Friday, September 21, 2007

Mini-Golf Plans Progressing

The easement has been signed and the process to offer a “request for qualifications” has begun for the property outside the Ballston Commons Mall parking garage on N. Glebe Road at the intersection of N. Randolph Street, said Scott McPartlin, a county project manager. The space is to be managed by the county as a park, and the plans are to create a state-of-the-art miniature golf course, but “nothing is etched in stone.”

"I am happy to state that we do, we finally got [the easement],” Mr. McPartlin said, "I don't know that it's been recorded yet, but it's been signed, which is the big deal." He said it was signed by the mall’s owners (Forest City Enterprises) at the end of August.

The county is planning a miniature golf course for this site in front of the Ballston Commons Mall. Some Buckingham residents aren't so sure they like the idea.

Rather than simply sending out a request for proposals for a developer to make a basic golf course, the county might go the route of a request for qualifications, in an attempt to find a company who could become a partner in the development. That partner would take on some of the financial burden while building a course that matches the urban setting around it.

"For the type of first-class course that we want, we just don't have the funding for that,” Mr. McPartlin said. He added that the county has the money from the original site plan to put in a regular mini-golf course, but he said county staff thought that would not fit the setting.

County staff came to the civic association meetings over the past year with the idea for the golf course and asked if the associations liked it; staff did not ask what the associations wanted, but if they liked what was offered. This has bothered some people in Buckingham, among them, Pat Hope, the president of the Buckingham Community Civic Association. That sentiment, and questions about the choice of mini-golf, was echoed by others at the BCCA meeting on Monday, Sept. 17. Mr. McPartlin does not deny it.

"That is exactly what we did. That is the truth,” Mr. McPartlin said. “This was a unique process, different than some of our parks, to take advantage of this opportunity.”

His office went to civic associations (that's a large pdf file) with the idea of the golf course, and asked if the associations liked it. One reason for this process was the pressure his office felt from higher in the county, he said. "We did receive clear direction [from the county board] to do something to activate this corner."

He said that a “passive” corner, one filled primarily with trees, plants and benches would not work on that corner, with two large streets and the wall of the parking garage making up the three sides of the triangle. Professional landscape architects told him people would not make the trip to that corner to sit, he said, adding that non-use could spell a haven for rodents and loose garbage.

He has said that county staff considered other uses—an outdoor ice rink, a climbing wall—but that the mini-golf had the longest season and was a multi-generational activity.

He added that the Ashton Heights Civic Association (the property is part of the Ashton Heights neighborhood) loved the idea and sent a letter to the county board stating this.

Mr. McPartlin and Pat Hope have both said that meetings are being planned for residents of the neighborhood to voice their opinions. Mr. Hope said he hopes to involve the Bluemont Civic Association as well.

"I respect Patrick's opinion. Patrick an I have been in communication....I will be attending a BCCA meeting in the near future, most likely this fall, to learn more about the public space needs of the Buckingham community. All I can really say is I respect his opinion." Mr. McPartlin paused for a few moments. "Any concern they have is valid to me." He said again that nothing is etched in stone.
Related story information: Request for Information.

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To paraphrase James Carville, "It's the process, stupid." The BCCA believes the community, together with County staff, should arrive at this decision mutually. Personally, I wouldn't flat-out object to a mini-golf course but I have to also agree that a well-kept greenspace, a waterpark for kids, etc. would also be nice too. It's really a decent-sized space and I'm certain there are plenty of good ideas (or combination of ideas) that the space could accomodate. I'm sure my neighbors have other ideas too and I would like to hear them before rushing to a decision.

To this end, the BCCA has proposed to County staff to host a community-wide forum where ideas could be tossed around and we could try to reach consensus. Invite neighbors in Ashton Heights, Bluemont, Ballston-VA Square, Buckingham, and other interested parties (i.e. commissions) and ask them if they have other uses for the land.

Considering all viewpoints before making a decison results in a far better project than internalizing decision-making.

Patrick Hope
President, BCCA
I agree with Patrick that the county should try to find out what our ideas are before putting a mini-golf course in that space. I guess mini-golf is interesting, but surely it is not the only idea out there. I personally would like an ice cream store like Maggie Moos or a Dunkin Donuts in a space more like Pentagon Row's plaza. We don't have a nice plaza in the neighborhood where we could have some coffee and hang out. We already have a mini golf at Upton Hill literally just up the road, and mini-golf is kind of goofy and lame. Upton Hill's mini-golf has rats and trash, so I don't see how mini-golf will keep the area free from that.

Keep up the good work, Pat.

The neighborhood does not need a mini-golf course. We had one in Ballston twenty years ago. It was so overpriced that I never used it, even though I lived only four blocks away.

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority now operates an excellent mini-golf course in Upton Hills. This facility replaced the former mini-golf course in Ballston. It is only about 2 miles from the neighborhood.

A new mini-golf course would compete with the one at Upton Hills, which the taxpayers financed. Considering that a new mini-golf course would likely decrease attendance and revenues at Upton Hills, the new mini-golf course would be deterimental to the public.

The Buckingham and Ballston neighborhoods have very little "passive" recreation space. People who live in highly developed areas need such space, which can have parks with trees, flowers, shrubs, benches, picnic tables, etc. Many more neighborhood residents would use such a space than would use any of the facilities that Mr. McPartlin is considering. Further, they would use such a park far more more frequently than they would ever use a mini-golf course.
I understand concerns about process, but I have to take issue with Cathy's comments on Upton Hill. I'm a regular customer there (I've already used up my 10-game summer pass) and I've never once seen a rat or noticed a litter problem. It's a beautiful facility and a great community resource -- you're not going to win friends by trashing it.

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