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What a Year!

Revitalization and redevelopment keep Fairfax alive in 2006.

Downtown construction, two-way traffic in Old Town, GMU heading to the Final Four, redevelopment along Fairfax Boulevard, Truro Church voting to split, the Lamb Center on the Move — 2006 was a heady year of activity in the City of Fairfax.

The City Council created the Fairfax Boulevard Business Improvement District (BID) in 2004, now called the Fairfax Boulevard Partnership, to provide internal management of the commercial corridor along Fairfax Boulevard. The partnership, consisting of more than 1,200 property owners and businesses, was established in July 2005 to “provide the vision and implement a multi-faceted approach to encourage the corridor’s revitalization,” according to this year’s BID Strategic Plan.

As the partnership enters its second year of existence, committees are working on the corridor’s revitalization in four main categories: streetscape, marketing, business development and master plan. John Napolitano, chairman of the BID, said it is the job of the master plan committee is to tell the City Council what the BID would like to see along the corridor, with regard to size and scale limitations, densities and types of development. It is the job of the committee, said Napolitano, to suggest a master plan for the city, not dictate what that plan will be. The city is then expected to adopt a master plan and a set of design guidelines, both of which will be added to the Comprehensive Plan as addenda, according to the city’s Request for Qualifications proposal.

“One of the efforts of the Fairfax Boulevard Partnership is to create a communication channel between all the citizens of the city and the business community,” said Napolitano. “It’s not a goal of us versus them, but a goal of creating communication so we can come up with common themes in development.”

The City Council voted to move forward with the drafting of a Fairfax Boulevard master plan at a work session, Tuesday, Dec. 13. Representatives from the BID came to the meeting to ask councilmembers to allow them to hire a consulting firm to draft a master plan for the corridor. The BID board members and city planners chose Dover, Kohl and Partners as the most qualified of the six who responded to the city's Request for Qualifications. The firm estimates that drafting the plan should cost about $395,500, which would be paid by the BID from accrued supplemental taxes in the district.

“I think once this [master plan] is done, [future development] can be looked at in a more logical manner,” said Napolitano. “It’s not like we’re stopping any process. We’re hoping our process will sort of coincide with what we would say would be the next substantial development.”

The George Mason University basketball team excelled into the National College Athletic Association's Final Four basketball tournament last March. The Patriots went from the Sweet Sixteen to the Elite Eight and finally to the Final Four, gaining fans and enthusiasm along the way. The City of Fairfax hung a congratulatory banner across Chain Bridge Road and Fairfax Boulevard, and held a "Mason Madness" parade Friday, April 7. Hundreds of people gathered along the sides of University Drive, in the middle of a rain storm, to congratulate the local athletes on their accomplishment. The team's rise brought a lot of attention to the university, and President Alan Merten said it "put GMU on the map."

More than 30,500 students enrolled at GMU the following semester — the highest in the school's 34-year history. The school received more than 11,000 freshman applications for that semester, the fall of 2006, which was an 8 percent increase from the previous year. The number of out-of-state applications were up 15 percent from the previous year. The school attributed most of the newfound popularity to the basketball team's success.

A CONTROVERSIAL land-use decision came before the City Council, Tuesday, Sept. 12, after previous public hearings and work session discussions proved that city residents valued the land in question. The piece of land has come to be known as Rocky Gorge. The name of the land is actually called the Stafford property, and the name of the applicant was Rocky Gorge. The land is located between the Sunoco Station and Eaton Place on the north side of Fairfax Boulevard. It's green and open, and neighboring Mosby Woods residents wanted to keep it that way.

"Rocky Gorge was probably one of the most significant land-use issues we’ve had to consider in nearly a decade," said Councilmember Scott Silverthorne.

Nearly 100 community members attended the public hearing. At least 30 of them were still there at 1 a.m. to hear the final vote in which Mayor Robert Lederer voted to break a 3-3 council tie, thereby denying the proposal.

Councilmembers Patrice Winter, Joan Cross and Gary Rasmussen, all of whom previously showed support for the project both earlier in the evening and in a July 25 work session meeting, voted in favor of Rocky Gorge. Councilmembers Silverthorne, Gail Lyon and Jeff Greenfield voted no, and Lederer broke the tie by voting against the application.

The Mosby Woods Improving Our Life Coalition, led by Mosby Woods resident Spencer Cake, wanted the city to consider purchasing the property as open space-conservation — a category in the Comprehensive Plan that would mean the land stays passive and green. So far, the council has not discussed that possibility, and the land remains in the hands of private owners. Any future use for the property would have to come back to the council for an approval, and since the coalition so adamantly advocated keeping it open space, Cake said they would continue to do so.

In the city's Comprehensive Plan, open space is divided into three categories. The first, recreation, includes lands used primarily for active recreation. The "preservation" category is reserved for lands that the city plans to keep in a natural state, to the best extent possible. The "conservation" category mainly includes lands used for visual buffering and passive recreation.

