Council Weighs Cable Competition

Council Weighs Cable Competition

City Council examines Verizon franchise, new development.

Verizon fiber-optic cable could be coming to the City of Fairfax.

At its first meeting back from the August recess, the City Council heard a presentation by Verizon representatives, about a franchise agreement with the telecom company that would provide cable services to city businesses and residents.

Verizon, which is undertaking a national project to make fiber-optic cable available to houses, is also in consideration for a franchise agreement with Fairfax County.

According to Verizon representative Dick Beville, the city approached Verizon with a request for service.

"We dramatically moved up the schedule to build out the city," said Beville. By late 2006, he said, Verizon would be able to provide cable services to the City of Fairfax. If the franchise is approved, Fairfax, along with a few other jurisdictions, would be the first to receive cable services from Verizon.

During its Sept. 13 meeting, the City Council was receptive to the franchise proposal. "The competition is going to be very good for customers here," said Councilmember Joan Cross.

"This is definitely the best system we could possibly design," said Beville. The fiber-optic cables would be overlaid atop current lines Verizon has for phone service, said Beville. Verizon would place cable underground as part of the city’s current utility-undergrounding project, he said.

Councilmember Gail Lyon said she had heard complaints from residents, of Verizon digging in yards without notifying the homeowner first. According to Beville, Verizon has improved the notification process since the fiber-optic project began. The company first sends door hangers to residents a few weeks in advance, he said, followed by a letter and another door hanger. Also, he said, the supervisor of every crew will speak both English and Spanish.

"We have to acquire customers here," said Beville. "We have to get customers to switch from the provider they have today."

"When the cable is all laid, what the citizens in the city will be most concerned about is the service you’ll be able to provide," said Cross.

At the Sept. 13 meeting, the City Council approved the consideration of the franchise agreement on the consent agenda. A public hearing regarding the agreement with Verizon is scheduled for the council's Sept. 27 meeting.

THE NEXT work session item, an examination of a proposed by-right development on Ridge Avenue called "The Bluff at Great Oaks," saw a strong citizen turnout. The development, bordered by Old Lee Highway to the southeast and Ridge Avenue to the northeast, has been in the works for several years in one form or another, said Pat Gallagher, whose home in the Great Oaks neighborhood borders the property.

The Bluff at Great Oaks, proposed by The Engineering Groupe, failed to meet city zoning standards, said deputy zoning administrator Michelle Coleman, and so must be revised before approval.

According to a memo sent to The Engineering Groupe, the proposed cul-de-sac does not meet the minimum radius of 45 feet for fire apparatus, and should be built so that there would be enough area to build a retaining wall and preserve more trees. The 10 proposed lots are not at right angles to the street (or radial to curved street lines), and several of the lots do not meet width or frontage requirements, said the memo.

Drainage on the property was another issue. According to Coleman, the developers had not planned sufficiently for storm water management.

The Engineering Groupe had agreed to make the necessary changes, she said.

But neighboring citizens, many of whom live in Great Oaks or in the Ridge Avenue neighborhood, expressed concern about the project. The property is now heavily wooded, said new resident Jim Zawada, and clearing the trees for development would negatively impact the community.

"When we discovered the tree canopy in Fairfax, we thought we’d died and gone to heaven," said Zawada about his decision to move to Fairfax. In today’s market, he said, treed lots are heavily sought-after and would increase the market value of a neighborhood.

"When the community of Great Oaks was built, it was done so with great care given toward preserving trees," said Carmen Sevilla, president of the Great Oaks Homeowner’s Association. During the public hearing portion of the meeting, Sevilla asked that the City Council consider buying part of the property to donate as open space and act as a "buffer zone" for neighboring houses.

Such a purchase might be a possibility, said Mayor Robert Lederer in the work session.

"I think it is in the city’s interest to sit down with the developer and be creative as we can," he said. "The goal is to get as big a buffer zone as possible."

At the meeting, the City Council also approved a measure to add Article VII to Chapter 14 and Amend Article II, Chapter 110 to City Code regarding sexually-oriented businesses. City Code defines sexually-oriented businesses, referred to as "adult uses," as any adult store, motel, theater, nightclub, entertainment business or other establishment whose interest lies in sexually explicit material or activity. The amendments mean that sexually-oriented businesses would have to go through a new process to apply for a permit, including criminal background checks, and that business owners and employees would have to adhere to strict standards, said town attorney Brian Lubkeman. The idea, he said, is to "minimize the opportunity for crimes."

The council delayed a consideration of a proposal to construct a sound barrier adjacent to a portion of George Mason Blvd. until the Sept. 27 meeting.

Other items addressed in the meeting and work session were:

* The renewal of the Constitutional Officer Agreement for the Treasurer and Commissioner of Revenue passed simultaneously.

* An extension to a contract with Patton Harris Rust & Associates for design and construction services for North Street improvements passed unanimously.

* The council accepted the FY 2005-’06 budget for the newly-formed Fairfax Boulevard Business Improvement District (BID) Board of Directors at about $400,000, collected from a 6-cent tax on businesses in the BID, said Geoff Durham of the Economic Development Division. Of that budget, $30,000 is set aside for an office location at 3900 Jermantown Road, said board chair Joe Napolitano.