At the First Fairfax celebration Saturday, Dec. 31, the City of Fairfax bid farewell to a year marked by some budget changes, a new delegate and the redevelopment of the downtown area.
Free Speech Debate
In September, George Mason University entered the spotlight when the arrest of a student protester sparked a discussion on free-speech rights. On Sept. 29, junior Tariq Khan, 27, staged an impromptu protest in the George W. Johnson Student Center next to a table set up by recruiters from the U.S. Marine Corps. Khan, a Sterling native and veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said he is opposed to military recruiting techniques, and stood next to the table with a handmade sign with the words "Recruiters Lie, Don’t Be Deceived."
A Johnson Center employee told Khan he had to leave, and called campus police when Khan refused. The police arrested Khan for trespassing and took him to the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, where he was released on his own recognizance the same day. He was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
George Mason students staged a rally for Khan on Oct. 3, and on Oct. 5, faculty members spoke out on free speech at a teach-in. Professors and students alike signed petitions requesting the school to drop the charges as well as a review of the way school employees and campus officers handled the incident. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stepped in to represent Khan in his court case.
On Oct. 20, George Mason recommended that the Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney drop the charges, which the attorney did on Nov. 14.
It has been two decades since the Fairfax City Council and staff first floated the idea of a downtown revitalization project. Finally, the project is underway.
The redevelopment has three parts: a plan to turn five lots, flanked by Chain Bridge Road, North Street and University Drive, into a walkable mixed-use area called Old Town Village, to turn the Webb parking lot off North Street into a mixed-use building, and to develop what is now the Fairfax City Regional Library into condominiums. Other components to the project include tearing down the Weight Watchers building on Main Street to make way for temporary parking during construction and, later, an extension of the Kitty Pozer Garden, and to make both Main and North streets two-way. The City of Fairfax will build a brand-new library on the corner of North Street and Old Lee Highway on what is now a city-owned parking lot. After completion of the project, the current library will be torn down to make way for part of the mixed-use downtown.
At a July 26 meeting, the City Council changed the proposed rezoning of the library site from C-2 commercial retail, which citizens feared would open the site to businesses, to multifamily residential (condos or apartments).
In all, the project will cost $100 million and will add 60,000 feet of retail and 75,000 feet of office space.
Bulova Wins in 37th District
When two-term Del. Chap Petersen (D-37) left the House of Delegates to run for lieutenant governor, the race for his seat pitted former City of Fairfax Mayor John Mason against David Bulova, son of Braddock District Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D).
After a cordial race, Bulova won the election and followed Petersen to Richmond by a 52 percent to 46 percent margin. Nearly half of the 40,000 voters in the 37th District turned out to vote in the election.
The swing district, which Petersen had delivered into Democratic hands, had the only four-way race in the state. Libertarian Scott McPherson received 1.5 percent of the vote, while Independent Green Daniel Haugh got 99 votes.
Mason and Bulova signed a pledge vowing positive campaigns and stayed focused on the issues through the campaign. Bulova, a director on the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, emphasized his expertise in environmental matters. But he differed little from Republican John Mason on most issues. Mason brought more experience as an elected official, however, and a background in transportation.
After 16 years in the City of Fairfax government, Mason said he has no plans to go back into politics.
Education and transportation are the first things Bulova will begin working on when he goes down to Richmond, he said.
City Fire Department Facility
The City of Fairfax Fire Department is finishing up construction on a brand-new training facility, set to open in spring 2006. The facility, located in a section of the Pickett Industrial Park, will be used for police, public utilities workers, volunteer and professional firefighters from departments across Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington counties, as well as regular citizens.
In 2004, the city's volunteer fire department had raised $356,000, enough money to purchase a new fire engine. Because the city fire department had access to federal funds but was not allowed to use them for new projects, it swapped with the volunteers, offering to use the federal funds to buy the engine and the volunteer-raised money for a new facility.
The volunteer fire department bought the building for $356,000. About $260,000 for infrastructure costs such as initial water and electricity and a propane-start fire system are covered in the city's 2005-06 budget, and the 2006-07 budget includes $300,000 for a training classroom.
In all, the new training facility will cost about $600,000 to build.
The facility, made from padgenite and corrugated steel, is designed to mimic several buildings at once: One side of the building is five stories tall, mimicking both an office building and a taller apartment building, while the middle section is two floors, with the top floor resembling an attic. The other side is one floor and will contain steel props to make it resemble a kitchen or a bedroom. It also features balconies, outdoor and indoor stairwells, and cutout holes in the ceiling for trainees to practice vertical ventilation.
Bond issues have been causing problems in several city projects. In three separate instances, the lowest bid for a construction project has come in substantially higher than it s voter-approved bond funding: the City Hall expansion and new police station, Fairfax High School renovations, and Lanier Middle school renovations.
The City Council slimmed down the project with some cost-cutting measures, and will need to tap reserve funds to build the expansion to City Hall and the police station. The City of Fairfax School Board did the same for Fairfax High School's renovations.
For Lanier, the City of Fairfax School Board re-issued bids for the project in the fall rather than cut from its budget. In the City Council's last meeting of 2005, the council approved, as a consent agenda item, a $44.8 million appropriation resolution for Lanier and Fairfax High School renovations. A public hearing for this item is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 10.
City Celebrates Bicentennial
Throughout 2005, special events, signs and memorabilia announced the City's 200th birthday.
In 1805, Richard Ratcliffe successfully petitioned the Virginia General Assembly and the Town of Providence was formed. That town, which grew up around what is now the Fairfax Court House, became the City of Fairfax.
On New Year’s Eve 2004, the City had a "First Fairfax" celebration to kick off the festivities. The City's Fourth of July parade featured an inflatable birthday cake, and the Fairfax Museum and Visitor's Center held special presentations throughout the year on historical subjects. The city also released a CD history of Fairfax, and ended its bicentennial year with another "First Fairfax" celebration.