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Votes

Pick Up the Pace?

Some say City Council should change its slow-paced tempo if it wants to redevelop Fairfax Boulevard.

While the computer-generated images of Fairfax Boulevard’s future are pretty to look at, some City of Fairfax councilmembers wonder if some of the design concepts could really work on the city’s congested thoroughfare.

Dover, Kohl & Partners, the town planners hired to craft the Fairfax Boulevard Master Plan, presented a draft plan to the community and City Council, Tuesday, May 15. The consultants began working on it about two months ago, after a hands-on design week that involved more than 500 Fairfax residents and business owners. Victor Dover, principal partner of the town-planning firm, told councilmembers once again to think about the what-ifs.

"What if you could take the most important street in your town, and make it into the signature environment; the postcard of the city that it should be?" he said.

But what if the computer-generated images look more like a dream world, wondered some councilmembers. One photograph showed Fairfax Circle as a "true modern roundabout," said Margaret Flippen, senior project director with Dover-Kohl. Councilmember Gary Rasmussen said he’s a personal fan of roundabouts, but questioned its compatibility with Fairfax Circle.

"There’s a lot of controversial items in here," said Rasmussen.

The plan calls for walkable areas in several portions of the corridor, based on a five-minute walk. Around the University Drive intersection, the planner’s images show thru-lanes in the center of Fairfax Boulevard. Wider medians divide the thru-lanes on each side from slow-moving lanes and on-street parking. Sidewalks also run alongside the on street parking to promote pedestrian traffic, so people will park and walk. The walkable areas along the boulevard would also mean changes in the speed limit — as many as five changes in speed for the 3.5-mile stretch.

Rick Hall, the transportation engineer assisting Dover-Kohl, said the character of the corridor should come before the capacity, with regard to transportation. Hall conducted a level-of-service analysis, depicting in a graph that 25-mph is the optimum speed for cars in pedestrian areas. Councilmember Jeff Greenfield asked to explain how taking capacity away from a corridor that experiences up to 450,000 vehicle trips per day is more favorable than "the old school of thought of more capacity."

"We’ve done some complicated analysis on the traffic, and basically, yes, it would work," said Dover. "We still need to get into the nitty-gritty details of all that."

THE DRAFT PLAN is seven chapters, and includes an overview of the planning process that involved the community, an implementation chapter, existing conditions, ideas for redevelopment and revitalization, principles and both transportation and economic analyses.

"Please look at this as a first draft," said Dover. "Be very explicit about the parts that need additional work."

Councilmembers questioned the pace of adopting and implementing the Master Plan at the presentation. The town planners set a schedule that seemed a little fast for several members. It allowed the community a little less than one month to provide more feedback to the consultants before they would sit down and finalize the draft by July 10.

"We don’t move very quickly," said Rasmussen. "Public bodies just don’t move very quickly."

"We’re a slow machine," said Councilmember Gail Lyon. "I have some major concerns [with this plan]."

John Napolitano, chairman of the Fairfax Boulevard Partnership — the group that formed to help manage the revitalization of the corridor — is not so sure the council should just sit back and let its typical process take over in this case. He remembers City Councilmember Scott Silverthorne telling him to step outside of the box with the planning of the corridor. Napolitano now wants the council to do the same.

"With all the efforts put forward, now is the time to put in more efforts," Napolitano said. "It’s not time to say ‘we’re a slow-moving machine, let’s stay slow-moving;’ let's plan for the future in a different manner."

Another reason the process shouldn’t drag out too long, said Dover, is because the city should want to send a message to future developers along the corridor that it’s not going to take forever. Councilmember Joan Cross mentioned the difficulty with some recent development applications along the corridor, since the council does not yet have a plan to work from. Dover suggested adopting the plan in phases as one way to solve that problem.

"You need to make commitments to get all the way to the finish line," said Dover.

Councilmembers generally accepted the idea of slowing down the pace in some areas, while accelerating it in others. Silverthorne told the planners he appreciates their enthusiasm, but wants ample time for the community to provide feedback prior to the finalized plan.

"It has to be the community plan," said Mayor Robert Lederer. "It’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of balance … it’s not going to get put on a shelf."

AS FOR SOME of the details, Lyon wants more. She said she doesn’t see analysis in the draft about the impact on the city, specifically the amount of extra employees the city would need to hire. She questioned the density in the plan, but Dover told her a lot of what she sees in the images would be replacements of what is already there. Greenfield questioned the building standards and their effect on air quality and energy consumption. Dover said the planners would enthusiastically add another chapter dealing with just that.

David Hudson, the city’s community development and planning director, said council should move on the easily agreeable aspects of the plan as soon as possible. Some of the details in the plan are "no-brainers," said Silverthorne, while others will take some time to work through.

The process of getting the Master Plan into the city’s Comprehensive Plan also involves time and public input, said Hudson. A good portion of the Master Plan would end up as an addendum to the Comprehensive Plan. It would have to go through the usual Comprehensive Plan process, starting with the Planning Commission and ending up with adoption by the City Council, with public hearings throughout.

"That process is obviously a process that requires a great deal of public input," said Hudson. "It will be in front of the community many times before it gets into the Comprehensive Plan."

Dover-Kohl should announce a new deadline for community input soon, since councilmembers wanted to allow more time than three and a half weeks. Lederer said this is still the beginning of the process and that community input is crucial.

"There’s not any more important vision than the future of the Lee Highway corridor," he said.