Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Confusion, concerns about Beallsville equestrian arena

No current plans, funding to design facility, officials say

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Plans to build a world-class indoor riding arena at a Beallsville equestrian park have drawn concerns from neighbors and officials with neighboring Poolesville, though park officials say the future of the facility is far from certain.

And the Bethesda developer who initiated the project in 1999 when he donated 382 acres of land says he’s frustrated by the lack of progress on the Olympic-sized indoor arena, which is in the 2002 master plan for the facility but has not been designed and is not funded.

About 50 people attended a Jan. 28 meeting about the 872-acre Woodstock Equestrian Park, which is being developed as a public-private partnership by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the nonprofit Woodstock Equestrian Park Foundation.

The park, which has 16 miles of trails, is located in the Agricultural Reserve. Attendees questioned whether the road system could handle traffic and if the park had adequate water and septic to support the arena and other facilities outlined in the master plan, including outdoor riding rings, a polo field and a cross-country course.

‘‘If [the arena] draws a lot of people from all over the county, that’s going to create a demand for resources like food and lodging,” said George Coakley, chairman of Poolesville’s Planning Commission.

But, developer Hermen Greenberg, 87, chided the county for its slow movement.

‘‘I don’t own it, and I’ve been doing the work and putting the money into it,” Greenberg said in an interview last week. ‘‘...I could have an indoor ring up there in a year if the county would furnish maintenance and management.”

Greenberg and his friends and colleagues have donated about $400,000 to the park since 1999, according to Stephen Joseph, executive director of the nonprofit Montgomery Parks Foundation.

Residents have expressed concerns about transparency and the scope of the park since the project was initiated in 1999.

‘‘There is a lot of confusion about what the master plan is and where the facilities will be. The community is not aware of what’s going on,” said Jane Hunter, a Beallsville resident who served on the park’s citizen advisory subcommittee in 2001.

Planning for a second phase is in the works, according to project manager Linda Komes. But there are no plans for or against larger facilities, which will not be included in the next phase.

The master plan, amended in 2004, is conceptual and shows what could be in the park when it is completed, said David Tobin, county equine resources coordinator.

‘‘The master plan is really just the beginning of the process, and the reality is that the Parks Department won’t build anything without tons of public involvement,” he said. ‘‘...I think we’re now on a track that will give us an idea of what it will take to build [the next phase].”

The county is looking to develop a facility plan for the second phase of the project, Tobin said, which is scheduled to be completed in spring 2010 and could include fencing, renovating the property’s existing structures and other passive uses, though the final plan will depend on construction estimates. There are no plans to move forward with a facility plan for the arena, Tobin said, and funding and public support will be necessary to move forward with any development.