by Erika Yalowitz – Parent, Homeowner, Candidate for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Providence District
Providence District’s schools and roads are bursting at the seams. They are overcrowded because of shortsighted, easy solutions such as “just build more schools!” or “widen the roads!” But does it really make sense to be school-happy in an area that is on the verge of losing its only green community space to its FIFTH school within a 3-mile radius? Absolutely not.
This is the case of Blake Lane Park (BLP).
As a mother of a future Fairfax County Public Schools student I am interested in maintaining the quality of our schools. But I believe the answer lies in the adoption of smarter growth strategies. We can have great schools AND green space AND save money by, for example, demolishing existing obsolete structures in favor of newer, more ‘vertical’ ones to accommodate current and projected needs.
Politicians love talking about equity. For example, Providence District’s School Board representative, also a candidate for the Board of Supervisors, likes to repeat the word because it elicits praise. But her record shows she is more interested in delivering promises of “more schools” to address overcrowding. She’s wrong. Moreover, voters will remember how she has deflected responsibility for the BLP situation with a ‘this-was-decided-before-I-got here’ approach during a public meeting on January 16, 2019, where Fairfax City, county, and school officials adopted a condescending and dismissive approach to more than a hundred concerned residents.
Saving BLP is a matter of principles and values; of responsible public representation and accountability. When have you seen our government, or a developer, demolish a concrete structure to build a park here? While we must encourage and advance the success of Tysons and Merrifield, we should not allow our leaders to succumb to the shine of new structures eliminate thousands of square feet of grass and trees.
Real estate may be high-value, but green space is priceless.
The current approach to BLP is not smart growth, and it will not be acceptable under my watch. There is nothing that offers more equity and quality of life than a green space for public enjoyment. A park for recreation, entertainment, healthy physical activity and community building.
The community has expressed its views and feelings to the Board of Supervisors, to the School Board in pleading amnesty for the park. Community members have made several points worth considering:
- Traffic and congestion. The nearby roads are small, and neighbors find traffic congestion hard to cope, given the existing four schools nearby and considering the impact of potentially 800 more students and commuters going to and from Vienna Metro.
- This park built a community. Hundreds of Blake Lane Park regulars come each week to meet around the first off-leash dog park in Fairfax County established by then Supervisor Gerry Connolly’s initiative. Young people and kids meet and play on the grassy areas and families enjoy picnics. Volunteers do regular cleanups and have planted milkweed to offer a sanctuary for monarch butterflies.
- Access to green space. This area belongs to the county and can be saved from private or public development in benefit of home values, quality of life and healthier air quality. Local children without access to a backyard have wide room to play outdoors and the park is home to permanent and transient wildlife.
Elected officials are trusted by a community to represent the residents’ best interests. Sadly, BLP is in danger of becoming what happens when elected officials run from their responsibility and risk losing that trust. Providence District and Fairfax County deserve representatives who have the determination to use the power vested in them to change plans when they no longer represent the needs of the community – as is the case with BLP — and to bring about community development that will protect our environmental conditions and chances to grow the smart way.