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New Name, New Businesses

Council dedicates Chambers, addresses City time capsule and discusses bringing Best Buy to Fair City Mall.

Members of the Fairfax City community, including past City Council members and city officials, turned out for a notable night at City Hall as an open house celebrated the rededication of City Hall and dedication of the Council Chambers.

The mood at the open house was festive, with a large group of citizens filling the atrium of the redesigned City Hall, currently decorated for the holiday season. As the George Mason University Strings Trio provided background music for the event, attendees mingled while sampling the finger-food and hot cider.

THE OFFICIAL CITY Council meeting got off to a celebratory start as open house attendees filed into Council Chambers for the recognition of the city’s time capsule and the official dedication of the Chambers.

In honor of the city’s first mayor, a motion was moved to name the Council Chamber as "The Honorable John C. Wood Memorial City Council Chamber." Following the demolition of the John C. Wood Building three weeks ago, which served as the location of the Fairfax City Police Department for the last 25 years, Mayor Robert Lederer said the dedication would preserve the legacy of the city’s first mayor. Attending the dedication, the former mayor’s son, John Wood, stood beside Lederer as the motion was passed unanimously by the council.

"We’re thrilled that so many people in the community came out for the open house," Lederer said. "And we’re thrilled so many came out for the rededication. What an exciting night this is, and we’ve had a lot of exciting nights."

Speaking on the recent changes occurring throughout downtown Fairfax, Mayor Lederer said, "We’re going through an aggressive renewal in Fairfax City."

"If you stop and think, for a small, little community, it really is a statement for the City of Fairfax," he said.

Following the dedication, the council recognized the city’s time capsule, which was created during the 2005 First Night event and slated to be opened in 2055. The capsule contains a number of personal effects, including family photos, letters from children in the community and a special letter written by Lederer to the future mayor of 2055. According to Lederer, the time capsule has yet to be buried because the council wanted to wait for the renovation of City Hall to be completed.

"It’s a neat thing that you do in small communities," he said. "I want to thank the council for their leadership in everything that they did. It’s something we’re all proud of. Congratulations to everybody."

DESPITE THE EVENTFUL start to the meeting, most of the City Council meeting’s agenda consisted of housekeeping items.

Councilmembers discussed the proposed guidelines to be used in preparation of the Fiscal Year 2008-09 Budget. While Councilmember Scott Silverthorne voted for the proposed guidelines, he warned the council that the document was "sound, reasonable fiscal guidance, but it doesn’t give any direction on where we want to end up."

Before the motion to approve was unanimously passed, Lederer suggested that the council convene in a future work session to further discuss the guidelines.

Following the items for motion on the agenda, the Council recessed for a public work session.

A discussion of Farrcroft escrowed utility undergrounding funds was a topic of much discussion. The funds, which were originally proffered by the development company in July 1997, were contributed for undergrounding utility lines along the frontage of Main Street. Totaling $630,000 after accruing interest, the council is under contract to decide how to spend the money by June 12, 2009.

City Manager Robert Sisson brought the item to the council’s attention.

"We’ve just started exploring what these funds could be used for," said Sisson. "It’s a sizeable amount of money."

Worried that the proffered money would cover only a small fraction of cost for undergrounding the utilities — leaving the city to dole out the rest — Councilmember Patrice Winter said, "It might be more judicious to look at the immediate needs than just a flick of this."

If the June 2009 deadline is missed, the money is returned to Farrcroft.

ALSO A significant topic of discussion, representatives from Best Buy appeared in front of the council to continue discussions about bringing the store to Fair City Mall. For this to happen, the council would need to approve special use permits allowing the establishment of a big box retail store, as well as special exception for building signage larger than allowed on the store’s front facade and additional monument signs on the Fair City Mall grounds.

While most of the council seemed to favor the idea of a Best Buy at the mall, some expressed reservations about the iconic yellow wedge sign that has become a trademark of the company but is currently proposed as larger than allowed on the premises.

"It seems to me that the sign is atrocious," said Councilmember Gary Rasmussen. "Other than that, it’s a good idea."

Some concern was also raised about the level of noise the store’s car alarm and audio installation facility would add to surrounding neighborhoods. Due to the weekday hours, currently proposed as 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., the council was concerned that installing alarms in the facility late into the night would disrupt the quality of life for surrounding homeowners.

"I think this is a good addition to the community as long as we deal with the noise and not forget the little businesses," said Councilmember Gail Lyon.

"When I look at a center like Fairfax City Mall, it has seen its peaks and valleys," said Silverthorne. "From my perspective, to attract an anchor to this center is an ideal opportunity for this city."

"This is a commercial center — it’s been here for 30 years," said Silverthorne. "If we can make it viable, that’s why we should be helping Best Buy."

Winter agreed. "The idea of using signage of big name stores can only help the smaller stores," she said. "It’s a hook to bring people in."

The council agreed to look further into the noise concerns.