CITY VOTERS re-elected the mayor and every City Council incumbent in the May election. Silverthorne said the election showed that city residents want to stay the course in terms of the elected body of the city, especially with regard to the differences of opinion among council members.

"People like divided government, even at the local level," said Silverthorne. "We have a council that has some very spirited discussions, and there are clearly some differences in views and opinion."

Back in the 1970s, downtown Fairfax had two-way traffic on North and Main streets. The traffic pattern returned in August, after some lane and signal box adjustments were made.

City officials decided the traffic switch would be an essential part of the downtown revitalization project. As new developments are built, and more businesses pop up in the downtown area, two-way traffic is expected to be conducive to a more vibrant, more pedestrian-friendly downtown.

“The decisions/rationale for that [switching back to two-way] has been summarized very well,” said Robert Sisson, city manager.

The downtown revitalization, which includes a mixed-use development called Old Town Village, will make downtown a destination rather than a throughway, said Lederer. “This is an important part of revitalizing the downtown area."

The Lamb Center, a day shelter facility that provides food, mental health services and job skills to the homeless or needy, has been trying to relocate for years.

The City of Fairfax stepped in to help relocate the center to what it calls a "more appropriate location." It put up $2.6 million to buy a building, at 2924 Telestar Court, in the Merrifield area of Fairfax County, to house the center. They approved the deal at the Dec. 13, City Council meeting, after listening to almost two hours of opposition from Merrifield and Falls Church residents.

The city is putting up the money until the Lamb Center completes its incorporation process and can purchase the property back in the near future. If that doesn’t happen in time, the city would sell the property and would not lose any money from the deal, said Sisson.

The process has only just begun, however, said Lederer. From here, the city has to file a special exception application with the Fairfax County Planning Commission since the building is in a commercially zoned area that is one of seven commercial revitalization districts in the county. The Planning Commission would conduct another public hearing before making a non-binding recommendation to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, where yet another public hearing would have to occur.

“We’re six square miles; this is a regional issue,” said Lederer. “The concept that somehow the City of Fairfax is somehow dumping our problem into another community quite frankly just isn’t factual.”

MEMBERS OF the 270-year-old Truro Church in Fairfax, along with seven other Virginia Episcopal churches, voted overwhelmingly to sever ties with the Episcopal Church of the United States Sunday, Dec. 17, citing concerns about the cultural adaptability the U.S. Church has had to such issues as abortion and homosexuality.

The week-long voting process at Truro came to an end Sunday, Dec. 17, when Jim Oakes, senior warden at the church, announced the results at the end of the 11:15 a.m. service. More than 1,000 members voted on two resolutions. The first was on whether the church should split off and join the Anglican District of Virginia through the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) — an initiative of the Anglican Church of Nigeria developed for orthodox Anglicans in the United States. The second resolution asked members if they thought the church property should remain with the parish or with the Virginia Diocese, if the split passed.

Oakes announced that 1,010 voters, or 90 percent, favored the split. As for the resolution asking voters' opinion about who should own the property, 1,034 were in favor of keeping the property with the parish, and 55 were against.

“To me, this is a vote of no confidence against the Episcopalian Church and the Diocese of Virginia,” said Dennis Egan, a Truro Church member for more than 20 years and formerly a member of its vestry, or governing body. “I have no confidence they can provide Christian leadership to their congregations.”

The church's vestry decided to adhere to what they say is a strict interpretation of the Bible, which forbids homosexuality.

Martyn Minns, missionary bishop of CANA and priest-in-charge of Truro Church, said the split is both sad and exciting. The struggle between the Diocese and the opposing churches has been painful, but also respectful, he said. “This is a family struggle, no question about that.”

Minns was elected missionary bishop of CANA after Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria decided the local structure in America was necessary, said Minns.

CANA is part of a new structure, established as a response to what’s been happening within the Episcopalian church, said Minns.

Truro's Church, and the land it sits on, is assessed at just under $5 million by the City of Fairfax. Those numbers are just the land and the buildings. They do not include things like books, chairs and all the other objects inside the various buildings.

The State of Virginia has already made its opinion known. According to the church's attorney's interpretations of state law (Section 57-9) the church belongs to the congregations, Pierobon said. Attorneys for the Diocese and the church are trying to determine who the legal owners are. The argument is expected to continue well into the year.

THE MEMBERS of the One God Ministry church have their eyes focused on their future home after more than a year of back-and-forth with the city.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the church, at 4280 and 4282 Chain Bridge Road, took place in August, and construction for the non-denominational church is now visible from Chain Bridge Road. For the founder, apostle and trustee of the church, Dr. Johnson Edosomwan, having a new building for the congregation to call its own is all a part of God’s will. The original special use permit for the project was approved in 2004, but the decision was reversed just two weeks later. Edosomwan sued the city, then negotiated with them to allow him to reapply for the permit. When he did, they denied it again.

“That’s all in the past,” said Edosomwan. “The process we went through is the normal process you have to go through.”

