Saturday, February 07, 2009

Mosaic Park Upgrade Includes Water, Open Space, Playground and Walking Elements

It was not all happiness at the first of two public comment meetings for the Mosaic Park upgrade, but for the most part the comments from the few people to show up were positive.

County staff and park designers from Oculus-DC are taking a final round of public comment this week and next before presenting their final master plan ideas on Feb. 19. (See times and places below.)

“This is the master planning,” said Don Hoover of Oculus, describing the current drawings as the skeleton of the future park. “In the future will be a more detailed design process.”

This plan was presented on Feb. 4. Purple is synthetic surfacing for play areas; yellow is hard sidewalks; blue is the water channel. The rain garden (not connected to the water channel) sits in the lower left-hand corner. The dark line is a low wall that helps direct walking routes but will also be used for sitting. (Click to enlarge the image.)

The park runs north and south between N. Quincy and N. Pollard streets, and will separate mixed-use development on the N. Quincy side from the established residential Ashton Heights neighborhood on the N. Pollard side. The Shooshan Companies, the developers of the Quincy Street mixed use project called Founders Square, are paying $4.5 million for park development in exchange for higher density in their project. That five-building project of residences, businesses and restaurants sits between N. Quincy and N. Randolph Streets, east of the Ballston Commons Mall.

“This park is really the seam between urban and residential,” Mr. Hoover said.

For that reason the Quincy Street side has more walking and sitting elements. The sidewalk along the street is separated from the park by a grass berm, but just inside that berm will be places to walk, sit, or have lunch for people on their midday breaks. On the east, N. Pollard, side of the park the focus is more on family fun with a playground area, and an open play space. This side is largely covered in synthetic play surfaces, rather than grass.

Planners made the argument that the surface will hold up better and longer than grass, but Ashton Heights resident Marty Spitzer called the park, “over-engineered and over-designed.” It is more than the community needs, he said. “It’s the only place within a mile” he said of the park as it currently stands, “to kick a ball.”

“You can do virtually anything that you can do on grass” on the synthetic surfaces, said county planner Scott McPartlin, “It’ll still stay nice.”

Mr. Spitzer argued that the space have more grass, and less of the synthetic materials. “This doesn’t meet with the needs of the community,” he said, adding after the meeting that he just wants a place he can bring his children to play Frisbee.

Marty Spitzer, foreground, and Don Hoover listen to another participant at Wednesday's meeting. (Click to enlarge the image.)

Ashton Heights Civic Association President Ted Billich was a voting member of the Mosaic Park Planning Team. “It isn’t just the neighborhood to the east,” indicating that northern section of Ashton Heights, he said, “There are a lot of constituencies here.”

The planning team was a group of citizens, county planners and business groups, including three people from Ashton Heights and one each from the other surrounding neighborhoods and groups. The park is part of the Ashton Heights neighborhood.

The plans include two water elements. The first starts as a fountain on the upper west side and flows down a channel to a reclamation pond that would have mosaic tiles as its bottom. The other is a rain garden, a place to collect run-off rain water from the hard surfaces of the park and grow succulents.

Both elements would be interactive, Mr. Hoover said.

“Will kids get wet? Absolutely they will. It’s sort of the nature of this,” Mr. Hoover said.

Larry Finch, Arlington’s Urban Forestry Commission chair, asked that the designers find a way to allow canopy trees, such as oaks, to grow. That requires more permeable surfaces and earth underneath the sidewalks if the roots will have room to spread and will have the ability to get water.

“You might think of two or three places where you could have really big trees,” with mulch out to the drip line (the circumference of the branches), Mr. Finch said.

The current park is mainly open space with a small rock climbing wall and a dome climbing structure in one corner. In 1995 the county redesigned the park; at that time, the focus was on a field for “fulbito,” (or “little soccer”) for area children, especially from the Buckingham Village Apartments, to play. The plan still makes room for fulbito on the synthetic surface.

Planners believe that all power needs for the park’s water pumps and lights can be gotten through solar and wind producers. Examples at the presentation showed solar panels and small propellers that looked very much like sculpture. That would correspond with the sculptural nature of the planned climbing structures. Even the ground around the play area will be “sculpted” with undulating hills and valleys, all covered in the spongy synthetic surface.

This first phase of the park is shaped a bit like a lower case “h.” Phase2 requires the county to buy the upper right corner of the “h,” a space currently housing the Gold’s Gym at N. Pollard and Wilson Blvd. Should Phase2 ever come to pass, it would have open grass and a half-court basketball court.

Although it’s generally frowned upon by the Society of Professional Journalists to have a reporter offer comment in these meetings, I just couldn’t help myself. I told those gathered that a park in New York City has a water feature similar to the one conceived here. The channel that the water follows in NYC, however, is a scale rendering of the Hudson River from its headwaters in the Adirondack Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. I said, and people were quick to see where my thoughts took me, that this one could look like the Potomac River, ending on the Chesapeake Bay. --ST

Upcoming Meetings: County staff and planners will present the plans again at a meeting Tuesday Feb. 10, 7p.m., NRECA building, Room CC2, 4301 Wilson Blvd.

The final master plan will be presented on on Feb. 19, 7p.m., DHS building, 3033 Wilson Blvd., Rooms 7E and 7F.

Related stories…
  • Founders Square and Mosaic Park (Oct. 16, 2008)

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  • Comments:
    This project will add a large amount of impermeable surface to the County. This will increase runoff into Four Mile Run and the Chesapeake Bay. The site needs much less paving and much more soil and plantings.

    Of course, it is well known that the County Parks Division loves impermeable surfaces and only gives lip service to preserving the environment and natural areas. Each year, the Parks Division destroys permeable surface and natural areas by creating or expanding bike trails, play areas, ball fields, etc. This is yet anothor example of this.

    Who really cares if the Four Mile Run and the Chesapeake Bay becomes more polluted than they already are. The Parks Division certainly does not.

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