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Council Punts on Sound Walls, Again

Council to study proposed changes to gun laws.

The Fairfax City Council delayed action, for possibly up to two years, on a proposal to install sound walls through the Crestmont neighborhood along George Mason Drive.

The issue of building the walls has been batted around by the council for the past several years. Residents in the area say that the new road, which has not yet opened, will act like a freeway and cause potential issues of excess noise and safety concerns if vehicles travel at high speeds on the road.

Opponents of the walls say that the money can be better spent and argue that soundwalls along a city street are unprecedented. The cost of installing the walls depends on their construction material. The most expensive estimate would be for stone walls that would cost $540,000. The city would be directly responsible for $270,000 of that with the rest coming from state and federal grants.

Mayor Rob Lederer, who favors the walls, said that the issue should not be about whether or not the city should spend funds that help only a few residents. He pointed to a section of sidewalk recently approved which that essentially benefit only four houses. “We do neighborhood projects all the time,” he said during the Nov. 28 Council work session.

Councilmember Gary Rassmussen, who has always been opposed to the soundwalls, re-iterated his past opinion, that the walls do not need to be constructed and that the money could be better spent on other transportation needs in the city.

THE COUNCIL drew up along its familiar lines with Rassmussen and Councilmembers Joan Cross and Patrice Winter opposed to the walls.

Councilmembers Gail Lyon and R. Scott Silverthorne are in favor of the walls. Lederer would only be permitted to cast a vote in the case of a tie, leaving Councilmember Jeff Greenfield as the swing vote.

On Tuesday night, Greenfield suggested a wait-and-see approach. Greenfield said the road has not yet opened, so it is impossible to know if the walls will be necessary. “We are talking about spending money on a wall to solve a problem that may not exist,” he said. “I personally feel that we should finish the road.”

Finishing the road will likely take some time. John Veneziano, director of the Department of Public Works, said that bidding for the final portion of the road construction could begin next April or May. At the earliest, the road could be finished by the end of 2007.

It would then take time for drivers to establish a traffic pattern on the road and for its impacts on the residents to be studied.

Winter estimated it could be two years before sufficient data would be available to make a decision. By that time, she noted, a new council could be in place. She suggested ending the limbo and making a decision on the matter, allowing a new council to approach it with a clean slate. “Let’s just close the book on it now,” she said.

Her suggestion was greeted with silence from her colleagues, although Silverthorne later commended her for her “directness.”

Since it was in a work session, councilmembers took no formal action, but they did decide to draft a letter informing the neighbors of the new plan.

DURING THE COUNCIL’S regular meeting, they approved a proposed legislative agenda for the upcoming year. The agenda lays out the city’s positions on a variety of issues likely to come before the General Assembly when it meets in January.

One item on the list drew questions from Silverthorne. The agenda had initially proposed supporting a proposal by Fairfax County to forbid citizens to carry guns at Police Stations. The proposal comes in the wake of a May incident in which two officers were killed in what was supposed to be a secured parking lot at the Sully District Police Station.

Guns are prohibited at courthouses, and supporters say this would extend that to police facilities

Silverthorne wondered if this proposed law could result in depriving gun owners, some of whom have gone through an extensive licensing process, of their rights. “I’m wondering if that doesn’t take it a little too far,” he said. “My only fear is, at what point does it become your chipping away at people who have a legitimate right?”

Greenfield agreed with Silverthorne, and the council asked that the issue be further studied. The rest of the legislative agenda was approved unanimously.

In other business The council set public hearings for a proposal to borrow $10 million to complete renovations to Lanier Middle School and construction work on Jermantown Road, for a plan to pay $2.6 million to purchase a property in Merrifield for the Lamb Center [see story page 3] and for a plan to allow the Chancery Park Homeowners Association to do landscaping on a traffic island. Each of the three hearings was set for Dec. 12.

The council also voted unanimously to formally add a package of new ordinances to the city code and approved a set of guidelines for city staff members to use as they develop next year’s budget.

For more information about these items, including staff reports on each of them, visit http://www.fairfaxva.gov/Cityclerk/Agenda/20061128%20Agenda.pdf.