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Council Hears Facts on 2-Way Traffic Plan

Council discusses traffic flow, budget numbers and new turf for high-school field.

What to do with Green Acres School? At its Nov. 10 meeting, the City Council's public hearing about the status of the former elementary school generated some discussion.

The school is currently used by the Main Street Child Development Center and as a senior center. Additionally, the city plans to use part of the space as offices for the Recreation Department during the renovation of the John C. Wood Center. The City Council unanimously (Councilmember Gail Lyon absent) granted itself a special exception to use the building for these purposes until Dec. 31, 2009.

A question was raised whether enough on-site parking existed at Green Acres to accommodate the proposed uses, but the former school has a blacktop and a flat, grassy area that may be used as overflow parking.

The end use of the building, however, concerned at least one Councilmember. "I do think we need to be focused on the long-term use," said R. Scott Silverthorne.

Gary Sidor, an adjacent property owner, agreed. "I'd like to see something with the city's plan to address that in the near future," he said.

City Manager Robert Sisson explained that the city will begin to develop plans as the time draws closer to the expiration date of the special exception.

THE WORK SESSION following the meeting allowed the City Council a chance to explore the implications of allowing two-way traffic in the downtown area. The plan calls for changing Main Street and North Street from their current one-way configuration to two-way streets.

Councilmembers were told that the change will increase the traffic delay for the average car. "There is about a 29-second increase in delay with the two-way," said Kevin Sitzman of Wells & Associates, the traffic consultants working with the city on the plan.

Councilmembers seemed comfortable with the increase. "The difference between a one-way pair [of streets] and a two-way pair is really a manageable one," said Mayor Robert Lederer.

Sitzman explained an idea that has been developed that may help somewhat. "We think that there is a phased approach we can take," Sitzman said.

One suggestion was temporarily eliminating the crosswalks at the intersection of North Street and University Drive. Since the parking lots at that intersection will be removed during the first phase of the Old Town redevelopment, the need will be reduced. Once construction is completed, the lots could be replaced.

This sort of phased approach would allow motorists the opportunity to become accustomed in stages to the new traffic pattern.

Additionally, the Council discussed the issue of lane width. Sitzman explained that by making the width of the lanes 10 feet — similar in width to the lanes on Route 123 in the town of Vienna, Sitzman said — traffic flow might become more pedestrian friendly.

Narrower lanes tend to slow traffic, giving motorists and pedestrians more time to react to one another. They also make street-crossing faster, since pedestrians have less distance to cross.

The pedestrian issue was of particular concern to Councilmember Joan Cross. "We've got to have a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere downtown or we're sunk," she said.

THE COUNCIL also heard a report on the state of the city's budget. The final tally for FY ‘03-04 found the city with a $458,225 surplus, although $338,556 was due to a change in accounting policy.

The city reclassified some items that they had been classifying as inventory, on the recommendation of the city's auditors, said David Hodgkins, director of finance for the city.

The estimate for this year's budget has the city coming in with another surplus of approximately $462,000.

The very preliminary figures for next year, however, show the city with a budget gap of about $1.8 million. That gap uses conservative figures for revenue, including only a 5-percent increase in property values.

Additionally, that is made only by taking this year's budget and adjusting it for inflation, said Hodgkins. "This is before anyone has gone into it and made their cuts," he said.

At its next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 30, the Council will officially set its priorities for department heads as they develop next year's budget.

The Council also heard an update on the proposal to install artificial turf on the football field at Fairfax High School. The current plan would replace the grass on the field with artificial turf, but not the sidelines. The projected cost is $711,430, said Michael Cadwallader, director of Parks and Recreation.

The city, he explained, is about to lose the use of fields at Lanier Middle School and one of the fields at the high school during the renovation of the schools, and the turf will allow this field to be used more intensely.

The field would be used by the high school during the week and by the Fairfax Police Youth Club on weekends. The Club, said Cadwallader, would contribute $168,000 over eight years toward construction of the field.

Lederer noted that the city is in preliminary talks with the Fairfax City School Board to see if it might make a contribution to help pay for the construction.

This is also set to appear on the Council's Nov. 30 agenda. If approved, installation of the turf may be completed in time for the spring sports season. However, at least one Councilmember expressed concerns about the project. "This is a huge amount of money for an athletic field," Cross said. "The amount of money involved does give me pause."