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Downtown Redevelopment Gears Up

City Council intends to kick off redevelopment soon.

With coffee and Danishes in hand, the Fairfax City Council met last Saturday morning to lay out the parameters for downtown redevelopment. For the Council, the question at hand was how to create a downtown that would balance aesthetic, economic and community needs. The Council also considered the possibility of including residential units as part of a downtown plan.

"How do we find the way to complement the downtown historic district, that both the community and businesses will support?" asked Mayor Rob Lederer.

The Council intends to solicit ideas from developers as early as this spring, as it continues negotiations with the development firm that it has been working with. A team of city staff will create a document for potential developers stating the city's proposed guidelines for redevelopment in late January. Interviews with prospective developers could begin in early April, with negotiations taking place in midsummer.

"My objective is to try to come up with a unified stance," said Lederer at the beginning of the work session.

TO CREATE the parameters for downtown redevelopment, the Council looked at several factors. All deal with city-owned properties, such as the post office site on Chain Bridge Road.

One factor was the size and scale of such a redevelopment. The Council liked the guideline of limiting building height on Main and East streets and Chain Bridge Road to 24 feet, roughly two stories, exclusive of the roof structure. Other structures on city-owned properties would have a building height limit of 36 feet, exclusive of the roof structure.

One structure would be a two-story building on Chain Bridge Road that would tier to a three-story building as it goes toward University Drive. The outer facade would depict historical details, while the inner portion of the building would have sizable square footage. An example of such a structure would be the building at 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., in Washington, D.C., where the outer facades of the original buildings were preserved, while the building itself contained office and retail space.

Another factor was Fairfax City's responsibility regarding infrastructure. The city intends to allocate $3 million to $3.5 million toward road improvements and sidewalk construction within Old Town Fairfax. While the one-way road network would remain in place, the city would design a system for the undergrounding of utilities, and widen and brick sidewalks in areas of North Street not affected by development.

The city would also build a parking garage to accommodate the library's needs, and work with developers to design a garage that could support downtown needs.

Yet while the Council generally agreed on size, scale and infrastructure details, members differed on how many residential units should be in a redevelopment plan. Council member Patrice Winter said that residential units downtown would create an active atmosphere during non-work hours, while Council member Scott Silverthorne hesitated, saying that nearby residential developments already bring in some energy. Silverthorne's main concern was how much space should be allocated for residential units.

"I would hate to lose potential retail property," Silverthorne said.

Council member Jeff Greenfield suggested a compromise that would limit residential units to the upper floors of a proposed development. Development adviser Don Zuchelli of ZHA supported the idea.

"Developers should prove they can use the third floor [for retail]. If not, they can retreat to residential," Zuchelli said.

As the session came to a close, the mayor suggested adding a paragraph to the document for developers saying that the city would welcome suggestions to its guidelines. Council member Joan Cross agreed.

"I think we have to be careful not to put too many legs on this platform," Cross said. "We do have to demonstrate a little bit of flexibility."