A Million Here, A Million There

A Million Here, A Million There

Largely noncontroversial items dominate City Council meeting.

At its Oct. 12 meeting, the Fairfax City Council had little to discuss, outside of a legal settlement and some "housekeeping" resolutions that paved the way for spending more than $2 million.

The Council authorized the settlement of a petition it filed on April 14 to condemn the Grefe Property on Mosby Road. "I'm just happy to have this resolved," said Councilmember Gail Lyon.

The city had sought to acquire the 3.28-acre property as part of its open space program. Under the terms of the settlement, the city will pay $1 million to the three Grefe heirs — Carolyn Chappell, Lauren Jennings and Duston Grefe. Additionally, according to the resolution, the land, "will be restricted perpetually for use as open space and parkland."

The property was part of the city's land acquisition program to retain open space. "This is one of the final properties in the mix," said Councilmember R. Scott Silverthorne. "I'm pleased we're moving forward tonight."

The resolution passed unanimously, with Councilmember Gary Rasmussen absent.

The city also appropriated $ 1 million in the contract with Lukmire Partnership for the construction of the new Fairfax City Library. An additional $100,000 was appropriated to fund a deposit on the Rust-Woods Properties, which are to be acquired as part of the downtown redevelopment.

THE COUNCIL heard three presentations at the work session after the meeting and approved continuing work on all three.

Mary Edwards of Dominion Virginia Power explained to the City Council the concept of bundling the power supply of city residents. If the Council were to adopt this proposal, Edwards said, it could result in a cost savings on residents’ electric bills. "Similar to Costco or Price Club where you get savings for buying in bulk," she said.

Due to electricity deregulation, it is now more common that one company will generate power and another will "deliver" it to customers' houses.

Edwards was representing an arm of Dominion Virginia Power that deals with the delivery. She explained that the company is engaging in a pilot program for bundling power. The program would allow municipalities of up to 30,000 residents to bundle together. "The closer you get to that 30,000, the more attractive it would be," she said.

She estimated that approximately 9,490 customers (residents, churches and small commercial operations) would qualify for inclusion in the city. The city would then partner with one or more other localities to reach the 30,000 mark.

On average, Edwards said, customers would see a cost savings of $37-$69 per year.

Mayor Robert Lederer raised concerns about power coming from so far away. He questioned Edwards about the possibility of a scenario similar to the large northeast blackout a few years ago. He also asked what would happen if the city were getting its power from a state that had a catastrophic occurrence, such as a hurricane, which might shut down the production.

Edwards explained that bundling would not have an effect in scenarios like the blackout. She also said that, as a result of the integrated nature of the nation's power grid, electricity would still continue to flow to city customers in the event of an outage at the point of generation.

The City Council cautiously approved continuing to explore the idea. "[City residents] don't want to see where we're telling them they're going to save 5 percent and it [the electric bill] goes up," said Silverthorne.

The City Council also got a look at the proposed design for the new Fairfax City Regional Library. The new library would be a two-story building on Old Lee Highway and North Street.

The outside will be brick with columns and a dormered roof. It will also feature large windows and a 200-space, underground parking lot. "We think that the library needs to respond to the scale of Old Town," said Gregory Lukmire, the architect.

"As an urban library, it can certainly help to animate the street," said Lukmire.

The new library will be about 43,000 square feet, which Lukmire estimated will be 8,000- to 10,000-square-feet larger than the current library.

The library's standard collection will be on the first floor, most of which will be open to the ceiling. The second floor will cover only part of the building's interior space and will house the Virginia Room. "It will be a fairly lofty space," Lukmire said.

THE CITY COUNCIL heard a presentation about the possibility of wiring the entire city for wireless broad-band service.

The program, estimated to cost $200,000, would involve placing wireless access points around the city. Traffic lights and light poles are considered the most likely spots. "The key thing really is placement," said Gail Bohan, director of information technology for the city. "You also need to provide power and protection from the elements."

In theory, if the city goes ahead with the project, all residents would be able to access the Internet via a wireless card that they could install in their home computer or laptop.

Silverthorne was credited with the idea of providing the service. He said he got the idea from Philadelphia, which is reported to be installing a similar network.

Silverthorne expressed some reservations about the city installing a service that may be provided by the private sector, something he said he does not think the government should do. "But I'm not sure the private sector will ever truly meet our expectations on this," he said.

Some potential problems and the specifics of the proposal will need to be analyzed. For example, it could happen that a specific node is clogged from too much use at a certain time, similar to a busy signal on a telephone. Additionally, with the speed that technology advances, it might happen that the technology would become obsolete and would need to be upgraded frequently. Also, frequencies used could conflict with wireless networks some people may already have, or, potentially other wireless devices like older cordless phones.

Other issued that must be considered are whether or not residents would be allowed to have the service for free or would need to pay for it, and how to train citizens in the use of the network.

Bohan mentioned that she may be able to work with faculty at George Mason University in designing and setting up the system.

The Council was generally supportive of the idea and directed Bohan to continue study of it.