Beach commission revisits issue of Eleanor Park
By Suzy Pietras-Smith
The future of Eleanor Park has been an issue for several years in the town of Colonial Beach. In 2006 Town Council suggested selling the land to pay loans the town had incurred. At that time about 25 mobile homes were on the site, each leasing a piece of the property from the town. In 2007 the leasees were forced to move their mobile homes from the park.
Mayor Fred Rummage has stated that the cost to fix the infrastructure of the park would have been approximately $100,000 and could not be done while all the homes were there. According to town council minutes there were water and sewer issues which had to be dealt with to keep the property safe. It was decided that the work could not be done while the homes were on the property.
Last October, town council voted to send the issue to the Planning Commission following the public hearing in which several citizens spoke and asked the town to do further research prior to any action. Speaking as a private citizen, David Coombes reminded the council that there was a long term comprehensive plan in place. He also asked that the PC be given the opportunity to make recommendations on the property.
At the December meeting, Coombes pushed the PC to focus on one question: “Should the town sell the property or not?” Maureen Holt, Chair, polled the members, who unanimously agreed that the town should not sell the property.
Josh Frederick, office manager of the Building and Zoning administration, gave a presentation showing ideas for Eleanor Park. At 3.47 acres and with 750 linear waterfront feet, the land was appraised at $1.7 million dollars several years ago. Some of the ideas from the town staff included; breaking down the land into small buildable lots for single family homes, a cottage community, or multifamily homes. On the recreational side the ideas listed were things such as a park, open green space with walking paths and a pier.
Prior to the vote, members of the commission stated their ideas for the future of the land. Kent Rodeheaver mentioned the idea of a public swimming pool. The town had a swimming pool on part of the town property until the 1980s. Robin Schick, the newest member of the commission, stated that she would like either a housing development, or a YMCA-like facility with programs related to the river on the land.
Desiree Urquhart stated that the town needed to do something with the land that would generate revenue, and she was leaning toward it being left as residential and used in that manner. She was particularly interested in the idea of a cottage community being developed there. Ed Grant agreed with Urquhart, but stated, “We need to look at the feasibility” and discussed whether it would be a done by private commercial interests or the town.
The commission decided to not sell. The commission and town council will work toward deciding what the town wishes. It was discussed that a private/public partnership would need to be made with a commercial interest to afford to do anything with the land. Staff members were charged with coming up with a list of possible ways to use the land, and associated costs, prior to the next meeting of the commission in January.
Coombes reminded the commission that he lives adjacent to the land in question. “I live there and the town keeping it up has been sporadic at best,” he said. “The land needs to be made where people can walk through it without snakes and rats running out.”
The other item discussed was the allowance of of “Accessory Dwelling Units” (ADU) which are often referred to as “Granny-flats” or “in-law suites.” Gary Mitchell, director of Zoning, presented a draft of possible future regulations of these dwellings. He stated there were 15-20 of these ADU that he knew of in town already. Shick said, “I am very [supportive of] this as I live in one; from personal experience, it is a very practical thing.”
Members on the whole seemed to be in favor of allowing this to help out families. Specifically, Urquhart said that as rents go up, this is the wave of the future; families use these to keep the family afloat. The staff was charged with writing a regulatory draft for the commission to go over in January.
An ADU is defined as An ADU is an independent unit located on the same property as a primary single family home. Some examples are a basement apartment, an apartment over a garage, or a small extension to an existing home. One of the defining characteristics is small size, but also a separate entrance.