Police Station Site Debated

Police Station Site Debated

Public offers feedback on whether city police station should stay at John C. Wood Center.

If the Fairfax City Council decides to build the proposed police station at its current location at the John C. Wood Complex versus at the City Hall site, is that a breach of ethics? Citizens grappled with that question and many more, as they packed the standing-room only City Council chambers Tuesday to voice their opinion on the location of the future public safety building.

"It's starting to look like bait and switch," said Allen Dobey, who preferred constructing the police station at the City Hall site.

Several speakers later, Chancery Square board member Wayne Morris countered the ethics question.

"Ethically, I would expect nothing less," said Morris of the City Council's decision to hold the public hearing debating the future location of the station.

The City Council will discuss citizens' feedback, as well as all other information culled during the process, at a work session on June 24. At that time, the Council may make a final decision on where the police station should go, continue the debate, or explore the use of an advisory referendum, to be voted on this November, to determine citizens' interests.

"I feel very strongly that we have a lot of homework to do," said Fairfax Mayor Rob Lederer.

Citizens expressed a range of opinions during Tuesday's public hearing. Those who preferred the City Hall site questioned the ethics and legality of changing the location of the building, especially as the city is poised to offer a bond for renovations for Fairfax High and Lanier Middle schools. They argued that when citizens passed the $20 million bond referendum in 2001 for the construction of the public safety building and City Hall addition, as well as for City Hall renovations, they assumed the police station would be built next to City Hall.

"Honestly, I'm surprised this public hearing is taking place now," said Ann LaPorte, president of the Mosby Woods Community Association. Their association's board voted unanimously to keep the public safety building at its originally proposed City Hall site.

"This is an unacceptable, 180-degree turn," LaPorte said.

Bill Wunderlich agreed, adding that although the City Council has the legal right to construct the police station at John C. Wood, the change in plans challenges their credibility.

"There's a difference between something being legal and something being right ... What the city said does make a difference on how people voted," Wunderlich said.

ANOTHER CONCERN expressed about building the station at John C. Wood was the need for ballfields. The open space behind the current police station is used for T-ball practices and games. If the new police station is built at John C. Wood, that space could disappear, according to the architect's feasibility study.

"Nobody wants to lose ballfields ... it all depends on where that falls on your pecking order," said Tom Scibilia, president of the Fairfax Police Youth Club. Scibilia didn't state which site he preferred.

Instead of the police station at John C. Wood, the city could use the building as a community center, given its proximity to Van Dyck Park, City Hall proponents argued. The community center would keep the city's Park and Recreation Department at its current location, as well as centralize the city's cultural, recreational and nature programs.

"The city stands to capitalize," said Thomas Hill.

Lederer defended the need for the public hearing, as several citizens had expressed concern about the City Hall site at a town meeting on March 31.

"If we have new information, the question is, are we not obligated to go back to the community?" asked Lederer, replying to a citizen comment that the 2001 bond promotional materials led citizens to believe the police station would be built near City Hall.

WHILE SEVERAL CITIZENS expressed concern about a potential ethics breach, others in support of keeping the police station at John C. Wood applauded the city's openness.

"I hear words tonight of council losing integrity ... and that upsets me," said Linda Leightley.

Fellow Fairfax resident Sami Suhail agreed.

"I think it's to your credit that you're re-evaluating," Suhail said, calling the move to keep the police station at John C. Wood a "perfect middle-of-the-road approach" because it doesn't over build the City Hall site.

Those preferring the John C. Wood site expressed various reasons for keeping the police station where it currently is. Paul Sullivan, president of the Country Club Hills Civic Association, listed many of those for keeping the police station at John C. Wood. His association board voted in favor of John C. Wood.

Sullivan said that residents like the idea of the police being down the street; that the police station would be near three schools, three churches and the city park; that traffic wouldn't change much because the police station is already there; that building the police station wouldn't increase the project's costs; that open space would be preserved at City Hall; and that residents near City Hall don't want the station.

"The police are definitely welcome at Country Club Hills," Sullivan said.

Carol Dooney, an architect specializing in commercial development, said when she pressed former Fairfax Mayor John Mason about her concerns over the parking, zoning and square footage of the original proposal, Mason made the distinction between citizens voting for the bond money and voting for the project's design.

Dooney added that as an architect, changes to projects is standard in the business.

"You're always rethinking your projects," Dooney said. "That's why you do it right."

While many spoke favoring the John C. Wood site, Larry Lamborn provided a visual testimony. When he asked the audience to stand up if they supported John C. Wood, most of the room stood up.

"I hope this silent witness can convince you," said Lamborn.

Council member Gary Rasmussen then asked of those who stood, how many live next to City Hall. Roughly half got up.

As the City Council meeting entered its fourth hour, the council closed the public hearing after hearing all citizens' comments. Lederer asked staff to look into several issues, including identifying other T-ball fields and meeting spaces, studying traffic impact at John C. Wood and Green Acres, and identifying steps to preserve the habitat area at Van Dyck Park.

Lederer also asked council members to consider if they are obligated to go back to citizens with an advisory referendum, or if they should "go back to the drawing board," a sentiment expressed by a handful of citizens.

Council member Scott Silverthorne said earlier comments about ethics concerned him, but he appreciated citizens' feedback about a community center.

"I am troubled by the trust and commitment issue that has been raised tonight," Silverthorne said.

Council members have until the June 24 work session to decide their next step.

"I do believe we need to keep our good faith to the citizens ... I hope that we can make this a more expedient, but careful, decision," said council member Gail Lyon.