Local residents may not have gotten everything they wanted after criticizing the Fairfax County Park Authority’s proposed improvements to McLean Central Park last year, but a revised version of the concept-design plan makes several notable concessions.
Park Authority officials in a March 2 “virtual” community meeting described the latest changes from the plan put forth last May, which itself was based on a master plan approved by the agency’s board in 2013.
The revised plan would retain the park’s most controversial element, an amphitheater, but relocate it farther away from nearby residences and design the amenity as a multi-use facility for classes, gatherings and festivals, not just a concert venue.
The amphitheater would be smaller than the one proposed years ago and located on sloping land to require less grading and preserve more trees, said Adam Wynn, a project manager and senior planner with FCPA’s Planning and Development Branch.
The McLean Citizens Association last June sent a letter to county officials in opposition to the amphitheater, citing potential neighborhood impacts, loss of green space and the availability of similar entertainment venues nearby. The McLean Community Center’s Governing Board shortly thereafter expressed support for the amphitheater and other elements of the park’s redevelopment plan.
Other proposals in the plan would:
• Build a vehicular drop-off area along Ingleside Avenue, saving many mature trees that would have been felled under the previous plan.
• Incorporate a natural meadow area along Ingleside Avenue where the former drop-off area was slated to go, which would preserve existing trees, including some huge oaks, and further buffer residences along that street from the park’s more active uses. The Park Authority would cut the meadow occasionally to maintain various natural species and might provide interpretive signage regarding local flora, fauna and environmental processes, officials said.
• Preserve and resurface all existing tennis courts and mark off two pickleball areas on each court, providing each with a movable net.
FCPA officials heeded one resident’s comment and said they would consider light-blue markings instead of yellow ones for the pickleball areas, in order to avoid confusing tennis players who use the same court.
Adding more tennis courts at the park is not feasible, but the Park Authority may try to increase tennis capacity at Lewinsville Park in McLean to meet high demand, officials said.
• Resurface the basketball court, install new goals and, if funding permits, replace the court’s lighting.
• Reconfigure and expand the parking lot north of Dolley Madison Library to add parking capacity.
• Convert into a fitness area the area near the tennis courts that now has a playground for school-age children.
• Expand the existing tot lot on the other side of the park to accommodate new play equipment for all ages. The play equipment at the current area for school-age children is nearing the end of its life expectancy and the Park Authority’s budget for the project will allow for its replacement.
The agency will need to find an alternative funding source to replace the current equipment on the tot lot, officials said.
• Update and make accessible year-round to park patrons a restroom with exterior doors at Dolley Madison Library, for which the Park Authority has an agreement for full use.
• Install a portable-toilet area near the planned amphitheater/pavilion. Local residents had expressed desire for additional restrooms to accommodate festivals and increased usage at the renovated park and the portable-toilet and library-restroom measures will work toward that end, officials said.
• Replace a bridge, add a stream-viewing area, build new trails and resurface damaged sections of existing paths, manage invasive plants and provide new site furnishing, wayfinding signage, natural landscaping and possibly public art.
The Park Authority received funding in 2019 for concept-design work for the park and in 2020 got $2.2 million in bond funds to construct the improvements.
The Park Authority in 2020 did the right thing, once construction funds became available, by going back to the public to verify that community members still wanted the same improvements sought in 2013, said Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville).
“We in McLean love our McLean Central Park,” Foust said. “We want to get this right.”
The 2013 master plan potentially would have added gaming tables and a bocce court, but those amenities now have only limited public support, Park Authority officials said.
Officials scrapped proposals for a dog park, which only would have worked where the tennis courts are, and decided not to reinstitute a disc (aka Frisbee) golf course at the park because it would be located in a resource-protection area.
They also decided against pursuing a children’s “splash pad” area, which would have required regular monitoring of chemical levels and been beyond the Park Authority’s maintenance ability at the park, Wynn said.
After allowing public comments for another 30 days, FCPA will review those remarks in April and finalize the park’s design in May. Construction is set to begin next spring.