Incumbents Pursue Another Term

Incumbents Pursue Another Term

Fairfax Boulevard, fiscal restraint a priority for incumbent candidates for City Council.

As their campaigns for another term proceed, the incumbents on the City Council all seem to agree about the major issues facing Fairfax in the future. Every City Council member cited the redevelopment of the Fairfax Boulevard corridor as a necessary focus, but urged fiscal restraint in the coming years, after a series of expensive construction projects, such as the $20 million City Hall and police station renovation, utility and road improvements with downtown redevelopment, and overhauls of Lanier Middle School and Fairfax High School. For each councilmember, a chance to see these projects through to completion is the main incentive for running again.

As in 2004’s election, Mayor Rob Lederer is running unopposed.

According to Lederer, everything else takes a backseat to the general issue of development in the city. The city is facing over 150 proposed projects total, and must exercise "focus and discipline" in making sure these projects fit into the density and look of the city.

"Never in my lifetime have I seen this much activity," said Lederer.

Everyone agrees that Fairfax Boulevard redevelopment is necessary, said Lederer. They differ, however, on whether residential development should be a part of the project, he said.

"I don't believe we have to go to the highest and most dense redevelopment options," said Lederer, citing at least four residential projects proposed for the corridor. Residential development should be treated as a tool and used wisely, not as by-right, he said.

In recent weeks, the City of Fairfax has begun to examine its role as the home of several homeless programs such as the hypothermia shelter, which ended March 31, and the Lamb Center, which closed for two days last month due to overwhelmed capacity. Lederer and members of the City Council agree that the city needs to partner with Fairfax County to address homelessness.

"The City of Fairfax has taken the lead for 16 years in the area," he said. "But the community is only 6 square miles."

COUNCILMEMBER JOAN CROSS, serving her second term on the City Council, hopes to see major city projects through while keeping an eye on the purse strings. "On the one hand, we've begun some really tremendous projects in the city, and on the other hand, we're going to need to be very vigilant in our expenditures in the next several years," said Cross.

The most effective way to encourage businesses on Fairfax Boulevard to invest in redevelopment is to apply a marketing plan much like that of the Old Town redevelopment project, she said. Improvements to Fairfax Boulevard itself and to the lighting along it can come out of capital improvement project funds, she said.

However, said Cross, affordable housing is probably the most serious challenge facing the city. Rising property assessments and a finite amount of housing have caused some residents to leave Fairfax, she said.

"I hate that seniors feel compelled to leave the city because of rising assessments and fixed incomes, but I don’t necessarily feel that providing taxpayer dollars to support affordable housing is the way to go either," said Cross.

Maintaining a strong economic base and steady finances comes down to good communication, said Cross. As long as the city continues to keep closely involved with its businesses and residents as well as county and regional governments, she said, it will remain economically successful.

THE REDUCTION of the real estate tax rate to 71cents per $100 of assessed value is a point of pride for Councilmember Jeff Greenfield, seeking his seventh term on the City Council.

"In a time of increased assessments, we took time to look at the things we do and the areas where we can look at some cuts," he said. If he is re-elected, said Greenfield, the next term will be all about winding down current projects and keeping a steady budget.

"Over the next two years, we’ve got to really focus on economic development," said Greenfield, adding that he is open to consideration of residential projects on a case-by-case basis. It is the business community that helps keep taxes low, he said, and the city must do all it can to make Fairfax a good place for these businesses. In the coming years, said Greenfield, he would like to focus on strengthening the Fairfax Innovative Center, a two-year "incubator" program that helps businesses get off the ground. The program recently expanded, he said, but the city should work to encourage the businesses that come through the program to stay in the City of Fairfax.

"It’s a missed opportunity," said Greenfield.

Infill development is another major issue, said Greenfield. Although a recent vote to determine a blighted house as one of the most personally difficult decisions he has made, Greenfield said that the city needs to tighten ordinances so that home improvement projects do not take forever.

Greenfield would also like to continue the Fairfax Renaissance Housing program, a partnership with Renaissance Housing Corporation. The program, with a zero-interest program for two years, detailed plans and awards given to houses every year, has spurred home improvements in the city, he said.

"What we're really looking at is visible improvements from the curb," said Greenfield.

THE FIRST COUPLE of terms are the learning period for any elected official, said Councilmember Gail Lyon, who entered the City Council in 2004.

