The county government’s plans to add new recreation facilities at Bles Park has conservationists and some planners worried it will make one of the biggest green spaces in eastern Loudoun less green.
The 132-acre park follows the Broad Run almost to Rt. 7, widening at the mouth of the stream at the Potomac River and hosting four soccer fields along with the wetlands, trails and playground. The county now has plans expand the park and its amenities with more playgrounds, skate spots, a canoe and kayak launch, tennis and pickleball courts, additional parking, and a boardwalk through a wetland.
The Planning Commission has already recommended denial of those plans, finding they are against the county’s 2019 comprehensive plan and would destroy the habitats for rare and sensitive plant and animal species found in the park. The commission also took the unusual further step of voting the recommend that the Board of Supervisors work to develop in-house expertise on wildlife biology, natural ecosystems, and native plant and animal communities, and to look into alternatives for the plans for parking and other facilities.
The commission’s denial voted 5-2-2, with Commissioners Mark Miller (Catoctin) and Jeff Salmon (Dulles) opposed, and Commissioners Ad Barnes (Leesburg) and Roger Vance (Blue Ridge) absent.
The concerns were raised by conservationists at public hearings at both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors level. The Loudoun Wildlife Foundation has called for changes such as eliminating the proposed boardwalk, preventing vehicular traffic along the edge of the wetlands expected to serve the canoe launch, removal of a lawn area, and a reduction the number of parking spaces.
However, some supervisors are defending the proposal, including district Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian), who published a statement indicating she supports the plans. She cited reductions to the original plan, such as removing a parks and recreation maintenance facility out of the park, removing five proposed pavilions and reducing the amount of parking and lawn area.
“This may sound like a lot, but the increased structures in the flood plain amount to 0.89 acres. This is not development in the traditional sense, and it is not an expansion. Those terms are misleading to describe the project,” Briskman stated. “The Algonkian community has been asking for a dog park and more pickleball courts for years and I am proud that we are finally building them.”
Supervisors are scheduled to vote on the plans at their Jan. 18 meeting.