Bles Park Expansion Proposal

An aerial map of Bles Park expansion project proposed by the Loudoun County Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure.

Despite concerns over negative impacts to wildlife and the natural ecosystem, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors will consider a project to expand Bles Park’s amenities and parking lot during its Jan. 18 business meeting.

The board voted unanimously to send the application to next month for action due to the demand for additional parking outlined at the Dec. 15 public hearing. Further, surveys by the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services (PRCS) determined visitors wanted other amenities at the park.

Supervisor Juli Briskman (D-Algonkian), who represents the district that includes Bles Park, said the park was developed with the intention of preserving the nature while providing amenities for residents.

She said she believes county staff has worked hard to consider the alternatives for the park.

“I feel PRCS has really worked hard to consider the alternatives and have really valid reasons why the alternatives really don’t work,” Briskman said.

“I don’t often disagree with my planning commissioner, but I hope we can still be friends,” she said. “I believe even with these nominal enhancements at Bles Park will continue to be the gem it is today while providing the amenities that we need.”

Loudoun County’s Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure, which is the applicant, is requesting the board convert 3.4 acres to the current zoning ordinance to allow for the park’s expansion of several amenities.

DTCI is proposing, but not to be constructed all at once, pavilions, canoe/kayak launch, multi-generation playgrounds, skate spots, an off-leash dog area, tennis and pickleball courts, overlook areas, and un-programmed open lawn.

Further, the applicant is requesting to allow for incidental structures including benches and pavilions, within 840 square feet in the floodplain overlay district, and an impervious surface within 10% of the floodplain overlay district.

County staff said the existing park, which sits on 132 acres, was built in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Existing facilities at Bles Park include four soccer fields, a parking lot, playground, and restroom facility.

The park is located north of Route 7, and on the east side of Bles Park Drive (Route 1052). Additionally, the Eastern Loudoun Adult Day Center is located on a southeastern portion of the property.

The planning commission recommended the board deny the application. Under the commission’s findings for denial, the application proposal is contrary to the county’s general plan policies that call for the protection of natural, environmental, and heritage resources.

Additionally, the commission said the proposed increase in impervious surface, structures and development at Bles Park will destroy habitats for rare and sensitive plant and animal species and species of greatest concern.

“The application proposal puts exemplary natural communities and ecosystems at increased and unnecessary risk,” the commission stated in its findings.

The commission recommended the board pursue an initiative to develop expertise in wildlife biology, natural ecosystems, and native plant and animal communities.

Further, members recommended the board pursue opportunities uncovered and developed during the application process including alternative parking solutions, an alternative for the board walk, an alternative kayak launch location at Bles Park, and construction of proposed active recreational amenities at other close-by locations.

The last community meeting was on April 23, 2019.

Jane Kirchner, a member of the Planning Commission, was one of eight speakers Wednesday night. She urged the board to consider the commission’s recommendations.

Kirchner said there were viable alternatives that could accomplish the active recreation needs, the expanded parking, the kayak launch, and not compromise and or destroy the park’s natural assets.

“There are other plans that would work that would fulfill the needs that would solve the problems, but that would not destroy the natural gems that really should be a central point for this park — especially in eastern Loudoun, where you don’t really have very much of this left,” Kirchner said.

Al Van Huyck, like other speakers, urged the board to either deny or to modify the application.

“So much more can be done to protect the environmental uniqueness of Bles Park,” Huyck said. “Active recreation facilities may cost more to build elsewhere, but do we want to sacrifice our special places — which once gone are gone forever — just to save money on building a pickleball court.”

Briskman emphasized that the project will augment the existing recreation facilities, and will not develop the 132-acre park.

“This may sound like a lot, but the increased structures in the flood plain amount to .89 acres," Briskman said in a Dec. 20 statement. "This is not development in the traditional sense, and it is not an expansion. Those terms are misleading to describe the project."

She said the Algonkian community has been asking for a dog park and more pickleball courts for years and that she's proud that the county is building them.”

“More than 30 acres of the park is zoned for residential use and could be sold for housing or used as part of the Unmet Housing Needs Strategic Plan. However, the County is actively preserving the park,” Briskman said.

“I share the environmental concerns raised by the community and appreciate Algonkian Planning Commissioner Jane Kirchner’s work and staff’s efforts to mitigate these concerns and balance the community needs,” she added. “These enhancements will ensure more residents can enjoy the natural areas with little impact.”

(3) comments

jke

Pave over Paradise put in a parking lot literally!

Here is a link to a petition to stop the destruction at Bles Park.

https://chng.it/NcszSZJfmS

Nonpartisan issue that Takes less than a minute to sign.

We are at 989 signatures in 3 days keep up the momentum and help save a natural wonderland.

Write Randall, Briskman, Umstattd, Buffy, Kirshner and Saines bos@loudoun.gov them to just vote NO on this proposal!

jke

All their desires can be met, and the parkland saved if they use the Planning Commission's proposal. Use science or feelings?

jke

Julie "believes" discounting the advice of the planning commissioner she appointed. Let us not forget the planning commissioner credentials make her an expert witness for environment concerns.

Julie ran as someone who would protect the environment, tell that to the wildlife when her construction begins on 160 parking places. Where you ask does the runoff go, let me tell you, right into the Broad Run and Potomac River

You ask are the fields fertilized, fertilizers be darned, but Julie "believes".

Julie "believes" pickle ball courts are a necessity otherwise why invade a natural setting with more noise and additional parking?

Julie "believes" it is fine to run a boardwalk across a chokepoint between two large wetland areas never mind the animals that have to maneuver on the ground.

Julie "believes introducing more people into the floodplain and wetlands is what her contingents want, her version of diversity.

Ask the other members of planning commission if they trust their training which ended in a vote to deny this application or do they "believe" Julie knows best?

This is a middle finger to the environment she purports to protect "I believe"!

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