In a work session Tuesday, Oct. 11, City Council took another step along the way to improving Old Lee Highway. City manager Bob Sisson and city engineer David Summers presented a final draft report with recommendations for improvements along the road, focusing on the section between Ridge Avenue and Layton Hall Drive.
The Community Appearance Committee initialized the highway improvement project in 2002, said Summers. The City hired Earth Tech, a transportation engineering company, to do a preliminary study, and conducted two public workshops to gauge community feedback, before coming up with the draft report.
As it is now, said the report, Old Lee Highway is not as attractive, functional or pedestrian-friendly as it could be. It is a two-lane road marked by inconsistent segments of shoulder, pavement and gutters. Non-uniformity of sidewalks and crosswalks make it hard for bicyclists and pedestrians to use Old Lee Highway, and, according to the report, excess pavement in some places is "a likely factor contributing to passing on the right and aggressive driving behaviors."
The report outlined two main plans. The short-term plan, which includes standardizing pavement width, adding signs and pavement markings in the road near Fairfax High School, connecting sidewalks, and enforcing speed limits more strongly, will cost $900,000, said Summers. A long-term plan, which would reconfigure Old Lee Highway as a 28-foot-wide, two-lane road with turn lanes as well as enhancing pedestrian and bicycle circulation and adding a number of crosswalks, would cost $3 million, he said.
While receptive to the report, the City Council decided to take a step back in the process and work more with the communities affected by the proposed changes. Some residents along Old Lee Highway aren’t thrilled by the prospect of major changes to the road, councilmembers said.
MANY RESIDENTS wanted Old Lee Highway to remain two lanes and do not want the increased traffic that a larger road would bring, said Councilmember Jeff Greenfield. "If we are going back to the community, I hope we’re not going back with a plan that’s different from what had been done," he said.
Some in the community feel like they have not been heard yet, said Councilmember Gail Lyon. "We need to slow way down on this project," she said.
Mayor Rob Lederer asked for an executive summary of the recommendations and study findings to share with the community. He proposed another work session on the item.
"We ought to be really thoughtful as we go out into the community on this, because this is a sensitive subject," said Councilmember Scott Silverthorne.
At the work session, councilmembers also heard a presentation by city staff on a citywide watershed study and management plan, prepared by the Louis Berger Groups, Inc. and Gannett Fleming, Inc. The plan proposed ways to reduce storm water at the source through low-impact development (LID) measures such as green building concepts, green roofs, and open space. Much of the City of Fairfax is built out, said the report, but storm water reduction methods can be retrofitted to many of the buildings already there.
"We need to educate all the citizens as to the importance of the ways they handle water on their property," said Dr. Chris Jones, chair of environmental science and policy at George Mason University, who worked on the project.
Adrian Fremont, special projects engineer with the City of Fairfax, said part of the grant to develop the management plan was used to study Ashby Pond, part of the Ashby Road property purchased by the city in 2004 for open space and recreational use. After studying the pond and the citywide watershed, staff and a citizen task force added a new recommendation: to dredge the silty Ashby Pond and turn it into a working storm water detention pond.
"On-site treatment of storm water is very important so that the larger amount doesn't get into our streams," said Jones.
Councilmembers worried that the pond, originally bought with the intention of being a recreation center for the community, would become a dry ditch like other detention ponds.
The pond would still have water in it, said Fremont, but would be designed to hold overflow from average summer storms as well.
"I don't want to turn a community asset, in the pond, into a storm water detention for future developers," said Lederer.
"This is just an information study," said Fremont. "The pond has a lot of sediment. We're talking about enhancing the pond."
Councilmember Gary Rasmussen said that a storm water detention pond would be a good idea, but it would be useful to know how to do it.
Lederer recommended the staff come back with more information about the option to turn Ashby Pond into a double-duty storm water detention facility.
OTHER WORK SESSION and meeting agenda items included:
* After working on ways to better enforce codes, City of Fairfax Police Chief Richard Rappoport said city staff came up with several ways to streamline and speed operations. A code enforcement team meets weekly to coordinate enforcement efforts between police and fire departments, said Rappoport, and on July 1 created a code enforcement hotline for neighbors to report violations.
Before, said Rappoport, the Department of Public Works cautiously worked through all the legal tape before fixing code violations themselves — most commonly, cutting someone’s overgrown grass. Now, said Rappoport, the city assumes a "certain amount of risk" and just goes and does it themselves as soon as they can, a system that he said has been working well so far.
* A discussion of enhancements to the current real estate tax relief program available to elderly and disabled citizens in the city. Seniors can qualify based on two limits, assets and income, said David Hodgkins, assistant city manager. The city raised the asset limit to the state maximum of $340,000, allowing 25 percent more people to qualify for tax relief, he said, and is now considering raising the income limit from $52,000 to $72,000 as well. Councilmembers Joan Cross and Patrice Winter wanted to wait until the next budget cycle to apply the exemptions, while the other councilmembers decided to move forward with the project.
* A unanimous vote to authorize a Municipal Power Aggregation program, where the City of Fairfax can negotiate with power suppliers for a better price on behalf of its residents. The program will not be enacted, however, until wholesale energy prices go down, said Mary Edwards, representative for Dominion Virginia Power.