a parking study.

In its letter, the MCC Board recommends “expedited” construction of a pedestrian bridge across Dolly Madison Boulevard “to provide safe and sustainable pedestrian access and reduce traffic and congestion.”

“A bridge would serve as a physical connector and embody the vision of the McLean Central Business District expressed by the version of the McLean Community Business Center Plan approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on June 22, 2021,” the MCC said.

The public comment period for the McLean Central Park plan has been extended to July 30.

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McLean Central Park redesign concept plan (via Fairfax County)

The McLean Citizens Association has concerns about how Fairfax County is approaching changes to McLean Central Park.

The MCA board of directors approved a resolution on Wednesday (July 7) questioning the concept development plan that the Fairfax County Park Authority has proposed for the park, which would add facilities such as an amphitheater and a dog park. It called for further community input, such as a community-wide survey, notices posted in the park, and another extension of the comment period.

“Document the need. Document why,” Barbara Ryan, chair of the environment, parks, and recreation committee, said in describing part of the resolution. “Don’t just destroy green…space to build things that aren’t needed.”

Adjacent to the McLean Community Center and Dolley Madison Library, the 28-acre McLean Central Park (1468 Dolley Madison Blvd.) currently has tennis and basketball courts, playgrounds, and trails.

With $2.2 million in construction funds available for the project, thanks to park bonds already approved by voters, park authority officials say the proposed ideas were in line with a 2013 master plan and held a meeting on May 24, kicking off a 30-day comment period.

The deadline for community members to submit feedback was later extended from June 25 to July 30, in part due to a request for more time by MCA.

The association has raised concerns over the amphitheater in a quiet neighborhood next to residences, saying it could create undesirable light, noise, and traffic.

In a June letter to the park authority, MCA President Rob Jackson also cited possible pedestrian safety issues, suggesting the county should study traffic impact and mitigation alternatives and have a professional conduct a parking study.

“While this may have been a community desire 8 years ago, there is simply no demonstrated need for the amphitheater,” Jackson said in the letter, which was also sent to county officials. “This is especially the case in light of the…Alden Theater at the McLean Community Center as well as the new, several stages nearing completion at the Capitol One Center.”

MCA also noted that an existing gazebo already provides space for outdoor events. The group has 500 dues-paying members and also assists others who reach out to the group when they face an issue.

FCPA spokesperson Judy Pedersen told Tysons Reporter last month that the McLean Community Center “is very interested” in seeing the amphitheater move forward.

The MCC governing board held a special called meeting on Tuesday (July 6) that focused on articulating its position on the park redevelopment plan and developing an “outreach strategy to drive support” for an amphitheater, according to the agenda.

The county has also suggested that the proposed dog park would require eliminating a tennis court, which drew concerns from players who have enjoyed the wind-protected, lighted courts and felt that money could be better used for maintenance.

While the design isn’t expected to be finalized until early next year, park authority staff told Tysons Reporter in June that the park’s three tennis courts will likely remain in their current positions in deference to the community’s expressed desires.

The MCA resolution says the county’s new proposal calls for new park elements “for which demand has not recently been articulated, documented, or even surveyed in the community, such as the proposed amphitheater, bocce courts and game tables, while neglecting needed maintenance of existing facilities, such as tennis courts, and features that were removed without community notice, outreach or comment, such as disc golf.”

A nine-hole disc golf course was in place for decades at the park but removed around 2017 or 2018, at-large board member Kevin Kierce said.

The park authority has suggested reinstating the course if possible.

FCPA Project Management Branch Manager Paul Shirey previously said the disc golf was removed due to a stream restoration project. He said the county is aware of interest in bringing it back and also checked with a disc golf course designer but need to make sure it doesn’t interrupt restoration improvements made.

“The green space was well used for over 30 years,” Kierce said.

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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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The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.

We’ve searched the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean, and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!

Tuesday (June 8)

  • Democratic Primary Election — 6 a.m.-7 p.m. — The Virginia Democratic Primary for Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General will be held on June 8th. Check your polling location. Voters must be registered to vote and can present a valid photo ID. View a sample ballot ahead of time. More information can be found on the Virginia Department of Elections.
  • On Deck with Mercury — 6-8 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of Vienna (450 Orchard St. NE) — For his monthly community forum, Vienna Town Manager Mercury Payton will discuss upcoming events for Liberty Amendments Month with guests. The talk will be filmed and aired later on the town’s YouTube channel, but members of the public are also invited to come and watch.
  • Duck Harbor (Online) — 8 p.m. — A heartwarming web series about a bi-coastal love story written by E.M. Lewis and Bob Bartlett, this online, live theatrical performance from 1st Stage will air for free every Tuesday at 8 p.m. for 12 weeks. All aired episodes and bonus content will also be available through Duck Harbor ALL ACCESS for $15.

