Residents decry driving range plan

A vocal crowd reported to the McCoart Building at 10 a.m. Saturday to attend a public hearing about a proposed driving range the Prince William Park Authority has planned for Lake Ridge Park.

Most, it seemed, were there to protest the driving range.

The Park Authority plans to build the driving range with a $100,000 grant from The First Tee, which according to promotional material is “a World Golf Foundation initiative that gives America’s youth a chance to develop life-enhancing values through golf and character education.”

A video presentation, complete with testimonials from children who have participated in the First Tee program, seemed to make little impression on the capacity audience in the Prince William Board of County Supervisors board room.

One male voice called out “skip the show,” as the video finished.

A good portion of the crowd, about 160 people, laughed and applauded.

Of the 25 community members who spoke at the meeting, five were in favor of the driving range. Proponents said they approved of the program because of its benefits to children.

The remaining speakers said they were concerned that the construction of the driving range, which will require the removal of about three acres of trees, would drive off wildlife, jeopardize their quality of life, pollute the Occoquan River reservoir, make too much noise, eliminate a beloved hiking trail and generally go against the wishes of the majority.

Additionally, many of the speakers said that the existing hiking trail currently serves more people than a driving range would.

Park Authority Spokeswoman Beth Robertson said residents need not worry about losing the hiking trail.

“It won’t be eliminated. It’s going to be moved. It will actually be lengthened,” Robertson said of the trail.

E-mail communication to the Park Authority have been split between the factions supporting and opposing the project, Robertson said.

“I think it’s a fair balance … some for and some against,” Robertson said.

Marilyn Schultz of Woodbridge spoke at the meeting and said that the 72-acre Lake Ridge Park — which has a 9-hole golf course with a putting green, boating, docking and rowing facilities, fishing, picnic areas and a playground — is already well used.

“Further commercialization of Lake Ridge Park is unwarranted and undesirable … Lake Ridge Park belongs to the citizens of Prince William County and no political body has the authority to disturb the quality of life that is precious to its residents,” Schultz said.

Shultz and many of the other speakers said that the Park Authority failed to give sufficient notice to the public about the proposed driving range.

She said the Park Authority sent 114 letters, bought an advertisement in a local classified section and posted brochures in the pro shop at the Lake Ridge Park Golf course.

A Park Authority memorandum, available as a handout at the meeting, showed that the Park Authority used standard notification procedures to inform the public of the project.

The procedures included a vote by the Park Authority Board, public meetings, brochure distribution and newspaper ads.

The memorandum stated that no public opposition to the project was voiced during public meetings.

“There was plenty of notification,” Robertson said.

Mike Lewis stood to ask Park Authority Board members who were present if attending the meeting and speaking against the project was futile.

“Is this a waste of time?” asked Lewis, of Lake Ridge.

“Do we have the ability to prevent this? Is this a done deal? Bottom line … can we stop it at this point or no?” asked Lewis, a U.S. Army lawyer.

Park Authority Board Member Brant Wickham told the audience that there are indeed procedures in place to stop the project.

“No, it’s not a done deal,” he told the gathering.

“I plan to bring this to the board and we’re going to see what our options are,” said Wickham, who represents the Occoquan District on the Park Authority Board.

Wickham said he could not predict how the board would vote or if the opinions he heard at the meeting would move the board to change course on the project.

“I’m going to keep an open mind,” he said.

Peggy Thompson, Park Authority executive director, said the board works to meet the needs of all county residents.

“Our vested interest is to do what’s in the best interest of the citizens,” she said.

Thompson said that Prince William County has 25,000 acres of undisturbed, undeveloped, untouchable and protected land in its national and state parks, which are protected by solid regulation.

The Park Authority controls less than 3,000 acres that it can develop, Thompson said.

The Park Authority has already spent $16,000 of the $100,000 on planning and engineering, Thompson said.

That money would be lost if the Park Authority abandons the project, Thompson said.

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