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ArlingtonHALRB goes its own way on park-naming proposals

HALRB goes its own way on park-naming proposals

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Never accuse Arlington’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) with merely going with the flow.

Despite a near-consensus by county staff, local developers and other advisory bodies on the naming of two new parks after major projects in the Crystal City-Pentagon City area, HALRB members earlier this month proved near-unanimous in their opposition.

Instead, members of the body voted to recommend the two parks be named after nearby streets, whose names also would promote the natural surroundings.

The parks are being developed as part of the Pen Place and Metropolitan Park projects rising in what is now being called National Landing, growth that is connected – directly and indirectly – to the area having been chosen by Amazon for its secondary headquarters.

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And until the Aug. 17 HALRB meeting, the stars appeared to be aligning for the names “Pen Place” and “Met Park” for the two future parks.
But then opposition arrived.

“My first thought was, ‘Couldn’t they do better than that?’” said HALRB member Joan Lawrence, objecting primarily to the name “Met Park” – which, she and several other members of the historical panel noted, sounded more like a New York City baseball stadium than an Arlington park.

HALRB member Mark Turnbull termed Met Park an “undistinguished” prospective moniker and said even lengthening it to Metropolitan Park to align with the overall development would leave a “fairly bland name.”

Add board vice chair Omari Davis to the list of those who objected. Davis was succinct: “I’m not a fan,” he said.

Also on the table were the possibilities Elm Park and Fern Park as a second option, Goldfinch Park and Chickadee Park as a third. County staff had advised against mixing and matching among the options, which were purposely paired to provide similarity.

In an informal tally of HALRB member preferences, the Elm/Fern combo – which aligns to street names in the vicinity – drew nine votes, Goldfinch/Chickadee garnered two and Met Park/Pen Place picked up but one. (“I’ll be contrary,” said board chair Richard Woodruff, who was the last to vote and gave his ballot to Met Park and Pen Place.)

After that, a formal vote to recommend Elm Park and Fern Park as the names was passed on a 12-0 vote.

“I know we disagreed with what you wanted, but it’s a great project,” Woodruff said to developer representatives who attended the meeting – the HALRB’s last COVID-caused “virtual” gathering before in-person hearings resume in September.

Whether the panel’s opinion will hold sway remains to be seen. The National Landing Business Improvement District, Park and Recreation Commission, Arlington Neighborhoods Advisory Committee and a number of surrounding civic associations already have signed on to the Met Park/Pen Place proposal. The Park and Recreation Commission will make its formal recommendation in late September, with the County Board expected to deliver a final decision in November.

There also was the suggestion that one of the parks be named in honor of Queen City, a one-time segregated neighborhood for Arlington’s African-American population that was demolished in the early 1940s to make way for construction of roadways and parking lots to serve what would become the Pentagon.

But that proposal drew umbrage from local resident Bernard Berne, who said the Queen City neighborhood had been nearly a mile south of the site in question.

Berne thought a better name, and a better use of public-art funds being spent at the parks, would be to salute Brick Haven, the name of the community near the present-day Metropolitan Park/Pen Place parcels that existed around the turn of the 20th century.

Putting artwork focused on Queen City in a location far from where that neighborhood actually existed would only serve to confuse the historical record, Berne said.

“This is how you lose history,” he said.

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