Strengthening City's Small-Town Identity

Strengthening City's Small-Town Identity

Fairfax City's top issues address preserving the city's small-town feel while accommodating the area's changing demographics.

With Fairfax County's population continuing to grow, Fairfax City — an island in the middle of the county — is attempting to solidify its identity as a small town. To smooth that transition as the area's demographics change, Fairfax City's residents are emphasizing community involvement among its many civic associations, parent-teacher associations, and voluntary organizations. City officials too are attempting to nurture that hometown feel through periodic outreach meetings and socials.

As the city is adjusting to change in and out of its borders, it's encountering several key issues:

Old Town Redevelopment

Efforts to redevelop downtown Fairfax into a more pedestrian-friendly, retail destination are currently underway. Last year, the Fairfax City Council approved a plan to work with a team of area developers to create a mixed-use development on two city-owned lots.

One lot is the old post office building and parking lot, located on Chain Bridge Road. The development team, headed by Trammell Crow, will build 92,000 sq. ft. of retail and restaurant space, and 43,000 sq. ft. of office space. A public square will complement the development, which will include a 700-car parking garage.

The other city-owned lot is a parking lot on North Street. However, through partnering with Fairfax County, the current Fairfax City Regional Library on Armstrong Street will move to the North Street lot. A new building will be constructed for the library as a result. At the current library site, which is closer to the post office, 60 residential condominium units will be built.

In addition to the mixed-use development and the new library, the city is considering making traffic in downtown Fairfax two-way. Currently, North Street is one-way going westbound, and Main Street is one-way going eastbound. Further studies will be conducted on the possibility this August, and a trial implementation could occur sometime within the next 12 months.

This redevelopment plan has already been approved, and the project could start this fall, as the city is preparing to tear down the old post office building in August. Construction is anticipated to begin in spring 2005 and end in summer 2006.

Revitalization of the Route 29/50 Corridor

With plans for downtown Fairfax squared away, the city has started concentrating on the Route 29/50 corridor, which is the city's "economic engine," according to city officials. The strip holds many of the city's retail and service industries, and many commuters drive use that route every day to go to work and home. One of the goals of revitalizing the corridor is to draw those commuters into the shops that line the strip.

This past summer, the City Council approved $250,000 for the creation of a Business Improvement District (BID), which would look at ways to revitalize the area. Business owners and citizens were appointed on a committee to oversee the BID, and the committee will be working with the commercial sector to find methods and funding to see the revitalization through. Following the creation of the BID, the committee will work with the city to examine zoning codes in order to provide incentives for businesses to improve their storefronts. The committee will also be discussing making the strip more pedestrian-friendly and aesthetically attractive.

Along with the creation of the BID is a name change for the strip. In January 2006, the corridor will be known as "Fairfax Boulevard." Changing the name gives the corridor an identity, not just as a commercial sector but as a location. The name changed received opposition from area Confederate history groups, as the strip is currently known as "Lee Highway," but the current plan is to change Route 50's name to Fairfax Boulevard, while Route 29 would remain Lee Highway.

Historic Preservation

One way that the Fairfax City has cultivated its small-town feeling has been to promote its historic heritage. Although the city is celebrating its bicentennial in 2005, several buildings, such as the Old Court House, pre-date Fairfax's founding.

To preserve its historic heritage, the city has taken several steps. The city has created an inventory of its historic properties from all its time periods, including buildings and cemeteries, and the city has continued to develop the Fairfax Museum and Visitors Center. The city has also partnered with Historic Fairfax, Inc. (HFCI) to develop many of the city's resources, including the restoration of the Blenheim estate. Known for the Civil War-era graffiti in its attic, the Blenheim estate will undergo improvements to its grounds to make it an educational resource open to the public. Working with HFCI to fund those improvements, the city plans to construct a visitors center as well as renovate the house to ensure its posterity.

In addition to developing its historic resources, the city also hosts a number of history-related events, such as the annual Civil War Weekend at the Blenheim estate, a Historic Homes Tour, and various walking tours through the Fairfax Museum and HFCI. Destination Fairfax, a private-public partnership with area businesses and the city, has worked to promote the city's cultural and historic heritage through tourism.

Open Space

In November 2000, Fairfax City voters passed 2-to-1 an advisory referendum which allows the city to collect for five years as much as 5 cents from the real estate tax in order to fund open space purchases. Through the open space fund, the city has purchased land such as a 24-acre tract on Stafford Drive and three acres near Providence Park. In 2004, the City Council condemned the property at 3987 University Drive, known as "the Weight Watchers Building," with the intent to demolish it one day to make room for open space. That building is in downtown Fairfax and complements Old Town redevelopment efforts.

Renovations to Fairfax High and Lanier Middle Schools

In addition to choosing the nation's president this November, Fairfax residents will have the choice whether to approve an $86.8 million-dollar bond referendum to renovate Lanier Middle and Fairfax High schools.

Lanier Middle is 44-years-old, and Fairfax High is 33-years-old. If the bond passes, the city would spread the cost of renovation over 20 years by selling bonds, and preparations to commence renovation could begin as early as this spring. Outreach and more information on the school bond is forthcoming this fall.

The city has been working with architects to design how the schools should be renovated. Renovations could include modifying the schools' layouts, installing new roofs, refurbishing the media and science and computer labs, and upgrading the heating, ventilation, air conditioning, electric, plumbing and safety systems.

Citizens had passed an earlier bond to build two new elementary schools, Providence Elementary and Daniels Run Elementary. Those two schools opened in 2000.

Traffic Calming

With the area's population growing and with George Mason University at the southern edge of the city's borders, more vehicles have been driving on city streets. As a result, the city has been working on installing traffic calming measures throughout its neighborhoods. It has coordinated with four neighborhoods to install traffic calming measures such as stop signs and speed humps in order to curb cut-through traffic.

The city is also examining the possibility of finishing George Mason Boulevard, which would provide a direct route from the university to downtown Fairfax. The purpose of the road is to ease cut-through traffic through the southeast Fairfax neighborhood. The City Council will be conducting community outreach meetings this fall on whether or not the City should finish constructing George Mason Boulevard. A portion of the road already exists and was installed when the Crestmont community was built in the 1990s. Stretches of the road that need to be finished are located along City Hall and near School Street. If George Mason Boulevard is constructed, University Drive would be closed to allow only local traffic.

New Police Station and City Hall Expansion and Renovation

Citizens approved a $20 million-dollar bond referendum in November 2001 to build a new police station and expand and renovate City Hall. Bids for construction for those projects will begin this fall.

The new police station will be built at the site of the current police station, but the current building will eventually be torn down. That location is the John C. Wood Complex at 3730 Old Lee Highway.

Simultaneously, City Hall will be expanded and renovated. Some offices will temporarily move to the old police station building until renovations are completed.

Both projects involve about 60,300 sq. ft. of new building construction and 29,700 of building renovation. Designs for both projects are available on the City's Web site.

Community Center

Because the John C. Wood Complex also served as home to the City's Parks and Recreation Department and that department's offerings, discussion has started on whether the city should have a community center.

The city is currently working on a feasibility study on having such a center. If it is created, it could have meeting space for civic associations and other community groups, and facilities for hosting the city's larger events such as the annual Chocolate Lovers Festival. Several citizens have also expressed an interest in having a community center that would serve as home to Fairfax's arts community.