Letter: Plan to stymie park development is shameful
In answer to the fears and misstatements expressed by the self-appointed spokesperson leading the fight to deprive our citizens of a new, water-access park for Mathews, I feel a little background information is required. And, since I seem to be the “lightning rod” in this controversy, I will also defend my actions.
As a 20-year recreation and parks professional, serving as chairman of both Henrico and Mathews counties, I have assisted in the procurement and development of several public parks. While serving as chairman in Mathews, I felt an obligation to look for every opportunity to provide additional park space for our citizens. I was encouraged in my efforts by the entire Mathews Parks and Recreation Committee and both of our supervisor liaisons, the late Kevin Mitchem, and later, Edwina Casey.
After more than two years of negotiations the owner of the proposed park, Conrad Hall, whose family ties to Mathews go back almost 200 years, graciously agreed to donate his 10-acre, waterfront parcel, and two-story, fully furnished home, for the establishment of a passive, water-access park; a destination for maritime history buffs, nature lovers, kayakers, canoeists, etc.
The donation was originally slated to go to the Mathews Land Conservancy, but it was rebuffed. With guidance and encouragement from former County Administrator Steve Whiteway, I convinced the owner to donate the property to the Middle Peninsula Public Access Authority, an agency dedicated to providing free water access to everyone.
For more than 100 years, residents of the home and surrounding acreage enjoyed legal, unencumbered road access to the nearby public roadway. For almost three years since the donation, however, one neighbor has successfully convinced the board of supervisors to block over a century of legal road access to the property.
Although we were ordered to suspend our Mathews Heritage Park Facebook page by county supervisors (so much for the First Amendment), we will continue to work on the property, repairing the dock, clearing the land, and cleaning and repairing the house. Access will be only by boat at this time. All volunteers are welcomed and encouraged to participate. The three-year, contrived plan to stymie the progress of Mathews Heritage Park is shameful. The board’s ill-advised decision to allow a few detractors to block legal access to the property should also be of special concern for our newest attorney board member. Refusal by the board to enforce legal access to the property caused unnecessary and costly damage to the interior of the house due to the roofer’s inability to reach the site to perform voluntary roof repairs.
When I agreed to have the property donated to the Middle Peninsula Public Access Authority it was understood at the time, by both the donor and me, that the property would be under the control of the PAA, but administered by a volunteer advisory board, not the Mathews Board of Supervisors. Our assumption has always been that the park would be an entirely volunteer effort, at no expense to the county, or control by the supervisors. Was my, and the donor’s, assumption wrong? Before our initial volunteer workers were evicted from the park at the direction of the county board, we were preparing to restore the house, rebuild the dock and landscape the grounds, all with individual and corporate donations and workers. I hope the board of supervisors is proud of its decision, but most of our citizens are not.
Volunteers are now being recruited to assist in this wonderful project. Just contact me and let’s get started.