Most of the city residents who packed City Hall Tuesday, July 25, came to hear whether the City Council would approve putting an advisory referendum on the November ballot. Many of them went home disappointed.
During the open public hearing portion of the meeting, more than 10 people spoke out in favor of keeping the Stafford property, on Fairfax Boulevard between Stafford Drive and Plantation Parkway, as a piece of open space conservation land. Specifically, community members oppose the proposed development of residential condominiums on the property, also known as Rocky Gorge, and want to see the land untouched.
“This is one of the last green spaces in the city and we would certainly like to keep it that way,” said Melissa Peterson, who lives across Route 50 in Country Club Hills and expressed concern for added traffic and pollution.
In a City Council meeting earlier this month, Mayor Robert Lederer instructed councilmembers to separate the Rocky Gorge condominium application and the open space issue from each other. He said he had concern that many people, both in the community and on City Council, were combining the issue and therefore only in favor of one because of opposition to the other. This became clear in the public hearing, since so many residents who spoke out voiced their opposition to the condominiums as a preface for supporting the open space referendum.
“Rocky Gorge is a natural environment,” said Spencer Cake, a Mosby Woods resident who has widely advocated the addition of an open space referendum to the November ballot. “It buffers out the neighborhood and reduces noise.”
“The preservation of Rocky Gorge is very important to myself and many other residents in the city,” said Warren Bowes, a Mosby Woods resident.
After the open public hearing was closed, the open space referendum public hearing opened. Nearly 10 residents spoke out, all in favor of the referendum.
“This is democracy,” said Paul Sullivan, president of the County Club Hills Civic Association. “When we have the chance to put something on the ballot, whether we agree with it or not … it’s the right thing to do.”
DEMOCRACY PREVAILED WHEN council voted 4-2 to keep the referendum off the November ballot. They debated briefly while expressing their personal views on the issue. Councilmembers Gail Lyon and Scott Silverthorne both strongly supported the referendum, while Councilmembers Patrice Winter, Jeff Greenfield, Gary Rasmussen and Joan Cross didn’t think it was necessary. Mayor Lederer agreed with Lyon and Silverthorne, advocating that a similar 2000 referendum was an important step and the will of the people prevailed in that election.
“When you get the opportunity, take it to the voters,” said Mayor Lederer. “Why not ask?”
Unfortunately for the many Mosby Woods residents in attendance, Lederer didn’t get a chance to vote since four councilmembers struck down the question. Greenfield expressed his concern for the dollar amounts that haven’t been spelled out yet, mainly because of the money the city is counting on from the downtown redevelopment.
“There’s a lot of things we need to pay for, and as soon as taxes start going up, you’re [residents] going to be unhappy,” said Greenfield. “I believe we have a [good] track record with open space without an advisory referendum.”
“It does not preclude us from continuing to look at what’s available,” said Winter, who has previously supported looking at the purchase of potential open space properties as they arise.
“I do not think buying that property [Rocky Gorge] as open space is in the best interests of the city,” said Rasmussen.
After the vote, the room nearly cleared out as many upset residents filled the hallway outside. Arralean Ellis, Karl Robb and Angela Robb discussed the loss for the referendum after the vote. All three had come to the meeting to support open space, and all three felt cheated by the defeat.
“Calling ourself '[Fairfax] Tree City, U.S.A.' is a travesty if we maintain the current growth rate,” said Karl Robb during the public hearing. “We’re becoming 'Townhouse U.S.A.'”
LATER IN THE work session meeting, the Rocky Gorge condominium applicants presented council with an overview of the draft plans for the project. Elizabeth Baker gave a slide presentation on behalf of the developer and addressed many of the concerns brought up by residents and councilmembers in the preceding council meeting. She said the proposed development would actually designate about 10 acres of land to the city for open space, mainly since a large portion of the property in question is on a flood plain and can’t be developed. The condominiums would go up on the south side of a stream that intersects the property, with the north side of the stream remaining as a buffer to the Mosby Woods neighborhood. Baker said the closest Mosby Woods' home would be no less than 450 feet from the condominium structure, with many trees in between serving as both noise and sight buffers. The 123 multi-family units, restricted to people age 55 and up, would be ready for occupancy sometime in 2009 or 2010, said Baker.
To help alleviate traffic issues at the site, Baker showed City Council how a drive perpendicular to Fairfax Boulevard would offset some problems and would also give condominium residents and visitors a sense of place. The drive would go up with about 25 feet of landscaping in between it and the boulevard. The plan also calls for a traffic light between the lights already at Eaton Place and at Plantation Parkway. Greenfield questioned the need for such a light, adding that it seemed possible to create access to the property from the east and the west, instead of just the southern entrance at Route 50. Silverthorne asked about whether the units would be affordable, and Rasmussen questioned the need for senior units in a slowing housing market. City Council will hear the application for the permit in September.
OTHER ITEMS acted upon or discussed at the July 25 City Council meeting and work session were:
* The approval of a special-use permit for Urban Retail Properties Company of Virginia, to allow a big box retail tenant in the Fair City Mall. The tenant, DSW Shoe Warehouse, would add to the improvements consistently being made at the mall, said Silverthorne.
* Discussion of the placement of tennis and basketball courts at Providence Park, on West Drive. Neighbors of the park spoke out in the public hearing with concerns about park placement and trails throughout the park, which City Council addressed in the work session.