Eyes on the Prize

Eyes on the Prize

Historic District redevelopment subject of city meeting.

The most important thing in Old Town redevelopment, for many citizens, was remaining faithful to the original plan. Fairfax citizens voiced this and other concerns Tuesday, July 26 at a joint meeting of the City Council, the Board of Architectural Review and the Planning Commission, which dealt mostly with the project of revitalizing Fairfax’s Historic District.

Tuesday night the city edged closer to the goal that it has been working on for 20 years as the three official bodies examined a "conceptual vision" of the redevelopment project, as Mayor Robert Lederer called it.

The project has three parts, said David Hudson, director of community development and planning for the City of Fairfax. Hudson outlined the plan to redevelop the Logan-Sipan site (five lots, including the former site of the post office, which are flanked by Chain Bridge Road, North Street and University Drive) into a walkable mixed-use area called Old Town Village, to turn the Webb parking lot off North Street into a mixed-use building, and to develop what is now the Fairfax City Regional Library into condominiums.

"It’s been a policy of the city since well before the 1980s to redevelop downtown," said Hudson, adding that North Street had "the appearance of a back door to Old Town and the Historic District."

City Manager’s staff, on behalf of the development team of Trammel Crow Company, J. Donegan Company, Walnut Street Development and CMSS Architects, P.C., asked the council for a series of exceptions and variances to City Code so that the redevelopment plan could move forward. Although the project has not yet reached the specifics stage, it had to be approved as a whole for funds to start working.

AT THE LOGAN-SIPAN site, the development team requested special exceptions to the exposed-wall height requirement of 43 feet to allow a 44-foot parking deck and a 48-foot building. They asked for a reduction in the setback requirement for certain sections of the sidewalk around the buildings on the site, and an exception to exceed the maximum floor-area ratio from 1.2 to 1.7. The development team also asked for a variance to the subdivision code in order to consolidate five parcels into a single lot.

For the building on the Webb lot, the development team asked for a reduced setback requirement, a reduced separation between the building and parking area, and elimination of the landscaping around the parking area in order to maximize parking space. The Webb lot is currently a city parking lot.

Finally, the development team wanted to rezone the library site from R-2/R-3 residential to C-2 commercial retail. This suggestion caused some concern in the citizens assembled at the meeting, who worried that although the library site is slated to become condominiums, a C-2 rezoning could open the site to businesses.

"Once you’ve got a C-2 zoning, what’s to prevent them from coming up with something else?" said Fairfax Mews resident Theodora Goodson, warning the council not to let the development project become too urban.

Terry Simmons of the Planning Commission wondered if anything could be changed in the wording of the proposal to ensure that "years from now, people won’t propose to come put in offices."

The rezoning proposal "raises concerns that, somewhere down the road, things might change," said Robert Worst, president of the Fairfax Mews Homeowner’s Association. Fairfax Mews is one of the closest residential properties to the proposed redevelopment project.

Hudson said that the C-2 rezoning was necessary to make the current library a conforming building, since it will be in use for another year or more before the city builds the new library.

"In the extremely unlikely event that the development doesn’t come through, we’ll still be able to have a library there," said Hudson. Besides, he said, every other lot on the block is zoned C-2.

"But (the library) has been nonconforming for decades," said Councilmember Scott Silverthorne. "So who cares?"

Worst also brought up the fact that another zoning code exists — multifamily residential (condos or apartments) — that would secure the library’s place on the lot and disallow for commercial use of the proposed building.

"We have to honestly respond to the community that the vision we’ve presented is the vision that’s going to go up when the ribbons are cut," said Lederer.

When the redevelopment came down to a vote, all the exceptions for the project, for the Webb lot and the Logan-Sipan parcel passed unanimously. But Councilmember Gary Rasmussen amended the rezoning request to RM multifamily instead of C-2 retail, and this motion passed the council and Planning Commission unanimously.

IN OTHER MATTERS, the City of Fairfax Fire Department asked the council to consider an authorization to apply for a federal grant, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER), through the Department of Homeland Security. The grant would provide partial funding, which would diminish over time, for nine professional firefighters.

"We need to train a lot more firefighters," said Fairfax City Fire Chief Tom Owens. He said that Fairfax City is losing firefighters to retirement and other jurisdictions’ recruiting efforts.

Councilmembers worried about the budget impact over time of the staffing grant, and about the fact that, according to Owens, 65 percent of the Fire Department’s calls are in Fairfax County.

"We get nine people, but several years down the road, we have to figure out how to keep paying them," said Councilmember Jeffrey Greenfield.

The council passed the consideration unanimously, but recommended scheduling a work session to deal with the issue more thoroughly.

The council also voted on the following issues:

* A rezoning request by Landmark Property Development, LLC, to rezone the Lowrey property at 4101 and 4103 Orchard Drive from R-2 residential to P-D planned development, with proffers. At the June 28 work session dealing with the Lowrey property, some councilmembers expressed concerns about the developer, who they said had passed a previous development to another builder without warning. John Thillman of Landmark Development promised to see the Lowrey project through. The council passed the rezoning request 4-2, with Councilmembers Silverthorne and Jeffrey Greenfield opposing.

* A zoning text amendment to require separate special use permits in the C-3 general commercial district for selling or leasing different types of motor vehicles, such as automobiles or motorcycles. The council approved it unanimously.

* A consent agenda that included a consideration of a $336,361 contract award for Blenheim Mansion restoration work and a $2.75 million settlement for the acquisition of real property at the Weight Watchers building, to make way for a temporary parking lot and, eventually, the expansion of the Kitty Poser Garden. The agenda passed unanimously.

* A consideration of an engagement letter with McGuire Woods, LLC, for provision of city attorney services. Bud Roeder, city attorney, is retiring after 27 years of service. Brian Lubkeman of McGuire Woods will serve as city attorney starting Sept. 1, and will charge $255 per council meeting. The consideration passed unanimously.