Viewpoint: A new hope for a pool at Fort Reno

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Plans for a pool at Hearst Park have sparked debate in the community. (Brian Kapur/The Current/March 2017)

The Washington Business Journal reported in January that the House of Representatives has approved legislation to accommodate agreements between Washington, D.C. and the National Park Service (NPS) looking toward D.C. management of federal parkland in the city.

This is something the Senate is expected to approve in the coming weeks. This legislation affords an opportunity for the city to abandon its plan to shoehorn a small and expensive swimming pool into Hearst Park, a four-acre recreational space at 37th and Quebec streets, and pivot to Fort Reno, an NPS property.

In response to protests from the Hearst community, which has vigorously opposed the pool based in part on its impact on the park’s heritage oaks, the city is now proposing to put the pool in the southwest corner of the park. But this plan also has serious environmental drawbacks and is not economical or practical.

The city plans to place the pool against the steep embankments bordering the tennis court closest to the corner of 37th and Quebec streets. To accommodate this topography, the pool’s main entrance would be via an elevator located in a new two-story building on 37th Street. The pool itself would be smaller than a single tennis court and, due to space constraints, include only a narrow pool deck.  New structures, including a pool house, the elevator shaft and retaining walls and fences, would surround the small pool on three sides, thereby creating a “pool in a box.” The architect’s rendition of this infrastructure shows that while the heritage oaks might be preserved, the many trees along adjacent portions of 37th and Quebec streets would be cut down.

The price tag for the pool is $6 million. Should the District really be spending $6 million on a pool in affluent Ward 3 that has to be accessed by an elevator? The optics of this are not good in a year when both Council member Mary Cheh and Mayor Muriel Bowser are running for re-election.

Fort Reno was suggested as an alternate site at a meeting initiated by Hearst neighbors in June 2017 with the director of the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). The director said he liked the location. A full-sized pool could the constructed on the property at Fort Reno already managed by DPR.   And, unlike Hearst, the site is close to the Tenley metro and bus lines, and has ample parking. After the meeting, DPR staff sought NPS’s permission to use the site and Cheh supported the plan.

While NPS ultimately rejected the proposal, the mayor and council should seize the opportunity afforded by the new legislation and urge NPS to allow a D.C. pool at Fort Reno. This would save Hearst from intrusive development while accommodating a pool that is larger and more accessible to Ward 3’s citizens.

Harry Martin is a resident of Cleveland Park.