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Fairfax County Parks through an Equity Lens

(May 15, 2019) Catherine Read sits down with Jennifer Pradas and Chris Ambrose to discuss the fate of two Fairfax County Parks that are in peril of being redeveloped. Pradas and Ambrose are community activists who are working to preserve green space in their neighborhoods. They encourage the Fairfax County Park Authority to look at the protection of these parks through an equity lens. The One Fairfax policy was implemented to ensure that all neighborhoods throughout Fairfax County, no matter the zip code, are treated equally.

Jennifer Pradas is the founder and organizer of Save Blake Lane Park in the Providence District of Fairfax County. As the population in her neighborhood has grown over the years, overcrowding has ensued in the schools.  This has prompted a call for a new elementary school to be built in the area. There is currently a proposal to redevelop Blake Lane Park into a new school, which would take away a community park that serves thousands of people in a high-density area.

With so many residents living in townhouses or condominiums, there would be no open space within walking distance for these residents to frequent.  The redevelopment also includes removing including a dog park and a pollinator garden recently installed by a local girl scout troop. Pradas supports the idea of looking at boundary changes for the current schools in order to shift population in a more equitable manner and preserve the parkland.

Gerry Connolly, former Chair of the Fairfax County Board and current Congressman for the 11th District of Virginia, recently penned a letter in Blue Virginia, encouraging the planning commission to not redevelop Blake Lane Park. During his tenure at Board Chair, he called for setting 10% of County land to be preserved for parkland.  He also asked to have parks within walking distance of all communities.

In Lorton, Chris Ambrose outlines a similar concern about the prospect of developing part of Lorton Park for a community center. In 2016 the Park Authority set a goal of having 5 acres of community parkland for every 1000 residents of the county. Lorton Park currently serves 10,000 residents, far exceeding the proposed ratio. Ambrose notes that further chipping away at this green space does not serve the residents of the Lorton area well.

His suggestions include considering several other parcels of land that are owned by Fairfax County and in close proximity to Lorton Park. One of the properties, across the street from the park, is land that is attached to the pollution control plant and was originally purchased as a buffer zone. There are currently recreational fields on adjacent land to this parcel.  But the county is using the excuse that there are PCB’s on the land that need to be cleaned up, to the tune of $200,000. Ambrose asserts that the PCB’s should be cleaned up regardless of how the land is used, but in the scope of a $20 million project the county should be able to work this into the budget.

Another option for the Lorton Community Center could be a parcel of land nearby that is currently slated for multi-use redevelopment. Again, Ambrose thinks that a community center could enhance a redevelopment project for the area, as the county could sell off the remainder of land that is not used for the community center.

Both the Blake Lane Park and the Lorton Park will be up for discussion at the next Planning Commission meeting, which takes place on May 22nd. Pradas and Ambrose encourage allies to come support their causes. Not every community has the same ability to advocate for itself, that is why the One Fairfax policy is so important. It asks that those who are in a position of power to take into account underserved communities and make equitable decisions about county policies.

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