Park board relents on driving range

Prince William park officials removed a driving range from the master plan for Lake Ridge Park on Wednesday, heeding the surrounding community’s strong opposition and ending months of controversy.

The Prince William County Park Authority governing board more than a year ago had inserted the driving range into the park’s plan after a public hearing and some public advertisement.

But Lake Ridge residents said the scope of the project, with 3.5 acres of trees to be cleared and tall netting to stop balls, only became widely known to them late last year. Residents led by Marilyn Schultz spoke out at meetings and circulated petitions in an effort that peaked when county supervisor Ruth T. Griggs, R-Occoquan, promised to tie herself to a tree to stop it.

After a public hearing Tuesday where 11 people spoke, the Park Authority board voted to remove from the master plan the driving range and other proposals that would have taken down trees: a 300-seat amphitheater, a second playground, a group shelter, an open play area and second restroom facility.

Added into the master plan are six additional teaching stalls at the golf course to support the First Tee Junior Golf Program, which would have benefited from the driving range. The teaching stalls require a negligible amount of trees cut down.

One issue that citizens did not raise but is a problem that remains in the plan is the existing playground near the activity center that is not accessible to persons with disabilities, said Park Authority board chairman James D. Johnson, Coles representative.

The park has $100,000 budgeted to upgrade the playground and the miniature golf course, staff said. A playground that predates federal disability accessibility requirements must meet those requirements if significant improvements are made, staff said.

The Park Authority could find itself spending $50,000 to improve the playground but $300,000 for a path to it, said Park Authority Director Debbie Andrew. She suggested the Park Authority work with LOCCA/PELT to identify a location for a new playground in an already cleared area of the park that is accessible to children with disabilities.

LOCCA/PELT is the Lake Ridge Occoquan Coles Civic Association’s Planning, Environment, Land-Use and Transportation Committee.

Jack Kooyoomjian, vice chairman of LOCCA/PELT, said that is acceptable. The current playground is very popular, and no one is against accessability, he said.

At a public hearing Wednesday, the Park Authority board seemed to take care with the process to change the plan so the community understood what was going on. One man said he came because he got a letter in the mail from the Park Authority.

Kooyoomjian said Park Authority staff was more proactive in engaging the community in 1987 when the 60 acres for the park was turned over by the developer of the surrounding area. But with the driving range, it was not as good, he said. “It was just a communication thing,” he said.

Johnson also directed staff to show all paths in the park on the final master plan that goes on record.

For the First Tee program, which allows children to learn golf skills, staff said some programs were moved General’s Ridge Golf Course in Manassas Park. The goal is to locate some of the teenage-level First Tee programs to the private Old Hickory golf course under construction in Woodbridge, but staff said they have yet to hear back from the Old Hickory officials after an initial meeting.

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.