Redeveloping Fairfax

Redeveloping Fairfax

Citizens urge downtown redevelopment retain historic quality; council gives go-ahead for Blenheim master plan project.

What makes Fairfax City unique? Whatever it may be, it’s missing from designs for the Old Town redevelopment, citizens said during a city council public hearing on the project.

"When I look at these designs, nothing tells me I’ve arrived in the City of Fairfax," said Fairfax resident Neetha Varghese. Varghese and a handful of others voiced their opinions on three proposals for Old Town redevelopment during Tuesday evening’s city council meeting.

Submitted by Atlantic Realty, the developer team of Trammell Crow, J Donegan and Walnut Street Development, and the developer team of Jaguar Development and JBG Rosenfeld, the three proposals call for the creation of retail, office and residential space on two city-owned properties, the North Street lot and the Logan-Sipan lot, where the post office currently sits. Each proposal also elaborated on how the developers would renovate the Fairfax City Regional Library, and detailed plans for downtown parking.

By November 11, council members hope to decide which plan to accept for downtown redevelopment. Another public hearing on Old Town redevelopment will be scheduled on Tuesday, Oct. 28.

WHILE THE COUNCIL hoped to hear more feedback on Tuesday night, the nine citizens who spoke provided guidelines on what downtown redevelopment should look like. Although some supported a specific proposal, many wanted to ensure that any development retain Fairfax’s historical flavor.

"This isn’t just a development deal. It’s a real integral part of own town," said Mary Petersen, who lives nearby. She urged the council to keep in mind the aesthetics for the project, and asked that the residential component and the library be integral components of the downtown project.

"We need more people living downtown," Petersen said.

Page Johnson, acting as board member of Historic Fairfax, Inc., read a letter stating what guidelines Historic Fairfax wanted in downtown redevelopment. They included adequate setbacks, a size and scale harmonious with structures currently downtown, blending facades, and use of natural materials, such as brick and wood. Historic Fairfax also asked for more open space, as well as involvement in whatever task force the city creates for downtown redevelopment.

"Where possible, the re-creation of historic buildings or facades should be encouraged," Johnson said.

VARGHESE LIKED portions of the each proposal, such as Atlantic Realty’s piazza concept, but thought the proposals overall were inadequate in their renderings and in describing how they would implement their proposals or compensate for traffic.

"I don’t quite understand why the presentations weren’t up to par," Varghese said.

Fairfax resident Gordon Riggle also liked components of several plans, but didn’t support one plan in particular. Riggle liked Trammell Crow’s architectural design and site plan, as well as the idea of moving the library to North Street, but preferred Atlantic Realty’s concept of more office space than retail space.

Other residents supported Jaguar Realty and the Trammell Crow proposals, or just the idea of redeveloping downtown.

Council member Scott Silverthorne reminded citizens to call or send e-mails about the proposals, copies of which are available at City Hall and the Virginia Room of the Fairfax City Regional Library.

"We are on the verge of one of the most exciting undertakings for the city," said Fairfax mayor Rob Lederer.

WHILE HISTORIC FAIRFAX listed guidelines to the city council on Old Town redevelopment, the city council counseled Historic Fairfax on the Blenheim Master Plan during the work session after the meeting. Historic Fairfax president Hildie Carney, Fairfax’s director of historic resources Chris Martin and an associate with John Milner Associates outlined the details for the master plan for the historic property on Old Lee Highway.

Lederer and the council gave the go-ahead for the master plan to continue, with the caveat that the those responsible for Blenheim’s renovation continue fund-raising for the project, discuss security for the property, encourage public use of Blenheim’s facilities, and communicate traffic concerns with the surrounding community.

"We need to be sensitive to the demands Old Lee Highway will get from the site," said council member Jeff Greenfield.

Actualizing the master plan could begin as early as this November. In summary, the plan includes restoring the Blenheim house and creating a first-floor, wheelchair-accessible exhibit detailing the Civil War graffiti present inside the structure, building an interpretive center, providing 17 parking spaces, and relocating the Krasnow Barn next to Grandma’s Cottage.

If builders adhere to the 23-month schedule, the project could be completed in time for the city’s bicentennial in 2005. IThe purpose of the project, for which the city has allocated $2.7 million, is to develop the 12-acre property into a public historic site that would welcome school-aged groups as well as repeat visitors.

"A dream has come true. After five years of planning and wishing for something, it’s finally going to come true," said Carney of the project’s fruition.