Wall Delayed

Wall Delayed

City Council votes to proceed with George Mason Boulevard but wait for wall funds.

Members of the Crestmont community will have to keep waiting for their wall.

The Fairfax City Council voted to go ahead with building George Mason Boulevard but to hold off building a sound barrier along the road until state funds become available at their meeting Tuesday, Sept. 27.

The original motion was to build a $540,000 brick sound barrier, an accommodation that members of the Crestmont community actively pursued. But before the City Council voted on the motion, Councilmember Jeff Greenfield introduced a substitute motion for the city to attempt to obtain funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for the wall. It passed 4-2, with Councilmembers Gail Lyon and Scott Silverthorne opposing.

Greenfield said he understood citizens' concerns for the wall, but that "the entire city is going to pay for it." He suggested the city try to find alternate sources of funding, like VDOT. If no alternate funding is available, he said, the question would come back to the city.

The issue, over a decade old, is a contentious one. When the Crestmont neighborhood, a development of townhouses and single-family houses along Chain Bridge Road, was built in the early 1990s, the city reserved a 70-foot right-of-way through the middle of the property. As part of the deal, the city required the developers to notify prospective Crestmont homeowners about the right-of-way.

The construction of George Mason Boulevard was proposed in the early 1990s to alleviate traffic along the residential University Drive, among other uses, but Crestmont residents opposed the idea of a main thoroughfare running through neighborhood. Over the years, part of the road was built, plans expanded to four lanes and shrunk to two, and the city proposed to build a brick wall as a sound barrier and safety measure.

The sound barrier was the issue at hand Tuesday, with main concerns revolving around, on one hand, safety and noise issues, and on the other, the funding of such an expensive wall and whether city money should be used for neighborhood projects.

"The wall impacts more than 15 families. There are 100 families in the community," said Crestmont resident Lisa Murphy during the public hearing section of the meeting. Murphy said she was concerned for the safety of her son, who is a toddler, living near George Mason Boulevard without a wall there.

"This is an issue of fairness to the whole city, an issue of compromise," said Councilmember Gary Rasmussen. "People forget this road has been compromised from where it was in the beginning."

Other neighborhoods, such as ones on Pickett Road, might need sound barriers but don't have them, said Rasmussen.

The city would not show favoritism to the Crestmont community by building the wall, said Silverthorne.

"It is the right thing to do," he said.

Years before, said Mayor Rob Lederer, the Great Oaks community asked for a sound barrier between the community and the motorcycle-heavy Patriot Harley Davidson dealership nearby. He supported that project, but ultimately, the funds and feasibility weren’t enough.

"To say that we shouldn't spend money because one of their pet projects got pulled out of the budget, quite frankly, makes me sad," he said. Lederer could see a difference between enhancement projects for neighborhoods and projects that benefit the community at large. The Crestmont sound barrier, he said, was a safety and noise measure.

"Doggone it, I don't like spending money more than anybody else, but this is what small towns are all about," said Lederer. He received a round of applause from the residents at the meeting.

The over 50 Crestmont residents who turned out for the vote left in disappointment.

"I don't foresee additional funds coming," said Mark Murphy, a Crestmont resident of over a decade. "They grossly failed in there." He said he thought the City Council should hold up construction of the road until it obtained funds for the wall.

"It is very disappointing, because I think with [Hurricane] Katrina, we're not going to get any funding from VDOT," said Ann Muse, president of the Crestmont Homeowners Association. The only reason the community "gave in" on the road, she said, was because a sound barrier would be built along it.

IN OTHER MATTERS, the City Council unanimously approved a franchise agreement with Verizon Virginia Inc. to provide cable television services in city limits. Since the 1980s, the City of Fairfax had only one cable provider: Media General, and later, Cox Communications.

Verizon, which is in the middle of a national project to make fiber-optic cable available to houses, was also approved for a franchise agreement with Fairfax County Monday, Sept. 26.

Competition is beneficial to the city, said councilmembers, and will help lower cable prices and give incentive for companies to provide better customer service.

"It's important that our residents have a viable choice, and that's the real issue from my perspective," said Silverthorne.

As part of the 15-year franchise agreement, Verizon will pay the city a franchise fee of 5 percent of Verizon's gross revenue per year and a public and governmental cable television programming grant of 3 percent gross revenue less the franchise fee. The city will also hold a $100,000 performance bond in an account to make sure Verizon's service meets standards, and public buildings will receive free digital service.

Councilmember Joan Cross wondered what would happen when Cox’s franchise agreement came up for renewal 10 years from now, and whether changes during that time span would give Cox an unfair advantage over Verizon in their franchise agreement.

"I don’t want us to get locked into a situation where … we’ve lost our bargaining power," said Cross.

Former city attorney Bud Roeder, providing counsel at the meeting, said that while different terms of various franchise agreements will vary, the agreements as a whole cannot be more favorable or less burdensome than upon other companies.