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Votes

Slow Down!

City Council discusses speed humps, approves Route 50 retail development at Feb. 27 meeting.

The issue of speed humps on Stratford Avenue became a hot one at the Tuesday, Feb. 27, City Council meeting.

Residents along the avenue spoke out in favor of the speed humps at the meeting, but a couple of residents who live along the adjoining cul-de-sacs came to show their opposition. Of the 14 homes with a driveway on Stratford, eight of those residents signed a petition to support the humps, said Michael Pappas, one of the eight residents.

“I know this isn’t on anybody’s list of what we’d like to see on our street, but this isn’t the worst solution,” he said.

Another homeowner in the neighborhood presented 15 signatures opposing the humps. About 35 homes would be impacted by the decision.

The street has become a cut-through for drivers, but no studies have been conducted to determine just how many drivers are using it as a shortcut. A large church in the neighborhood causes some other traffic, and Councilmember Jeff Greenfield said some of the car dealerships at the bottom of the University Drive hill are using the neighborhood for test drives. Councilmembers Greenfield, Gail Lyon and Scott Silverthorne all live on cul-de-sacs stemming off of Stratford Avenue.

The decision before the council also lacked some details that all members agreed were necessary. The type and quantity of speed humps were not presented, also making it hard to come to a decision. Some speed humps, or bumps, are more like raised crosswalks. Some are harsh and rigid, and others are gradual, said Mayor Robert Lederer.

“This has been brought before the council too soon,” said Councilmember Patrice Winter.

Col. Rick Rappoport, the city police chief, said two speed surveys were conducted on Stratford in March 2005 and March 2006. Each study presented data that the average speed was right around the 25 mph speed limit, but he added that March is a tricky time to conduct speed surveys because of inconsistent weather conditions. Councilmember Scott Silverthorne said because of the two bends, or curves, along the street, speeding also becomes a perception issue. He said he has driven through and been yelled at to slow down by residents when his speedometer displayed that he was actually traveling the speed limit.

Ultimately, the council voted unanimously to build more consensus for the project within the community. They instructed staff to do better research to determine if speed humps would be the most effective option.

IN OTHER COUNCIL news, the City Council approved a retail development at the old Frank’s Nursery site, at 10930 Fairfax Blvd., by a 4-2 vote. The applicant, J Donegan Company, is the same developer that built the Main Street Marketplace and is currently building the Old Town Village development in Old Town Fairfax. The four councilmembers voting in favor of the development all expressed their admiration for John Donegan’s previous projects in the city.

“It pleases me to see that we have another great little thing along the boulevard,” said Councilmember Gail Lyon.

Councilmember Winter voted against the project, citing timing concerns since the Business Improvement District’s master-planning process begins next month. Councilmember Gary Rasmussen said he is concerned about the two freestanding buildings on the site, a bank and a coffee shop, both of which will have drive-throughs, since the site is “already a traffic nightmare.”

“I’m sorry to break up this love fest,” said Rasmussen. “… I think [the developer] is trying to put too much on too small a space.”

As for Winter’s concern about prematurely approving a project so close to the community input phase of the master-planning process, some councilmembers trust that Donegan’s vision will serve as a catalyst for the rest of the corridor, which is the whole point of the master plan once its complete.

“Even if we had the master plan done, I don’t think we’d see anything that far off from what we see tonight,” said Greenfield.

Councilmember Scott Silverthorne disclosed that Wachovia Bank, the bank that will open in the new development, gave him a campaign contribution in excess of $100 during the last election. That prompted Lederer to come clean about a “possible” contribution from the developer himself, Jay Donegan, in excess of $100. Lederer said he couldn’t exactly recall whether he had received the contribution, but that it was a “likely possibility.”

COUNCILMEMBERS ALSO HEARD a brief presentation about the general status of the city’s finances. The city’s auditors, Robinson, Farmer, Cox & Associates, compiled a lengthy report of the city’s finances for fiscal year 2005-06, and briefly presented it.

“I think you have strong financial management,” said Irvin Farmer, CPA.

At the work session, councilmembers heard details of an application for a rezoning in the western quadrant of the intersection of Old Lee Highway and Ridge Avenue. The rezoning would transform a 4.51-acre tract of land there from R-2 to RPD with proffers, if approved.

The application by D.R. Horton, Inc., proposes 15 single-family detached homes on 3.39 of the acres, plus a dedication of 1.12 acres of open space to the city. The rezoning would allow the open space, in addition to what the developer calls a reasonable return on the development of the remainder of the property, according to the staff report. The application will be up for approval at upcoming Planning Commission and City Council meetings.