Park Authority Board Asserts Itself, Improves Transparency of Silver Lake Master Plan Process… and Has Chance to Do Better Than Wiita This Time

The Park Authority has scheduled a meeting on March 24 to receive public input on the Silver Lake Master Plan. 

Thanks to the leadership of Rick Berry on the Park Authority Board, the public will have a better opportunity to consider and comment on what the Park Authority staff proposes for Silver Lake before the board adopts its most-detailed plan for a site, a Master Plan.

Under normal Park Authority procedures, the staff released its development plan on a Friday, the public got to comment the following Wednesday at a public hearing, and then the board adopted a Master Plan at that same meeting (or at the next meeting, two weeks later). 

The compressed schedule limited the potential for constructive feedback.  Unless the Park Authority staff gave you an early peek at the plans, people interested in a park got just one weekend to assess the staff proposal for the Master Plan.  Trucating public review time improved the potential for the board to adopt staff recommendations without modification by citizen input. 

As recorded in the audio archives of the February 24 meeting (scoot ahead to 1 hour, 18 minutes into the meeting), Rick Berry gently but persistently challenged the Executive Director of the Park Authority on the process.   He noted that many people care about Silver Lake, and the traditional Master Plan schedule allowed little time for the public to review the staff proposal.  Supported by Jane Beyer’s comments, he refused to back down and just agree to go along with the routine process. 

In the end, he got more time built into the decision process for public review and feedback on the Silver Lake Master Plan, before it is adopted.  The staff’s three concept plans for developing Silver Lake are now online, and the board won’t vote on a Master Plan until April 14th at the earliest.

Planning for Prince William’s parks is still unprofessional.  It fails the most fundamental test of planning: do people understand what is being proposed, and what realistic options should be considered? 

Still, it’s encouraging to see the appointees on the Park Authority board improve transparency in their decision process.  It’s encouraging to see the board take charge, rather than automatically approve whatever staff suggests.

The Park Authority’s Master Plan process is supposedly the most-detailed planning process for a specific park.  For Silver Lake, as well as other sites, the Master Plan process is still seriously flawed.  Several specific ways to improve it at Silver Lake are:
– post the staff report online together with the three concept graphics.  Provide the narrative to flesh out the staff’s concepts for Silver Lake; share the staff’s assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the different option.  Don’t wait until March 24 to share the expertise of park planners at the public hearing.
– post the resource inventory on Silver Lake online, together with the staff report and concept graphics.  Identify the location of natural areas of special significance, including wetlands and rare plant communities, just as the historic cemetery is identified.  Otherwise, how can the impacts of proposed new facilities and trail locations be evaluated?
– add more detail to the Master Plan.  What facilities are provided for primitive or equestrian camping?  Will the Park Authority install picnic tables, fire rings, primitive toilets?   Willl specific areas be flattened for tents?  Which parking spaces and roads will be paved, if any?  What sort of overhead lights will be installed, if any?  Will trails include interpretive signs?  How with the shared equestrian programming with Rainbow affect activities in the proposed primitive camping area, or hiking on trails? 
– identify phases of development, projected cost for each phase, and planned schedule for development.  Maybe the Park Authority Strategic Plan and Concept Plan can avoid dealing with costs and dates… but site-specific Master Plans should include a proposed budget and timeline for projected development, so citizens can measure Park Authority performance and compliance with its plan.
– clarify the relationship of the recreational opportunities at the park and adjacent school.  Will the school grounds and park be separated by a fence?  Will visitors to Silver Lake park be allowed to explore the wetlands on the school property? 

People who care about Silver Lake want a clearer understanding of the three proposed concepts.  Some may even “ground-truth” the impacts of those proposed concepts with site visits, in advance of the March 24th hearing.  

Decisions made in this Master Plan will authorize development at this “jewel” park for a long time.  The eight members of the Park Authority board could abdicate their responsibility for planning the future at Silver Lake, approve vague concepts without specific documentation, call whatever they approve a Master Plan, and hope no one will ever care about how the staff acts later.  That blank-check approach would provide the greatest flexibility for staff, and allow the board to avoid making any hard choices.

Or… the board could demonstrate its capacity for management oversight, and ensure the Master Plan defines what development is appropriate at Silver Lake.  The board could require more details from staff, and share those details with the public. 

The board could ensure the public has time to consider the details.  For example, the chair could hold the Silver Lake Master Plan public hearing open after March 24, if the development proposals revealed in discussion at that meeting might stimulate more constructive public comments and suggestions. 

There is little reason to have confidence in the Park Authority’s decision process now.  The Wiita tract (Rollins Ford Park) Master Plan, where the board adopted a last-minute proposal that was not presented for public comment until after the public hearing was closed, demonstrated how the Park Authority could stick it to the neighbors and avoid detailed public review of concept plan alternatives. 

Maybe on Silver Lake, the board might do better this time…


1 comment so far

  1. Mary Beth Schaal on

    I am sorry that this new found leadership was not exhibited by Mr. Barry, or better yet, by Mr. Thomas when discussing Wiita. Red flags are already being raised about the Wiita master plan, the very issues raised by neighbors are coming to light. I hope that all citizens will take the time to give their input for Silver Lake.

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