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Lee Highway Letdown

Area group opposes name change for Lee Highway.

In the Mosby Woods community of Fairfax, the street names hearken to the region's history: Antietam Avenue, Shiloh Street and Brigade Drive are just some of the names of streets that crisscross the neighborhood.

While Fairfax City and many of its citizens are proud of the city's role in the Civil War, some area residents are questioning the city's dedication to preserving that heritage.

Members of Frank Stringfellow Camp 822, Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), were waving their Confederate flags on Lee Highway last Saturday morning, July 3, to protest two causes: their exclusion from the city's annual Independence Day Parade, and a May 25 measure passed by the Fairfax City Council that would change the name of a portion of Lee Highway, otherwise known as Route 50/29, to Fairfax Boulevard.

"Lee Highway is basically a monument to a loved Virginian," said Robert Brown, commander of the Frank Stringfellow Camp. "By changing that name, you're removing that monument."

The name change, which was passed unanimously by the City Council and is effective January 1, 2006, was one of several measures to revitalize the Lee Highway commercial and retail corridor through the creation of a Business Improvement District (BID). By renaming that strip "Fairfax Boulevard," it would brand the corridor, thus making it more identifiable as a location and a retail strip.

The other recommendation to create a supplemental tax for commercial businesses with the BID was rejected in favor of creating the BID and a BID committee that would judge the tax issue later on.

The name change was just "one of the recommendations" to revitalize Lee Highway, said Fairfax mayor Rob Lederer.

But those who were out on Lee Highway Saturday claimed that not only was the city turning its back on its heritage, its proposal to change the name wasn't well advertised.

"Since then, talking to other people, nobody's even known that it ever happened," Brown said.

Lederer defended the charge that the city is neglecting its Civil War heritage. He responded that the city remains dedicated to protecting its heritage, as witnessed by the proposed museum for the Blenheim Estate and the name for the Fairfax High School sports teams, the Fairfax Rebels.

"There is not another city, county or jurisdiction that takes more pride in their Civil War heritage," Lederer said.

Lederer added that when the name change takes place, it would be the Route 50 portion that would change to Fairfax Boulevard. When Routes 50 and 29 divide at Kamp Washington, Route 29 would continue to be Lee Highway, while Route 50 would be Fairfax Boulevard until it changes to the Lee Jackson Memorial Highway.

Old Lee Highway, which Lederer said is the original Lee Highway, would remain the same.

If there could be a compromise between the city and the SCV, it would be for the city to renew its interest in preserving Civil War heritage.

"We're not trying to stand in the way of business development," said Mike Goodloe, immediate past commander and current adjunct of the Stringfellow Camp.

Goodloe wished the name change was advertised better but suggested that if the city renames the strip, it put a few signs up along the corridor that would say “Historic Lee Highway.” The city could also place a sign next to the Wilcoxon Tavern, create a Confederate History Month, or take any action that could bring attention to the city's history.

"We'd like to see the city be a little more receptive to us and our ideas," Goodloe said.

HAVING PARTICIPATED in local festivals such as the Fall for Fairfax, the city's Civil War Weekend and parades in Alexandria and Richmond, the group wanted to march in this year's Independence Day Parade, which occurred on July 3. The Independence Day Parade Committee denied its application to the parade, citing its lack of adherence to the parade's theme, which is a criterion to being admitted to march. According to Brown, the group reapplied after being told it could participate if members wore attire representative of their organization.

Brown said they told the city they would wear their camp's T-shirts bearing the Sons of Confederate Veterans logo, but they were rejected a second time after the committee cited that they would not be in period dress.

In a media statement, Brown conjectured that their rejection had to do with their opposition against renaming Lee Highway to Fairfax Boulevard.

"We feel we're being discriminated against, as other groups are not required to be in period attire," Brown said on Saturday.

Yet Lederer responded that he thought the accusations were misleading and incorrect for several reasons. Under the guidelines set by the City Council last fall, the parade committee needed to trim the parade so that it wouldn't drag like past years.

Each applicant would have to adhere to certain criteria, such as adopting the parade's theme, having a uniformed costume or a float, or providing entertainment, like a marching band or acrobatics. Groups who had been in the parade previously would have priority.

He understood that SCV intended to wear street clothes for the parade. He added that SCV was a first-time applicant.

If we let every group in, it wouldn't be fun for the audience, Lederer said.