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Small-Town in a Big County

When Hildie Carney first drove into Fairfax 38 years ago, she and her military husband had just been transferred into the area. She couldn’t forget how the trees she saw lining the streets made the city so pretty.

"I remember driving into the city in the spring, and it was so beautiful," said Carney, who now directs Historic Fairfax, Inc. "And I had this little thing in my head, this is where I want to live."

Many longtime residents, like Carney, as well as newcomers initially move into Fairfax because of job transfers or family reasons. But many remain because they’re attracted to Fairfax’s small-town feel, the responsiveness of city government and services, and the proximity to the cultural attractions of the Washington, D.C. area.

"We’ve definitely chosen to stay there," said Steve Lane, who moved to Fairfax in 1995 with his wife, Debbie. "I like how it’s got a towny feel to it."

Lane had moved to Fairfax because the housing costs were more affordable than many areas in the county. Their neighbors at Country Club Hills, the Whetzels, also moved to Fairfax because of housing prices, as well as its proximity to bus and Metrorail lines.

"I feel like we just sort of lucked out," said Lisa Whetzel, who has been in Fairfax since 2000.

Whetzel, like many Fairfax residents, particularly enjoys the small-town atmosphere of the city. Whether the resident had just moved or has lived in Fairfax for over 20 years, the appeal of walking into a grocery store and seeing neighbors and acquaintances is why many residents choose to remain in the city. The schools, the immediate access to city government and family-oriented events like July 4th and outdoor band concerts also give flavor to the small-town feel.

"We’re in the middle of this big suburban sprawl," Whetzel said.

Her neighbor, Jill Toth, agreed. "Fairfax City itself has great services," she said.

Toth, who has lived in Fairfax since 2001 and moved to Northern Virginia in 1986, cited a recent meeting with city officials and her civic association regarding the future police station location.

"The great thing is the city council and mayor have been very responsive to our needs," Toth said.

Even longtime residents see the small-town appeal as a factor to their remaining in Fairfax. Nancy Jones has lived in Fairfax for 25 years, after a Realtor showed them the house where they continue to live now. The Realtor thought they would like Fairfax, as Jones and her husband grew up in small towns.

Fairfax "has a very distinct profile, that maybe isn’t lost in the huge field of Fairfax County," Jones said.

EVEN THOUGH Jones has lived in Fairfax for over 20 years, she and her husband had thought about leaving ten years ago, because they had to make major renovations to their house. But after looking at other houses for three months, they decided it was worth staying.

"It became clear to us that we didn’t want to leave Fairfax City," Jones said.

As Fairfax heads towards the future, many residents want the city to maintain its small-town feel. They also hope for more affordable options, like smaller homes for the retired, for the city’s aging population.

"I want to be here because of my connection, and I don’t want to move out of the city," Carney said.

Jones shared the same sentiment.

"I just cannot imagine being anywhere else but Fairfax," Jones said.