Council members got a bit of a surprise seconds before they were to vote whether to turn the heart of downtown Fairfax into a park. After some confusion, the council unanimously agreed to go ahead with the expansion of Kitty Pozer Garden.
Some Old Town Fairfax business owners groaned as one by one the Fairfax City council members expressed their support for a plan that would expand Kitty Pozer over the temporary gravel parking lot next to Old Town Hall. A few got up and left before the Tuesday night vote.
But Mayor Rob Lederer was just wrapping up his thoughts on the project when he said something that shocked the others. The latest Kitty Pozer Park plan, concept H, would eliminate about 20 parking spaces from the block containing Old Town Hall and the Fairfax Surf Shop.
Council members had been under the impression, and had repeatedly said at public meetings, that the latest design kept the same number of spots, just in different locations.
"It is impossible to expand Kitty Pozer and not have a net loss of parking," said Jack Blevins, planning division chief for the city.
The error came from a miscommunication between staff and council members. In the end, the council voted to move forward with concept H, with some quick modifications.
One of the changes is to make additional parking spaces where the farmer's market usually meets on Sundays. The corner of North Street and Old Lee Highway would be transformed into one combined lot that would be open to the public Monday through Saturday.
Even though that change will add more parking spaces, it doesn't look like it will add enough to keep the same number of spaces that there are on that block today.
Over a dozen business owners spoke against the proposed Kitty Pozer expansion. They are afraid that their shops will suffer with the disappearance of the temporary parking lot next to Old Town Hall.
"Just about every storefront that you see in that area signed this petition and you can't ignore that," said The Factory owner Stan Darke. His petition boasted over 1,000 signatures, 500 of which were supposed to be Fairfax residents.
Darke and other business owners wore yellow t-shirts protesting the potential loss of parking.
Kitty Pozer expansion supporters countered that a park would be a central gathering place that would draw pedestrians and shoppers.
"Consumers come to have experiences," said Fairfax resident Catherine Read. "One of the things that green space offers is the opportunity to have music, art, the farmer's market, a possible skating rink. I don't think a single person here is anti-business. What we're talking about is using green space that we might not get again."
Several city commissions back the green space plan, including the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, Community Appearance Committee, Historic Fairfax, Inc. and Commission of the Arts.
Jeffrey Steffens, of the Commission of the Arts, suggested placing a statue of Lord Fairfax in the new park. Others echoed the idea, but it wasn't embraced by everyone.
"Unless that statue can come to life, eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores, then it means nothing to me," said Judy Stone, store manager at Yesterday's Rose.
"I'm open seven days a week, no vacation, no holiday," said Paint Your Own Pottery owner Susan Ekwall. "This loss of parking makes all of our sacrifices and efforts completely in vain."
"It's not about parking. I believe there's plenty of parking downtown," said Joe Harmon, chair of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. "If we create a public space and anchor attraction, parking will not be an issue."
Others applauded the park for its appeal to residents with accessibility challenges. Fred and Sandy Edwards expressed their concern that the redevelopment would make downtown flooding even worse.
One resident even created his own mockup of a new plan for Kitty Pozer. His concept design called for 274 parking spaces, but eliminated the Fairfax Surf Shop.
"We all want the same thing, a successful vibrant downtown, a place to eat, to walk, to shop, and a place that's a great gathering place," said Councilman Jeff Greenfield.
He and the other council members agreed that their decision to vote for the park was a compromise between a promise made years ago and the pleas from downtown businesses.
"I think we will take a step forward in open space, but we should be honest, we're taking a step back when it comes to revitilizing our downtown," said Councilman Steve Stombres, who went on to describe how he had held Paul VI Catholic High School to its word when it tried to expand into the neighboring residential area.
"I held to that standard that you should do what you told the community you were going to do when you purchased that property. I held the school to their word," he said. "I feel I should hold myself to that same high standard."
Fairfax City and the Economic Development Authority (EDA) partnered up to purchase the properties years ago. According to Councilman Dan Drummond, the block was never intended to be a parking lot. A temporary parking lot was added in 2005, but it was supposed to be just that, temporary. The block was still listed as one of the city's green spaces in a 2008 open space report.
"We have to look back at the commitment we made in 2004," said Drummond. "That's a commitment I think we have to honor today."
Check back for more details on the approved concept H Kitty Pozer plan as well as a story on other parking and development opportunities in downtown Fairfax.