An old saying goes: "If you drive on a road in Northern Virginia long enough, it will change names at least three times."
The City of Fairfax is contributing to this adage when, on July 1, Route 50 within the City of Fairfax will change names from Lee Highway to Fairfax Boulevard.
"Lee highway is the economic engine in the city, clearly," said Robert Lederer, mayor of the City of Fairfax. "We needed to help brand the businesses on the Lee Highway corridor."
Lee Highway, is too long a stretch of road and spans too many jurisdictions for people to know where businesses are, Lederer said. Renaming it Fairfax Boulevard will mean that consumers will have a distinct awareness that they are within the city limits, he said.
The idea came from the Lee Highway Revitilization Task Force which had studied the Lee Highway corridor. The area to be renamed will be Lee Highway from Pickett Road to Kamp Washington. The renaming was just one of the task force recommendations for how to revitalize the corridor, Lederer said.
"It’s a good idea," said Kirk Heselbarth, president of Patriot Harley Davidson. In the long term, Heselbarth said that the change will likely help businesses along the corridor.
Musa Khatib, store manager of Regency Furniture agreed. Khatib said it might be confusing for some customers initially. "Maybe, in the late future, it will help," he said.
THE CITY COUNCIL has also imposed a 6-cent surcharge on the property taxes of businesses along the corridor. Money from the fund will be used to fund projects along the corridor. The recently apponited committee of business owners along the area and local citizens which will administer the fund has recently been appointed by the City Council.
Heselbarth also favored the move. He acknowledged that the tax hike in the area will cost him money. "So would a deteriorating Lee Highway," he said. "If this turned into another Route 1, that would hurt my business, too."
Some say that this name change is minimizing the city’s southern heritage. Robert E. Lee was a major figure who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
"Removing the name of Lee from our highway is removing part of our heritage," said Bob Brown. Brown, a Reston resident, is commander of the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The Frank Stringfellow Camp has about 50 members from across Northern Virginia, including the City of Fairfax, Brown said.
Brown said, however, the Sons group is somewhat sympathetic to the business need for the name change.
Lederer notes that the city will compromise on the issue and will retain the signs proclaiming the road as Lee Highway, under those which say Fairfax Boulevard.
"We take great pride in our Civil War history," he said, adding that the post office will accept mail for either address and that Old Lee Highway will retain its name.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans are generally happy with the compromise. "We’re pleased that Lee’s name will remain on the highway," Brown said. "We’re looking forward to seeing both of those signs."