>The buzz spread quickly through City Council chamber on Tuesday night, Chap had not won in his bid for lieutenant governor. Del. J. Chapman Petersen (D-37) had served two terms on the City Council and is close friends with several councilmembers.
The mood earlier in the night had been one of anticipation. Councilmembers ducked out of the meeting periodically to check the early election returns. When they came out of their closed session and heard the results of the lieutenant governor's race, the mood deflated. Councilmembers, visibly saddened by the news returned to the people’s business.
All of the discussion went on behind closed doors, but when the Fairfax City Council emerged from their closed session, they voted to exercise imminent domain and take the Weight Watchers Building.
Under the U.S. Constitution, governments are permitted to take private property, typically called "condemnation," if the property is to be put to public use, as long as they pay the owner of the property fair market value for it. At the June 14 meeting, the council voted 4-2 (Councilmembers Gary Rasmussen and Jeffery Greenfield were opposed), without public discussion to initiate "quick take" procedures.
The building, on the corner of North Street and University Drive, has been planned as a park to complement the redevelopment of downtown Fairfax. In November 2004, the council initiated condemnation procedures to acquire the land as a park.
The council has determined that in the redevelopment of downtown Fairfax, a deficiency of parking spots will exist. So councilmembers voted to begin proceedings to acquire the land as a parking lot, which is expected to add 42 spots.
After the meeting, Mayor Robert Lederer said that the long-term plan is to continue to use the land as a park. Lederer said that the parking lot will only be in existence for two years before it is turned into a park. Councilmember Gail Lyon quickly stated that the land will be used as a parking lot not just for two years, but for an indefinite time. However, she concurred that the long-term plan is to turn the land into a park.
The council also began condemnation procedures for another property at 10610 Moore St. The land is owned by the heirs of Richard Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe established the Town of Providence in 1805, which has now become the City of Fairfax. City staff has determined that gravesites of three generations of Ratcliffes are buried on the site, according to council documents.
The city has decided to acquire the property in order to preserve it for historical purposes. City staff has not been able to identify all of the heirs, therefore the only way it can acquire the land is through condemnation, according to the documents.
THE COUNCIL also hosted a public hearing on the plan to go to two-way traffic in downtown Fairfax. North and Main streets, currently a pair of one-way streets, will each become two-way streets. Construction on the project is slated to begin in July and the change is to begin in October.
The rationale for the decision is to allow easier access to the businesses as part of the development of downtown Fairfax. "This is a project that is closely linked to the vision that has been set forth for downtown Fairfax," said Robert Sisson, city manager. The change is expected to slow the average driver going through downtown by more than 20 seconds.
Only a handful of speakers came to comment to the council about the proposal. Each of them stressed that the downtown area should become pedestrian friendly, and should make sure that crosswalks and curb cuts are highly visible. "We feel it is vitally important to look at pedestrian safety," said Annette Carr.
Katie Linehan came to speak against the proposed change. Linehan read a statement prepared by her father, Kevin, the owner of Bravada’s Wig Design. The statement read that the change will make it more difficult for some customers who will now need to make a left turn across several lanes of traffic to reach his business.
The council heard about the plans to renovate the Blenheim mansion as well. The building was used as a medical facility during the Civil War and injured soldiers wrote on the walls. The inscriptions have been recognized for their historic value.
The council is engaged in discussions about the plan to construct an interpretive center on the property. The renovation of the house is a separate project. The council generally approved the plan to restore the roof and engage in other work to help preserve the existing building. "In mind, what this does, is it gets the house finished," said Lederer. Lederer then suggested that a decision about the interpretive center needs to be made. "We need to make the other decision soon," he said.
IN OTHER business, the council approved a series of contracts for paving, concrete repairs and brick repairs for the upcoming year. The council initiated a package of proposed amendments to the zoning code which will now go to the Planning Commission for review and public hearings.
The council introduced appropriation resolutions for:
* $43,262 to cover cost overruns in the city’s bicentennial celebrations, particularly the Festival of Lights and Carols and First Fairfax.
* $8 million to begin the early phases of construction on the downtown redevelopment project.
* $1.28 million to fund the portion of the renovation of City Hall and the police station that will not be funded by bond sales.
The council awarded a contract to D.A. Foster Company for about $2.4 million for construction of a dry utility duct bank and a separate contract to Fort Myer Construction for about $3.9 million for North Street road improvements.