When Earl Berner moved to Fairfax City 19 years ago, one of his first work assignments was a townhouse development on Jenny Lynn Lane. He remembered being shocked at the opening paragraph of the developer's statement, that $240,000 was a reasonable price for a townhome.
Now that price is normal for this area. That was just one of the changes Berner has witnessed since working for the city since 1985.
After 19 years of service to the city, the Centreville resident is retiring to Texas to be closer to his family. He'll be officially retiring from his position as the city's economic development director on Nov. 1.
Looking back on the years, Berner, 57, has been pleased with the progress that has occurred and hopes that current economic development projects like Old Town redevelopment and the Lee Highway/Fairfax Boulevard revitalization will continue to fruition.
"It's been great, really. The City of Fairfax is very much like a small town," Berner said. "I feel good about what we've accomplished here."
Berner has had a lifelong interest in working as a public servant. When he was a child, he wanted to work in government. He later earned degrees in public administration and served in the military.
"I wanted to give back and have an impact in communities," Berner said.
AFTER THE MILITARY and prior to moving to Fairfax City, Berner worked as a zoning administrator for the Town of Culpeper for over five years. He then moved to Fairfax, attracted by the opportunity to work with professional planners and public management. Once in Fairfax, he remained in city government, preferring smaller governments like Fairfax City over larger governments like Fairfax County, where he would've been one of several planners.
"An individual's impact is greater that way," said Berner.
When Berner started his service to the city in September 1985, he started out in the Planning Department, becoming a zoning administrator in 1986. In November 1990, Berner became the director of economic development, overseeing such projects as Old Town redevelopment and cultivation of commercial prospects.
As economic director, he has seen both the city and county increase in population and density. He witnessed the development of commercial growth in the city in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as the rising costs of homes in the area.
"That's just one of the biggest changes, the value of properties," Berner said.
"As economic development coordinator, Berner has been a primary contact for businesses seeking to locate into the central Fairfax area," said Robert Sisson, Fairfax city manager. "He's been kind of an ombudsman regarding issues relating to business moving here."
Sisson credited Berner with helping to establish the city's business incubator program, a joint program with George Mason University. "He's also been the staff coordinator for downtown redevelopment for a number of years," said Sisson.
"He's been highly regarded by the business community, and he'll be missed by them and his colleagues at city hall," said Sisson.
“Earl’s a good friend and a profoundly decent human being,” said Rick Dixon of the Downtown Fairfax Coalition. “I wish he and his bride every success in Texas. They’ll love it.”
Dixon said Berner “served this community better than most people know, under very difficult conditions.”
Berner leaves just as the City of Fairfax is poised to continue several major planning initiatives, including the redevelopment of both Old Town and the Route 50 Corridor.
"I would like to hope they follow through with some of the recommendations with the Lee Highway Task Force," Berner said.
Yet the move will be a welcome one, as he and his wife plan to move to Murphy, Texas, to be closer to one of their children and their coming grandchildren. They've already signed an agreement for a custom-made house that will be finished by the time they arrive. Murphy, which is nine miles away from Plano, Texas, also boasts a golf course, where Berner plans to spend much of his free time.
In addition to golfing, Berner also likes to read Westerns, watch sports on television, and garden perennials. He and his wife also intend to travel after they move from Fairfax.