Council to Continue Riverfront Park Debate
Tuesday discussion comes after council voted to defer approving design process until it had more information.
Fredericksburg City Council will continue its discussion of Riverfront Park during Tuesday's work session.
At their Nov. 27 meeting, council members voted 5 - 2 to table any action on Riverfront Park, with Ward 2 Councilmember George Solley and At-Large Councilmember Kerry Devine voting against the decision.
The vote capped an evening of heated, sometimes contentious debate, which began in the work session and carried over into the regular session. The evening's regular session agenda included a vote to award the contract for design services for Riverfront Park, but that was put on hold until the board could have more discussion tonight.
Some council members want to move forward with the design phase of the park, which would build on the community recreational area located on the Sophia Street riverfront.
Others want to hold off paying for a design until money is available to build the park and the park design is incorporated into a bigger plan for the Sophia Street area. Those who want to wait believe the money should be used for what they consider more important projects in the current fiscal climate
The vote is supposed to return to the regular session agenda no later than City Council's first meeting in 2013.
Councilmember Solley outlined in an email to Ward 3 Councilmember Fred Howe the three part process for Riverfront Park.
Phase 1 – Concept design and initial development. During this phase, the city created the Riverfront Task Force, adopted a concept, acquired land for the park and developed an interim park.
Phase 2 – Detailed design. This phase has two steps: one, detailed design of the park (this is the stage for which we have the current contract); two, development of construction documents.
Phase 3 – Construction. Build the park.
"Since this was a priority goal for the previous Council, it would have been on the agenda before now except for administrative delays in the contract process," Solley wrote in an email. "Council’s role in moving this initiative forward has already been defined and approved," Solley said.
"We’ve gone through the appropriate steps to obtain public input, and select a design firm in accordance with council's stated priorities," he said. Solley said the design firm was unanimously chosen by council, a contract has been negotiated, and the contractor is ready to begin.
"This project has great level of support in the city at large," Solley said.
Ward 1 Councilman Brad Ellis disagreed.
"I still feel it’s not wise to spend money on a design that won’t be implemented in the next two years," he said. Ellis says while the money may be available to pay for the design, the money is not available to build the project.
Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw told Fredericksburg Patch, "$200,000 is in this year’s current budget for design of the Riverfront Park."
Greenlaw did not comment on what money would be available for the rest of the project.
"A parking garage is a higher priority, and we can’t afford one right now," Ellis said. "So don’t spend money on a design," he said.
Ellis said parking would contribute more to the economy of the area than would a design, by making it easier for residents and tourists to visit Downtown Fredericksburg.
"It is not an either or situation," Solley replied. "We [as a council] are decided to study and take action on parking," he said. "I think that not to follow through on this would not only set back our efforts to revitalize downtown and economically develop Sophia Street, it would also hurt our reputation," he said. "It would be a bad move."
Councilman Howe disagreed.
"I don’t believe this park at this time is going to bring anything to the downtown, because there is no parking and no comprehensive plan for the Sophia Street corridor," Howe said.
"There is nowhere for folks to come; they aren’t using the parks we have already," Howe said. "Let’s get a vision together for the entire route and incorporate a park with other amenities at the same time."
Greenlaw said the park will be a stimulus for other downtown development.
"I spoke with two property owners [today] who would be significant developers along Sophia street, and they said they need the park to do what they're going to do," Greenlaw said.
Councilmember At-Large Matt Kelly said there are too many issues pending to approve a design, including conflicts with the Chesapeake Bay Act.
"I sent an email in September to everyone on council, asking for a work session to talk about some of these issues, including the Chesapeake Bay Act," he said. "I had zero responses from the key players in this room, nor did staff respond to this," he said.
"We’ve directed the city manger to move in this direction," Solley said. "To stop the process now and back track on it, we are likely to loose the best firm we can get for advice," he said.
Tuesday's meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. in the second floor conference room at City Hall and is open to the public.