The United States Department of Justice took notice though in the fall of 2005, after the city denied the application three times with no explanation, according to a Justice Department newsletter about its Civil Rights Division’s religious liberty and discriminations cases. The Justice Department began its investigation into whether the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, which protects religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws. The investigation ended in February 2006; about two months after the city approved the permit. The Civil Rights division cited the favorable outcome as its reason for ending the investigation.

A SERIES OF MEETINGS about the relationship between George Mason University and the surrounding communities were already scheduled when a large, bright sign with flashing lights showed up at one of the Fairfax campus’ entrances last fall.

The brightly-lit animated banners streaming across the sign, at the corner of Braddock and Sideburn roads, grabbed a lot of negative attention from surrounding residents. Complaint calls flooded the offices of Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) and Del. David Bulova (D-37).

“My major concern is something that big and flashy, it’s a safety issue,” said David Bulova. “It’s a busy intersection. It’s not a safe place to go and have a sign.”

Sharon Bulova, David Bulova, George Mason University officials and three community representatives attended a private meeting Thursday, Sept. 21, to discuss the issue. The university agreed to tone down the sign in a letter to Sharon Bulova’s office, Monday, Sept. 25, but the university has no plans to consider moving the $325,000 sign, said Dan Walsch, a GMU spokesman.

“We’d like to see the sign moved to a more appropriate location,” said David Bulova. “It doesn’t fit into the context of the community we’ve worked so hard to build.”

A GMU-Braddock District community forum is scheduled to begin Wednesday, Jan. 3. The series of meetings will discuss the relationship between the university and the surrounding communities, specifically focusing on the university's growth. County and state officials have not given up on the sign issue and it will likely remain a topic of discussion throughout the forum.

WHEN THE Virginia Department of Transportation workers began a road-widening project at the intersection of Guinea and Braddock roads early this year, they discovered artifacts and human remains indicative of a 19th century cemetery. VDOT brought in archeologists to research and extract the findings from the ground.

"You could write a book about that whole experience," said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock).

In the end, the remains from at least 33 people were found, among many artifacts from the early to mid 19th century. The only tombstone found clearly read the name “S.A. Williams,” and the year, “1851.”

Dennis Howard, an African-American man living in Springfield, knew about his family's lineage through oral tradition. He believes that some of his ancestors were among the human remains found in the old, unmarked cemetery.

Howard gathered with family and friends for an all-day celebration and reinterment ceremony of the Gibson-Parker family, his ancestors, Saturday, Sept. 30, at the First Baptist Church of Merrifield.

Howard and his relatives are sure their ancestors were among the 33 found. Through oral tradition, Howard knows his great-great-grandfather, Horice Gibson, was an emancipated slave living in an area known as the Ilda Community. Members of that community are believed to be among those in the cemetery. Rinehart said only six of the 33 remains found were of African-American descent.

W.T. WOODSON High School, Fairfax High School and Lanier Middle School are all undergoing extensive renovations, all of which have been in the planning stages for years. Crews broke ground at the schools this year for Woodson and Lanier, and last year at Fairfax High School.

Parking lots for both Fairfax High and Lanier Middle Schools are set for completion by the start of the 2006-07 school year. Fairfax High School crews have assured the asbestos removal, which began in June, is in accordance with state and federal regulations, and would not pose a threat to crews, students, faculty or the neighboring communities. The completion date for the school’s renovation project is set for the fall of 2007.

Woodson High School’s project bid came in $20 million over budget, so the contract will be re-bid in September. A groundbreaking ceremony was took place June, even though the actual construction will not begin until October. School Board members assure the 2009 completion date will not be affected, even though the project will begin at least three months later than scheduled.

Lanier Middle School’s construction began in March, with the construction of temporary exits, a temporary bus entrance and the start of the new addition, staircase, electric room and mechanical spaces. By the end of the calendar year, three new quads will be installed, renovations of the second story along Bevan Drive and the auditorium will begin, the new front parking lot and Kiss & Ride will be available and the temporary exits of science classrooms will be removed, all of which will complete phase one of the project.

BRADDOCK GLEN, an affordable assisted living community for moderate income seniors, opened in the spring of 2006. The residents who live there cannot have an income exceeding $37,500 per year, and the all-inclusive rent rate does not exceed $2,500 per month. The Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority owns the community, which is managed by Sunrise Senior Living, the nation's largest provider of senior living services.

About 15 residents living at Braddock Glen, 4027 Olley Lane, when it first opened. The large, one-story building has long hallways that circle throughout, passing through dining areas, a library, hair salon, sitting areas and bedrooms. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors provided $11,180,908 to cover the cost of the project, and they celebrated its opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony May 13.

Annie Reindorf, executive director at Braddock Glen, said she hoped to have all 60 residents moved in by the end of the year. Forty-six residents moved in by the start of 2007.

Braddock Glen offers basic assistance with bathing, meals, medication management and dressing to its residents. The challenge, said Reindorf, is that they don't offer higher levels of care such as medical and mental care needs. A separate area exists for residents who have memory problems so staff can make sure they do not wander or become too disoriented. Daily activities, services and programs are offered to residents.