Council Weighs 'Big Ticket' Projects

Council Weighs 'Big Ticket' Projects

Council discusses how to approach two large projects.

What will become of Blenheim? The Fairfax City Council discussed the mansion at its post-meeting work session on Oct. 27. "We're trying to grapple with size and scale and where it fits in the community," said Councilmember Jeffrey Greenfield.

Blenheim is the home of the Willcoxon family, one of the historic families involved the development of the city. The attic of the home off of Old Lee Highway contains graffiti written by Civil War soldiers. The city bought the property in 1999 in order to preserve and study the graffiti.

However, due of the fragile nature of the inscriptions, large numbers of visitors will not likely be permitted into the attic. As a result, the city has plans to build an interpretive center that would include a recreation of the attic.

The estimated cost to build the center is $1.5 million. After its construction, operating and personnel costs are estimated to be $300,000 per year.

FUNDS HAD been included in this year's city budget, but design was halted on May 25 pending a more thorough review.

The costs have some councilmembers re-thinking where Blenheim fits in the city's priorities. A number of "big-ticket" items such as the new library and overall downtown renovation, and the proposed bonds to renovate Lanier middle and Fairfax High schools are already in the works.

"I'm not opposed to doing this [Blenheim]," said Councilmember R. Scott Silverthorne, "but we have a lot of things we're trying to do at the same time in this city."

Greenfield proposed a list of actions that should happen prior to the construction of the property. Generally, they included creating more detailed renderings of what will be built and where. "Let's figure out what it's going to be," he said.

Greenfield then suggested that the council conduct community meetings with surrounding communities and a city-wide meeting so that the public can weigh in.

Councilmember Gail Lyon, while supportive of the meetings in concept, said the council may be extending the process too much. "It feels like it's being dragged out," she said.

Ultimately, the council decided to proceed along with the plan laid out by Greenfield.

THE COUNCIL also discussed how the Providence Park should be developed. The park is located along West Drive and has been developed with an athletic field and necessary landscaping.

Since the development of the park, the city has purchased the abutting, three-acre Jester property. As a result, the park is now approximately 20 acres in size.

On Oct. 13, the Parks and Recreation department had a community meeting with nearby residents to determine how they might want to see the property developed.

Suggestions included the addition of a basketball court and two tennis courts, along with connecting trails and possibly a playground and permanent bathrooms. The total development costs are estimated to be $264,000.

The council suggested that environmental and engineering studies be done on the newly acquired property, along with the destruction of the existing house, the two items represent about $35,000 of the total.

The other items, the council suggested, should be folded into the citywide park budget for new facilities. "Let Park and Recreation prioritize it in the Capital Improvements Program," Greenfield said.