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City changes process for reserving park space

(Published January 24, 2000)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

New procedures are being put in place for people who want to use the city’s parks and recreation centers. The city’s new parks director said he hopes the new policies will make the process easier and more fair for city residents.

The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, which changed its name from the Department of Recreation and Parks this month to put more emphasis on the city’s parks, announced new procedures to streamline the permitting process and hold users accountable for the condition of city property after they use it.

Those wishing to apply for a permit to use parks for baseball and other leagues, as well as those wanting to rent city recreation centers, will now go directly to a centralized permitting office for permission. Once people use the field or center, parks department officials will inspect the conditions of the facility and determine whether the users should get their deposit back.

Parks department Director Robert P. Newman said the changes are being made to try to remove the director’s office from the permitting process as much as possible. He said in the past, most requests for permits started with phone calls to his office and the director’s staff was tied up checking on the availability of facilities and issuing permits. He also said people could start the application process through five of six different "entry points," further confusing the process.

The new permitting office will now handle all requests for permits with almost no involvement from the director’s office. Some parts of the permitting process, from checking on availability to filling out applications, will be made available online.

Newman said he hopes to get the department’s permit process online by the end of the year, allowing residents to complete their application from start to finish from their home computers.

Beginning next year, the department will also be setting cut-off dates for applications intended to give D.C. residents first priority at reserving facilities. Newman said it has been an unofficial policy at the department to give D.C. residents a higher priority and that this is just making it official. He said neighboring jurisdictions have similar policies regarding their residents.

Newman said the new policy will give first priority to D.C. youths, then D.C. adults, non-resident youths and, finally, non-resident adults. Newman said the reason for this is so that youth leagues can get first shot at playing on fields near where they are based. He said as a result, some adult leagues may have to travel to other parts of the city to play.

Applicants who have permits for ongoing uses like ball leagues will be eligible to be "grandfathered" into next year’s application cycle. They will receive postcards in the mail which they can simply mail back to confirm their permit for the following season. Newman said this is to try to bring a sense of stability to those who want to have their leagues play on the city’s ball fields.

Other changes to the permit process will result in some fields being reserved for baseball and softball and others being used for more "aggressive turf use" activities like football, soccer and rugby.

Newman said he is also in the process of hiring a person to oversee the turf management of the city’s parks in order to keep them all in usable condition.

The parks department will hold a forum at 7 p.m. Jan. 31 in the school auditorium of Gonzaga College High School, 19 I St. NW to discuss the details of the new process with residents.

Newman also said the department plans to schedule three town hall meetings for late February and early March to get public input about other issues concerning the city’s parks and recreation centers.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator