In response to citizens’ concerns about the scope of proposed plans for expanding City Hall and constructing a new police station and parking deck on the City Hall site, the Fairfax City Council recently asked staff to rethink the project. During the April 22 Council meeting, Fairfax mayor Rob Lederer said he spoke with city manager Bob Sisson, assistant city manager Vivian Baltz and Fairfax City police chief Rick Rappoport about the possibility of keeping the police station at its current site vs. moving it next to City Hall.
As a result, the architects, along with staff, will look at the feasibility of tearing down and constructing a new police station at the John C. Wood Center site in stages. The Parks and Recreation Department, currently housed in the back portion of the building, would move to the old Green Acres School, while police offices in the back would move to the front portion. Once the back portion is fully constructed, the police would move into that portion of the building, and crews would demolish the older front portion and construct a new portion.
The City Council, architects and staff will discuss their findings during a work session tentatively scheduled for May 20.
"The issue that I heard loud and clear is that we not overbuild the City Hall site," said Lederer.
THE IDEA to expand City Hall and construct a new police station, or public-safety building, came about in 2000, when the City Council asked that a study be conducted to assess the needs of current staff and police. What resulted was the proposal to create buildings that would suit the city for the long term, until 2020.
For City Hall, which was built in 1960, the study cited a lack of storage space for both staff use and record keeping, a lack of office and meeting space and poor circulation within the building. For the police station, which had moved to the John C. Wood Center in 1984, the building was inadequate and overcrowded, because its original purpose as an elementary school couldn’t fully fulfill the needs of its current tenant, the Fairfax City Police.
As a result, the city proposed a $20 million bond to renovate and expand City Hall, as well as move the police station to the City Hall site, in order to centralize services. The study also concluded that it would be more cost-effective to build a new police station than renovate the John C. Wood building.
Voters passed the bond by a 2-1 margin in November 2001. What they voted for calls for the renovation of the City Hall building, as well as the construction of a new police station, a parking deck, and an addition to City Hall. It would result in 60,300 square feet of new building construction, 42,200 square feet of parking deck construction and 29,700 square feet of building renovation.
But many citizens who showed up at the city’s budget outreach meeting last March 31 said they were concerned about the scope and costs of the project, arguing that it would be too big and cause traffic problems. They asked the city to rethink the project’s size.
"If the city builds the new site, they’re going to have two empty buildings," said Carol Dooney, referring to the Green Acres building and John C. Wood.
Dooney, an architect who has worked in commercial development for 25 years, had several concerns about the project. She argued that the parking projection of 281 spaces doesn’t meet the density factor and codes used by Fairfax County and Fairfax City and based on square footage per person. She also argued that it would be less costly to tear down and rebuild a building on the John C. Wood Center site. She said that 100,000 square feet of construction would be equivalent to the size of the University Shopping Mall.
"They just don’t think this project is the way to spend money now," said Dooney, of those objecting.
CITIZENS FROM a neighboring subdivision also spoke against the city’s project. Jeff Copeland, president of the Crestmont Homeowners Association, said Crestmont homeowners had several concerns about the project. Crestmont borders the City Hall site to the south.
Concerns include the amount of traffic going in and out of the City Hall site; the potential opening of George Mason Boulevard, which could result if the police station moves next to City Hall; the effect on property values; the possible noise coming from the police station; the costs of the project; and the idea that it may not be as prudent to centralize local government services, given current world events.
"Most of the residents paid a premium for those lots," Copeland said.
Council member Joan Cross raised some of her concerns for the project, in response to March’s meeting. During the last Council meeting, she asked fellow Council members to rethink the project’s scope.
"I would just very much like to slow down here and take another look," Cross said.
While the Council waits for results from the architects, so do some citizens. Copeland said he didn’t have a sense of how many Crestmont members objected to the plan, although he felt that it was a majority. They intend to set up a community meeting to discuss their concerns and then present their views as a consensus to the city. But they’re also waiting to hear what the architects have to say.
"I think that’d make a big difference," Copeland said, when asked about the current suggestion of keeping the police at the John C. Wood Center site.