Some of the candidates running for office in Fredericksburg are questioning the proposed $200,000 expenditure in the fiscal year 2013 budget for an updated design of the riverfront park.
Fredericksburg mayoral candidate Fred Howe said he wants city administration to justify the $200,000 that's in the proposed budget for riverfront design plans and explain how it got in the budget in the first place. He asked them for the goal and objective of the expenditure, how it will compliment or further prior designs, how local residents are part of the process and any plans to deal with dredging and protection of the river walls.
Howe plans to make the request at Tuesday's City Council meeting, which is the same day that Councilman George Solley plans to give an update on the work so far of the Riverfront Park Task Force. The task force is made up of local stakeholders and had been using riverfront engineering plans from 2007 as a basis for some of its work.
On Friday, Howe emailed city administration asking how the $200,000 got in the city's proposed fiscal year 2013 budget without council specifically asking for it to be in the budget.
Get daily and breaking news email updates from Fredericksburg Patch by signing up for newsletters here.
Later that day in an interview, Howe said he wants more explanation of how the $200,000 will move the riverfront project father ahead and why it's more important than the estimated $180,000 needed to finish curb, gutter and sidewalks at Wicklow Drive to make it safer for residents to walk there. At the first public hearing for the budget on April 17, Marcie Tanner said residents want these improvements made and they've been waiting to long for the safety fixes. Howe has already been questioning the expenditure at work sessions because the city doesn't even know if the riverbank needs to be secured and if the river needs dredging, and he said one of his mayoral opponents, Matt Paxson, and Paxson's pro-bono consultant Tom Byrnes, have raised some valid concerns about the proposed $200,000 expenditure.
"I understand the riverfront project is on our Council goals and objectives list but the scope and development understanding were not presented to us as to what we were specifically expecting to buy and how this study - if at all - dovetails with any other relevant riverfront studies commissioned, to date," Howe wrote to city administration.
City Manager Beverly Cameron said the city hired Alexandria-based landscaping architect Lardner-Klein a few years ago to work with city officials and the Riverfront Task Force to develop a concept plan for the riverfront park. Based on that plan, the city purchased an office supply store at the corner of Hanover and Sophia streets, a small hardware store, a parking lot and Wings on the Water restaurant, but Cameron said it was never envisioned that the city would be able to acquire the . The city also created a grassy pocket park with benches on Sophia Street based on those earlier design plans.
"We never contracted with them to prepare final plans and specifications for the complete park," Cameron said.
Solley last fall then asked to have the Riverfront Park Task Force brought back to life to develop a strategic vision for the land the city owned by the river. Cameron said the $200,000 will be used to hire either a landscaping architect or a civil engineering firm to revise the old concept to include the larger footprint. The city's Capital Improvement Plan has $2 million earmarked for the riverfront park development in fiscal year 2017.
Paxson said the city is going about the project in a piecemeal fashion. He wants the city to send out proposals to firms that have experience redeveloping riverfront parks and ask them to submit their construction plans that include the other side of Sophia Street where there are numerous asphalt parking lots and a funding mechanism for the park, such as Tax Increment Financing. If City Council commits $200,000 to have a new design, they still don't have a mechanism to build the park.
"Let's swing the bat," Paxson said. "Let's issue these RFPs now."
Solley said that removing the $200,000 from the budget for an updated riverfront park design would bring the project to a halt. He said the city needs to move from conceptual plans to a legitimate design to present to potential developers that includes the wishes of the local community, and this $200,000 should do that. The money is in the budget because City Council has for several years now made it a priority to build the riverfront park, Solley said.
"You can't take a concept like that and take it straight to construction," Solley said about the plans the city has now. "You have to do some detailed planning. That money is to do that detailed planning that is necessary for a contractor to actually build it. We can’t construct a riverfront park without doing it."
Mary Katherine Greenlaw, who is also running for mayor, supports spending the $200,000 and not getting the new design would hurt the project's future.
"It would mean that the riverfront park project would be stopped. We can't finish it without a design" she said. "Fred is all hung up on the riverbank, which I don't get because the riverbank has been secured."
Howe said the city needs to ask the community what's more important.
"We may not get much involvement right through the gate, but we have to try and we haven't tried to engage the public," he said.