The City of Fairfax is calling on all members of the community to help to develop a cohesive plan that will add visual appeal to its main thoroughfare.
It is a struggle that businesses along Fairfax Boulevard, or the Route 50 corridor, have faced for years. As the area continues to grow, and people continue to unsuccessfully avoid gridlock by taking alternate driving routes, the city hopes many of those drivers will park and stay a while.
So now the city has to figure out how to do that. The master-planning process for the corridor officially began last December when the city approved that businesses there could spend their tax dollars to hire a town-planning consulting firm. After narrowing the field from 15 firms to one, the city has begun working with Dover, Kohl & Partners, a Florida-based firm, to create Northern Virginia’s “premier business boulevard,” said David Hudson, director of community development and planning.
“You have the rare opportunity to make strategic decisions, so that in a generation you get the town that you want,” said Victor Dover, principal-in-charge of projects at Dover, Kohl & Partners.
They city hired the Florida firm because its qualifications and expertise were exactly what the city was looking for, said Hudson. At a Tuesday, Feb. 13. meeting with city officials, Dover presented an overview of what’s to come, focusing mainly on the large amount of community outreach that both the firm and the city need to activate to get the ball rolling in the right direction. He calls it “designing in public.”
Beginning Saturday, March 24, the firm will host community events for one week. The Saturday event is the most important, said Dover, since it will incorporate the community’s ideas. At a location to be announced, the firm will provide attendees with all of the tools necessary to play architect for a day. Small groups of people will draw up blueprints to showcase their ideas for the future of the corridor.
“There’s a lot going into this and we need your feedback, or it won’t be worth the paper it’s written on,” said Mayor Robert Lederer.
Lederer also noted that getting upset “after-the-fact” isn’t good enough in this process, since the community has the opportunity to be engaged from the very beginning. While Dover discourages “single-issue extremists” to get in on the planning, City Councilmember Scott Silverthorne disagreed.
“Let me assure you, there are plenty of [single-issue extremists] in this community; even some of us [on City Council] can be single-issue extremists,” said Silverthorne. “We’re going to have to think outside the box to see some of this stuff happen.”
Dover showed slides of projects in other cities that have blossomed into success stories. In Cathedral City, Calif., a run-down main corridor added some landscaping to its streets, increasing its visual appeal. Silverthorne is familiar with the area and said the development has been extremely positive.
“It was a pit of a community, and they have turned that community around,” he said.
Dover encouraged the city that strip malls are not a lost cause. He showed examples of how the malls’ sprawling cement landscapes can be transformed with both different uses, architecture and landscaping.
“Don’t consider it done just because the property has been used one time,” said Dover. Current problems can be solved by planning and building in piece by piece, which is why the community involvement is so important. City Council is reaching out as far as possible with this one; Lederer suggested that councilmembers personally e-mail everyone they know.
“I would challenge those of us sitting up here … between us we have the e-mail addresses of the movers and shakers [in the city],” said Lederer. “My experience is if they get an e-mail from one of us, they’re much more apt to participate.”
Following the March 24 community design event, the firm will set up a temporary design studio somewhere in the city, host an open house event and develop a work-in-progress presentation for the public at the end of that week. After that process, project planners will go back to the drawing board to assemble the “skeletons of the ideas and look at technicalities that will have to either be overcome or accepted,” said Dover.
“It’s a big enough issue; you never know where the good ideas are going to come from,” said Councilmember Patrice Winter. “I think everyone should be invited to participate.”