A Change in Directions

A Change in Directions

Main and North streets in Old Town Fairfax may become two-way.

Within the next year, area commuters may be adjusting to a new traffic pattern in downtown Fairfax. The Fairfax City Council is considering making two one-way streets in the downtown area two-way. The streets are westbound North Street and eastbound Main Street.

"I think as a council, we have to accept the reality that the hardest part ... will be the transition process," said Fairfax mayor Rob Lederer. "For a period of time, smart decisions [on navigating] are going to be naive decisions ... and for awhile, it's going to be tough."

The Council is considering the traffic pattern change as a step toward downtown redevelopment. With a mixed-use development to occur on the former post office property and the current library property in the next several years, the purpose in changing the traffic pattern is to promote retail in the downtown area.

With the current one-way traffic pattern, national retailers are less likely to invest in the downtown location, said traffic consultant Marty Wells of Wells and Associates. The current one-way system could require shoppers and suppliers to make several complicated turns in order to reach their destination.

The Council has been working with Wells on the possibility of making the two city arteries two-way. Wells advised that the change was possible, and that the difference in wait for commuters between the current traffic pattern and the proposed pattern would be negligible.

However, a roughly six-month period wound pass in which traffic might slow down because drivers wouldn't be accustomed to the new traffic pattern, Wells added.

"Over time, motorists are going to seek a state of equilibrium," Wells said.

COUNCIL MEMBERS agreed that the examination to convert Main and North streets into two-way strips should continue. During August, Wells will work with city staff on fine-tuning the plan and traffic counts.

If the changes are made, they will occur within the next 12 months.

But before the plan is implemented, the Council asked Wells to have an exit strategy ready, in case the plan leads to prolonged gridlock.

"In my mind, we have to do what's best for Fairfax, what's best for the residents," said Council member Jeff Greenfield.

Council member Joan Cross asked city staff to coordinate with Fairfax County, as she was concerned that new construction near the Massey Building and traffic pattern changes on Chain Bridge Road resulting from the construction would occur simultaneously with the downtown traffic change.

Other Council members wanted the examination to proceed, as the change could eventually promote the downtown area.

"The trick is balancing the destination goal with the pass-through goal," said Council member Gary Rasmussen.

Council member Patrice Winter likened the possible change to a situation in Vienna, where its main street, Maple Avenue or Route 123, is the busy corridor, while a parallel street, Church Street, provides the pedestrian-friendly and quaint atmosphere.

"I kind of looked at North Street being that little Church Street." Winter said.

THE COUNCIL also discussed the following items. They were agreed to unanimously, with Council member Scott Silverthorne absent:

* The City accepted a gift from the estate of Rosa Lee Walker, a former City Council member, who passed away recently. Walker's 95-year-old mother was at the meeting to present the gift.

Walker's estate gave $10,000 to the Fairfax City Police Department and $10,000 to the Fairfax City Fire Department. The Fire Department will use the money to create the Rose Lee Walker Life Safety Education Fund, which will provide services to children and at-risk seniors. The Police Department will create the Rosa Lee Walker Summer Camp program for disadvantaged children.

* The City Council passed unanimously a special-use permit by Artery Custom Homes to allow a cluster subdivision at 10011 Mosby Road and 4210 Orchard Drive. The permit allows the developer to demolish the two existing houses and construct two houses on each of the two lots, making a total of four houses.

The development has been under debate for over two years, with neighboring residents concerned about the storm-water run-off that occurs near those properties and a neighboring creek. The final motion by the City Council asks the developer to submit final architectural designs that would complement the surrounding neighborhood. It also asks the developer to assure adequate tree protection for several existing trees, provide rear garages for the houses, and assure no increased water run-off on adjacent lots.

Furthermore, the developer will pay the city a fee-in-lieu for an infiltration trench. Using that money, the city will construct a trench to ease the storm-water run-off problems. While the motion said the trench would go along the subject property from the frontage of the pocket park to the west to the constructed portion of Mosby Road to the east, the city may explore lengthening the trench in response to citizens' concerns that the proposed trench didn't go far enough.

The city will also coordinate construction parking with the developer, according to the motion.

While the citizens who spoke preferred that the development not occur, Council members explained that the resulting development was the result of a court case that the city lost. If the city refused the development, it would lose the open space adjacent to the development. The development also complies with the city's zoning code, which allows two houses to be built on land formerly holding one house.

*The City Council unanimously approved the Comprehensive Plan. The approval ends a two-year process of revising the plan, which dictates land use and resource allocation for the city. Although the plan is final, the city's Planning Commission will review the plan bi-annually to update it.

*The Council approved an ordinance amending a section of the City Code pertaining to dogs running at large. The amendment allows city animal control officers to charge a misdemeanor to dog owners who allow their unlicensed dogs to run outside their property.

Several dog owners protested the amendment, calling it an overly restrictive measure, but Fairfax City Police chief Rick Rappoport explained that the amendment applies to unlicensed dogs and should be read in context with the whole ordinance. Rappoport added that animal control officers would be reasonable with dog owners if the dogs ran loose.

The amendment was created in response to a situation in which resident children were afraid of an unlicensed pit bull that would occasionally and repeatedly run loose in the neighborhood.

"This is a charge that is very rarely made," said Rappoport. "However, we need that legal tool when circumstances require it."

* The Council approved an ordinance amending a section in the City Code pertaining to inoperable motor vehicles. The amendment brings city law in accordance with state law.

* The Council approved two resolutions relating to the releasing of city funds. It passed a resolution in the amount of $250,000 for the creation of a Business Improvement District for the Lee Highway/Fairfax Boulevard corridor, and it approved the resolution in the amount of $1,000,000 to Fairfax County for the replacement of vehicle rental tax. The city erroneously received $1,000,000 in tax revenue that should have gone to the county. The funds will come from the city's General Fund.