Wednesday (June 9)

  • Fish Suncatcher Crafternoon (Online) — 3-3:30 p.m. — Pick up a Grab and Go Craft kit from the Mary Riley Styles Public Library in Falls Church, and join Ms. Meredith on the library’s Facebook page for an afternoon of stories and songs about fish while learning how to make a suncatcher. Kits are currently available via curbside pickup, and the instructions video will remain online after the event.
  • COVID-19 Remembrance Ceremony — 6 p.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center ellipse (12000 Government Center Pkwy) — The Northern Virginia Regional Commission is holding a ceremony to honor and remember the more than 2,350 residents of the region who have died from COVID-19. Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, Fairfax Health District Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, Fire and Rescue Chief John Butler, and Police Chief Kevin Davis will speak.

Thursday (June 10)

Friday (June 11)

  • American Red Cross Blood Drive — 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Ave.) — MCC is hosting a blood drive for the American Red Cross. All donors will receive a Red Cross T-shirt and a $10 Amazon Gift Card. Make an appointment online or call 1-800-733-2767. For more information, contact Melanie Hurley at [email protected] or Meosha Hudson at 410-375-5190 or [email protected].
  • Wolf Trap Salon Series (Online) — 7 p.m. — A series of online opera recitals curated by the artists in the show. The virtual performance gives “an intimate look into artistry…providing a unique glimpse into how they interpret art, songs and the world around them.”

Saturday (June 12)

  • UFC 263 Social Mixer — 7 p.m.-12:30 a.m. at Highgate at the Mile (7915 Jones Branch Dr., Apt. 206)UFC DMV, a local group of UFC and martial arts fans in the D.C. area, invites fellow enthusiasts to meet new people, eat, and drink while watching Saturday’s title fights. Admission is $10, and food will be provided, but attendees should bring their own drinks.

Sunday (June 13)

Photo via Chilhowee Hills Baptist Church/Facebook

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By 2023, McLean Central Park (1468 Dolley Madison Boulevard) could be completely overhauled with a suite of new recreational amenities, though there’s some back and forth in the community over what exactly those should be.

The Fairfax County Park Authority is currently gathering public input on what the community hopes to see from a revitalized McLean Central Park, and at a meeting on Monday (May 24), local residents shared their hopes for what could be included, as well as concerns for what the overhaul would mean for nearby residents.

The plan is to reconfigure much of the 28-acre park to include new recreational facilities, an amphitheater at the southern end of the park, and a dog park where the tennis courts are today.

Bocce ball courts are included in the plan, but some residents expressed a hope that frisbee golf might make a return, and one resident was particularly pining for some ping-pong presence in the park.

Other callers who participated in the meeting said they were concerned the overhaul of the park would attract more cars to central McLean, potentially making local streets more hazardous.

The discussion also delved into the minutiae of the park plan, such as a comment that a proposed fiberglass bridge looked out of keeping with the wooden bridges around McLean. Paul Shirey, a manager at the Fairfax County Park Authority, said the decision to go with fiberglass was an economic one.

According to Shirey, wooden bridges might last 20 or 25 years, but a fiberglass bridge could have double that lifespan and greater durability.

County staff said the project will likely start construction in fall 2022, with 10 months of construction leading to a summer 2023 opening.

The public comment period on the park authority’s development concept will be open until June 25. Comments can be sent by email to [email protected] or [email protected]

Photo via Fairfax County

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Morning Notes

(Updated at 8:45 a.m.) School Board Member’s Israel Comments Sparks Debate — Fairfax County School Board Member-at-Large Abrar Omeish’s tweet criticizing the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians during recent air strikes has drawn strong reactions. More than 100 people showed up to the board’s meeting on Thursday (May 20) to support her, arguing that criticism of Israel’s policies isn’t inherently anti-Semitic, while others have called for her resignation. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington rescinded an honor it intended to bestow for her religious equity advocacy. [Patch]

Arrest Made in Recent Tysons Commercial Burglary — Fairfax County police reported five different burglaries at businesses in Tysons  on May 15 and 16, including incidents at ServiceNow and Koons Chrysler. A man from D.C. was arrested and charged in a string of three burglaries that occured on May 16 at Best Buy, Safford of Tysons Corner, and a T-Mobile store. [Sun Gazette]

Lawsuit over TJ Admissions Moves Forward — “A federal judge ruled Friday that a parents’ group can move forward with a lawsuit alleging that new admissions policies at an elite public high school in northern Virginia discriminate against Asian Americans…Asian Americans constitute more than 70 percent of the [Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology] student body, and for decades Black and Hispanic students have been woefully underrepresented there.” [WTOP]

Gallows Road Reduced to One Lane Tonight — “Gallows Road over I-66 will be reduced to one travel lane in each direction during overnight hours Monday, May 24, through Saturday, May 27, from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. each night. The southbound side of Gallows Road will be closed with two-way traffic running on the northbound side. The closures are necessary for utility work on the bridge as part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway Project.” [VDOT]

Reminder: McLean Central Park Meeting Tonight — Fairfax County will hold a virtual public information meeting at 7 p.m. today to share a development concept for McLean Central Park. Based on a master plan that was last revised in 2013, potential new facilities for the 28-acre public park on Dolley Madison Boulevard include a dog park, an ampitheater, and trail improvements. [FCPA]

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