The Spur to Action
During the 1980s and early 1990s there were numerous rumored overtures and several firm offers to purchase Bandy Field as a site for a variety of private development ventures that included an office park, a shopping center, apartments, and high-end single family homes. These real and perceived threats to Bandy Field’s role as a “de facto” public park for nearly 50 years were repeatedly resisted and thwarted by West End neighborhood groups and city residents who lived near the Field.
In 1997, St. Catherine’s School and the University of Richmond each made separate, behind-closed-doors overtures to purchase Bandy Field for expansion of their respective campuses. When word got out of these concrete offers to buy the property, it alarmed and spurred to action both nearby city and county residents who strongly desired to retain Bandy Field as an open public green space and quiet “community commons” for the passive recreation and enjoyment of West End residents, and to prevent further incursion of institutional or commercial development into their residential neighborhoods.
Formation of the Friends of Bandy Field
During the Spring of 1998, the Friends of Bandy Field was organized to prevent the sale or development of the cherished, 18-acre, partially-wooded open green space known as Bandy Field. From its formation, leaders and membership consisted of nearly equal numbers of city and county residents who lived in the neighborhoods that surrounded the unofficial community park. The fledgling grass-roots organization rallied around the cry of “Save Bandy Field,” and, in short order, recruited a membership of nearly 300 families and individuals. The group met weekly for the first six months. Officers and chairs for working committees were selected. The Friends recruited allies from among other grass-roots and civic organizations throughout the Richmond area, and sought broad-based community support for its cause.
Our initial goal
The organization's goal was to preserve Bandy Field as an open natural green space and quiet “community commons” for the passive recreation and enjoyment of children and adults who live in the city and county residential neighborhoods of West End Richmond.
Our campaign to save Bandy Field
During the months that followed its initial formation, the Friends of Bandy Field engaged in efforts to gain broad community support to “Save Bandy Field” and prevent its sale. Our efforts included collecting 2,200 petition signatures, writing letters to the editor, holding a community consensus building session to decide on the park’s acceptable uses and future status, and sending hundreds of letters and “green” cards to members of the Richmond City Council and city administration. The support of West End civic associations and community groups was solicited and enthusiastically received. These organizations included the Three Chopt Road Civic Association, Westview Civic Association, Westhampton Citizens’ Association, College Hills Civic Association, Tuckahoe Garden Club of Westhampton, Boxwood Garden Club, and the Far West Neighborhood Team. In addition, park support organizations and environmental groups throughout the Richmond area joined in the effort by expressing their strong support for the cause of “Saving Bandy Field” and making it an official city park.
Support by then City Councilmember John Conrad
As a part of the effort to prevent the sale of Bandy Field and petition the city to have the property designated an official city park, it was determined that a “friend at court” would be needed and essential to negotiation with the city administration and to lobby the City Council for the desired outcome. The logical choice for that role was then 1st District City Councilman and Vice-Mayor John Conrad. Councilman Conrad had ties and friendships with many West End Richmonders and had received broad support from civic groups and residents in the 1st District to serve as their City Council representative. Councilman Conrad agreed to represent the Friends of Bandy Field in their cause to prevent the sale of the Field and to lobby his colleagues on Council to enact the enabling ordinance that made Bandy Field and official city park.
The "unofficial" park becomes official
Finally, after hundreds of supporters had come to two consecutive City Council meetings, on May 10, 1999 City Council passed Ordinance No. 99-103-134:
"THE CITY OF RICHMOND HEREBY ORDAINS:
1. That the City of Richmond hereby re-affirms its commitment to retain Bandy Field as a public, open space available to the entire community.
2. That Bandy Field is hereby established as a City Park and placed into the City's park system to be maintained in its natural, undisturbed condition in perpetuity by the City's Department of Recreation, Parks, and Community Facilities.
3. That the City Manager is directed to negotiate with the Friends of Bandy Field, Inc. organization toward a Cooperative Maintenance and Improvement Agreement that provides for the following terms and conditions:
• That the Friends of Bandy Field, Inc. agree to contribute to the City 50% of the annual costs to maintain Bandy Field up to and not to exceed $1,800 per year;
• That the Friends of Bandy Field, Inc. shall supervise the maintenance and improvement of Bandy Field;
• That during the term of the Agreement, the Friends of Bandy Field, Inc. shall ensure that a majority of the members of its Board of Directors shall be residents of the City of Richmond; and
• That during the term of the Agreement, the Friends of Bandy Field, Inc. shall ensure that at least one member of its Board of Directors shall be a member of the Three Chopt Civic Association.
4. This ordinance shall be in force and effect upon adoption."
The ordinance also established a specific obligation for Friends of Bandy Field. Councilman Conrad suggested that the Friends group make an offer to pay one-half of the annual maintenance cost of the property, not to exceed $1,800. To meet this obligation and to raise additional funds to enhance the nature park, Friends of Bandy Field established the Trust for Bandy Field.
When Bandy Field became an official city park in 1999, several leaders of the Friends of Bandy Field began exploring other means to assure the permanent protection of the property’s park status. This concern grew from the knowledge that Richmond City Council could potentially rescind the ordinance by creating the park due to pressure from the city’s “cash strapped” condition, making it eligible again for sale. The Friends’ leadership researched obtaining a “conservation easement” to permanently protect the natural and environmental features of private property in the Commonwealth. CEs were designed to include restrictions on physical changes that could or could not be made to private property that would prevail in perpetuity. A request by the City of Richmond for ruling on equal application of the state’s conservation easement to publicly-owned property resulted in a ruling that allowed a CE to apply to Bandy Fiend as well. As a result, Friends of Bandy Field were able move forward on obtaining the protective status.
Considerable resistance among members of the Richmond City Council and Administration to grant a CE on Bandy Field, it took fifteen years to finalize the CE. Reluctance to ceding partial control over public property to non-elected officials by three consecutive First District Council members was at the heart of the delay. Finally, during 2014, the newly elected First District City Council Representative agreed to sponsor the necessary legislation to draft and establish the CE on Bandy Field.*
*Precedent for granting the CE on Bandy Field was established in 2004 when the James River Park System was given a CE, which helped to support similar action on Bandy Field.