"I ran on a vision for the city, one that would keep it a rich, small-town atmosphere," said Lyon. The council must pay close attention to infill development projects in order to make sure that the city’s density and character are not compromised, she said.

"We have to keep a very steady eye on Route 50," said Lyon. The city has already provided tax incentives for the businesses along the corridor, as well as incentives to consolidate land, she said, but it can always do more, such as zoning ordinances that would make it easier to refurbish property.

"I would like to see different things going on there," she said. Fairfax Boulevard would work well with a mix of retail, business and motels, she said, but the corridor is not meant for condominiums.

"It's not a residential corridor. I don’t see any possibility for that yet," she said.

In the next few years, said Lyon, the council should focus on current projects rather than beginning new ones. However, she said, she looks forward to the goal of turning the site of the old Weight Watchers building into an extension of the Kitty Pozer Garden.

THE CITY HAS much to do in terms of economic development in the next few years, said Councilmember Gary Rasmussen, who is running for a ninth term.

"That really continues to be a challenge we haven't quite found the key to," he said. The city should provide further tax incentives and streamline the application process for businesses that want to redevelop along the Fairfax Boulevard corridor. He has changed his position on the suitability of residential development along the corridor, he said, and now believes that these proposals could be appropriate if properly mixed with office and retail.

According to Rasmussen, the biggest challenge Fairfax must come up against is the "intense development" occurring in the surrounding areas, such as the MetroWest development to the north and condominiums going up along Route 29.

"We're going to be continually in the future impacted by more and more of that traffic, and there are not many ways of coping," said Rasmussen. The city should consider adding another lane on the Route 50 corridor west from Route 123, he said, using funding from the general fund or receiving financial help from VDOT to do this.

Social services for the homeless is another issue for Rasmussen. Homelessness is a regional problem, he said, but it is growing in the City of Fairfax. While the city should not have to operate direct services, he said, but could provide more money from the general fund to beef up services that the city contracts from the county.

"To the extent that we could provide money to a county or regional center for the homeless, we should look at that," he said.

GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT has been a major issue in Fairfax for at least four years now, said Councilmember Scott Silverthorne.

"There was an election decided on this issue several years ago in the city, and I don’t believe has subsided," said Silverthorne, also running for his ninth term on the council. Fairfax is feeling the push of large-scale developments, he said, from developers looking to put up high-density condominiums to homeowners building major additions onto their houses. As the county continues to grow, he said, the council needs to keep a heavy hand over these proposed developments. He would support introducing ordinances creating extra hurdles for people seeking to build large homes on small lots, he said.

"There needs to be an extra layer of controls in place to protect existing neighborhoods and neighbors from development," said Silverthorne. Pre-approved mock plans for infill development that city planning staff are putting together can be useful, he said.

The city must be "intimately involved" in Fairfax Boulevard redevelopment as well, said Silverthorne. The council should spent the same amount of energy on this project as it did on the project downtown, he said.

Silverthorne, who describes himself as a "slow growth" backer, is skeptical of residential development along the corridor, he said. While mixed-use developments could be beneficial, he said, too many high-density residential buildings would dramatically alter the city's character and economic base.

Silverthorne also hopes to continue a project he is particularly proud of: preserving open space. In the last few years, he said, the city has acquired 56 acres of open space.

COUNCILMEMBER Patrice Winter cites "unfinished business" as the driving incentive to seek a second term. Besides the police station, city schools and downtown redevelopment, Winter said, she would also like to see Fairfax with its own community center.

Currently, Fairfax High School is designated as a community center, but because it is operated by Fairfax County Public Schools, said Winter, the building is rarely usable for city events.

"It's booked all the time, and a majority of the bookees are county organizations," said Winter. Building something new is not an option right now because of the recent spending and bonded projects, she said, but the city should examine using CIP funds to refurbish Green Acres, once city staff moves out after City Hall renovations.

"We don’t have to buy anything, we don’t have to build anything," said Winter. Green Acres is already the site of the Child Development Center and the senior center, she said.

Another one of Winter's goals is devising a long-term plan for the city. The council must look carefully at all new infill developments, she said, keeping traffic in mind.

However, Winter said, she does not want to put the kibosh on all proposed residential development along Fairfax Boulevard, preferring instead to look at each case as it arrives.

"I would like that corridor to be a vibrant business corridor," said Winter. The city could consider implementing a building renaissance program for businesses much like the Fairfax Renaissance Housing program, she said.

"Businesses need to be encouraged to put on their best coat," said Winter.