Parking Plan for Yorktown Renovation Roils Neighbors


(Friday, March 28, 2008 1:16 PM EDT)

Chestnut Hills Park is a place neighborhood residents go to fly kites, play catch and walk their dogs. But not for much longer, if Arlington school officials go through with their plan to build a parking area in the community's open green space.

The school system recently proposed that the south side of the park be used for parking by construction workers, during the 55-month Yorktown High School renovation project slated to start in June.

Already against the proposal because a big chunk of the park would be eaten up, the Yorktown Civic Federation and many nearby homeowners and families also are upset that the school system didn't deal with potential parking problems earlier in the process.

“During the past two-and-a-half years of planning for the Yorktown design project, a big part of what the community was requesting was that all the parking issues be sorted out before approval of the project,” said Yorktown Civic Federation president David Haring. “That really never happened, and this is the kind of reckless result you get without planning ahead.”

Although the proposed parking area would be fenced separately from the playground, it would be an eyesore and destroy the attractiveness and safety of the park, as well as lower the value of homes of nearby residents, Haring said.

“It appears to be the cheap and easy solution for the school system, but not for neighbors and users of the park,” he said. “Green spaces are precious to the community. That's the element that has to be factored in here.”

The use permit for the Yorktown project requires construction workers' vehicles to be off-street, so they do not add to an already crowded parking situation in the North Arlington communities surrounding the school.

The school system favors the Chestnut Hills proposal because, at about $100,000, the design and construction of the lot would cost significantly less than the alternatives.

Before considering the Chestnut Hills site, school officials said they evaluated 13 other locations, including several private properties, but few were viable options.

One option, the Williamsburg Middle School recess field, would require a shuttle to move workers from the parking location to the work site. School officials estimated that the cost would be about $700,000, if school buses were used to provide transportation.

Using the parking lot at Ballston Common Mall was another option, but the estimated cost for the 80 to 100 spaces and a school bus for transportation was about $930,000.

“I'm not willing to say [Chestnut Hills] is the best place, but compared to Williamsburg, it's better because there's no traffic conflict,” said Vaughan Olbrys, project manager for the Yorktown renovation. “Construction workers leave, and school lets out around the same time.”

By creating visual barriers around the lot, and not allowing construction workers to walk through the playground, school officials hope the lot won't change the atmosphere of the park too much.

Putting gravel on the grassy area, instead of paving it over, also would allow for restoration of the green space once the Yorktown renovation is complete.

No final decision has been made on the parking proposal. The school system is exploring other options, and probably will not have a recommendation for the County Board to approve for a use permit until mid-April.

Despite the uncertainty of the parking situation, Olbrys expects that the Yorktown renovation will still start in June.

“I don't think it's going to drive the schedule,” she said.

County voters have approved only some of the funding required for the rebuilding of Yorktown. School officials are likely to ask for the remainder of the funding in the November school bond referendum.

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