September 14, 2008

Park is Perfect for Reflection – and Hiding Moonshine Stills

I have lived in the Great Bridge section of Chesapeake since 1971. Over the years, I have seen green expanses gradually give way to housing developments, strip shopping malls and all the trappings of on-marching urbanization.

But then there's Northwest River Park. Serenity Central. Out there in southern Chesapeake off Indian River Road. Great place to walk, fish, row or just sit and contemplate nature. Plus a rascally little touch of history. Up until the 1950s, it was a nifty hiding place for moonshine stills.

The park's charm and away-from-it-all quality is what made me a little edgy when I read about the proposal to build a summer camp on 20 acres of the 763-acre park.

It would be a joint project of the city and the YMCA of South Hampton Roads. The tab, about $3 million with a pool, an equestrian area, a climbing tower and an amphitheater, would be picked up by the YMCA. No city money needed.

OK, sounds great. But...

What about that serenity, that one-with-nature atmosphere, that sense of being totally away from the intrusion of the busy-ness of most of the rest of Chesapeake?

I've got questions. Would this project open the door to other private facilities? What about the traffic and noise that might be generated? What is being done to protect the park from future adverse development?

I asked for, and got, some e-mail answers from Bobby Clifton, director of the Parks and Recreation Department and from City Attorney Ron Hallman.

Clifton called the proposal "an excellent opportunity to provide more activities for our park users, especially campers, and will increase park revenues."

As for the location, he said it would be within the equestrian area of the park that is isolated from other areas. There would be no negative effect, including noise, he said.

Here's Hallman's response: "Concerning the issue of future uses at the park, we have two ways to control other activities that could change the nature of its present pristine condition. The first comes through the proposed long- term lease being negotiated for the public-private agreement.

"The lessee will be bound to conduct only those activities set forth in that lease and any other activities not covered in the agreement will require the written approval of the city.

"The second way is simply that the city will continue to own the other park areas, and even under the new C-3 zoning that is being proposed, we will have the ability to keep the area in its current condition."

C-3 is a conservation zoning.

If the safeguards are in place and will continue to be in place, I'm all for it. And I have got to say that the YMCA complex at the end of my street has been an exemplary neighbor.

I just want to be sure this project isn't a breach in the sanctity of the park that opens it to future exploitation.

Northwest River Park is a gem and I would hate to see anything happen that would dim its natural luster.

Tony Stein, [email protected]

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