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Business Owners Sound Off

City Council hears complaints, concerns on Old Town growth.

At a Nov. 1 meeting, the Fairfax City Council listened to downtown Fairfax business owners express their three major concerns on the eve of the Old Town redevelopment project: parking, two-way traffic and utility service.

The main question centered around the amount of available parking before, during and after construction. Kevin Hildebeidel, an attorney whose office is on Main Street, wondered how the parking garage proposed as part of the Old Town Village development would fit as many cars as it promised.

"From what I saw on the Web site, it looks like it is only three levels," said Hildebeidel. "Will the developer be able to deliver the spaces they promised?"

Three stories of the garage are underground, said David Hudson with the Office of Community Development and Planning. Each level will have about 94 spaces, he said.

"They have to deliver the spaces," said Mayor Rob Lederer. "It’s part of the ordinance."

Many business owners still had woes about the two-way traffic switch, even though the switch is not due to happen for another year. The council decided to postpone the shift earlier this year.

"I can’t recall anybody thinking or saying ‘This is going to work,’" said John Brice, who works on Main Street, of the two-way shift.

Lederer, who led the discussion, said he wanted to focus his efforts on the construction going on now.

A recent mishap in an office building in the 3900 block of University Drive, when the building lost power for several days after an electric box blew and caught the electrical room on fire, prompted a few business owners to wonder whether such an occurrence could happen at their building.

AT THE REGULAR City Council meeting Tuesday night, the council unanimously approved the budget recommendations put forth for the 2006-07 fiscal year.

These guidelines include implementing the recently-adopted Comprehensive Plan, which sets development guidelines for the city, continuing with downtown redevelopment, and finalizing transportation projects such as the Lee Highway Corridor master plan and the Northfax Gateway. No additional city personnel will be added in 2006-2007, according to the guidelines, and the city will maintain the general fund Capital Improvement Project transfer at the council's financial policy level of 5 percent of proposed expenditures.

Councilmember Scott Silverthorne expressed concern about rising real property taxes. "We ought to think about some of the other revenue sources rather than the real property tax," he said.

Lederer said he was worried about the $3.4 million surplus on the 2005-06 budget, which assistant city manager David Hodgkins presented at the Oct. 25 work session. A projected surplus of that size is alarming, said Lederer, after the council and city staff spent time working to balance the budget.

"It’s very disheartening to find out four years later, five years later, that, oops, here’s another $3 million as having a good year," he said. "We can at least use the money to make up what we should have done years ago." He suggested the surplus go toward tax relief for city residents rather than into the following year’s fund balance.

ACCORDING TO one of the 2006-07 proposed budget guidelines, additional revenue from the "Tax Stabilization Fund" and from increased real estate tax income will be used to "maintain or further reduce the proposed real estate tax rate."

At Tuesday’s work session, the council discussed pedestrian safety and road improvements throughout the City of Fairfax. Councilmember Gail Lyon pushed for a safer intersection at Chain Bridge Road and Fairfax Boulevard, which she said is difficult to cross on foot. The intersection has crosswalk markings, but no walk signals.

"There is no safe way to walk across that street," said Lyon.

City of Fairfax Public Works will spend $10,000 for new traffic crossing signals, said director of public works John Veneziano. Lederer and others were slightly wary of the cost, but the council agreed to move forward on the project.

Other improvements were nixed by city staff, such as a crosswalk on Chain Bridge Road at Warwick Avenue, deemed too dangerous, and a single pedestrian phase for the signals in Old Town Fairfax, which Veneziano said would back up traffic too much.

In April, EarthTech conducted a study on improvements to Old Lee Highway. The firm determined that the road conditions were not up to par in several places along Old Lee Highway, between Ridge Avenue and Layton Hall Drive.

Some short-term recommendations included removing excess pavement between Daniels Run Elementary School and Cornell Road and laying sod in its place, filling in the missing sections of sidewalk between Cornell Road and Ridge Avenue, and painting new crosswalks and school pavement markings. The total cost of these improvements, along with engineering costs, would be $900,000.

"If there are things on here we don’t agree with, can we take them to the community?" asked Councilmember Jeffrey Greenfield. The council decided to conduct a community outreach meeting before they went any further on Old Lee Highway road improvements.

In other matters, the City Council also approved a consent agenda that awarded a contract for $380,000 for Sungard Pentamation hardware and software upgrade project, named City-owned property on Spring Lake Terrace "Country Club Hills Commons," and set an appropriation resolution of $105,000 to supplement funding for the 2005-06 Bicentennial celebrations and Festival of Lights events for public hearing at the council’s next meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 29.