As you have undoubtedly heard, City Council will hold another public meeting on the plan for Kitty Pozer Park next Tuesday. The design has been though dozens of iterations over the last few months and many issues are yet to be resolved. If you haven’t had time to keep up with all the meetings and discussions, here is my brief and admittedly incomplete summary. Cliff's Notes, if you will...
It all begins in 1973, when Kitty Pozer, who was an avid gardener, dedicated the Radcliffe Allison house and property to the city. The gardens have been restored and used as a public park. With no real town square in downtown Fairfax, they have functioned as the premier civic space for the city, hosting events such as the Holiday Festival of Lights. Despite this, the mid-block location and narrow shape prevent Kitty Pozer Park from feeling like a real town square. So recently, the city has been trying to expand it.
By 2004, the city had purchased several parcels of land to the east of the park, including the yellow house on North Street, the Surf Shop, and the parking lot that holds the farmer’s market, with the purpose of consolidating the land and redeveloping it to compliment the adjacent park. These are the properties that became known as George Mason Square. They are still owned by the city with a debt balance of $2.3 million.
In 2005, the city purchased and demolished the Weight Watchers Building to the west of Kitty Pozer Park, with the long term intention of using that land for a park expansion. In the short term, it was to be used as a gravel parking lot to offset the loss of parking spaces from the construction of the Webb Building (Pacers, Al-Maza, etc.).
That same year, the city issued bonds to help pay for the new library, which is now complete with $2.4 million in left over bond money. According to the bond conditions, that money still belongs to the city, but must be spent on capital projects in the downtown area.
Beginning in July 2011, City Council began considering various improvements for the left-over bond money in the downtown area, but the focus has been on Kitty Pozer Park. The existing park is really just a thin strip of land located in the middle of the block, so if it is to be expanded, it can do so to the west, where the “temporary” gravel lot is, or to the east, on George Mason Square, or both.
The first public hearing was held in September, at which time a couple concept plans were shown with a small mixed-use development on the George Mason Square properties and a plaza in place of part of the gravel parking lot.
Many downtown merchants were worried that people could be less likely to come downtown if the gravel lot closed because it is the only centrally located parking downtown that is easily accessible and visible.
As a result, the plans turned toward keeping the parking lot in place on the west side and expanding the park to the east side (as well as adding more parking). The mixed-use development has been taken out of the picture because the size of the lot along with an easement has made the economies of scale unpractical.
Then, at the January 10th meeting we learned that the owner of the surf shop had no idea that the city planned to tear his building down. So, in order to avoid the appearance of being unfriendly to established local businesses (RIP TT Reynolds), the council is now planning to remove the surf shop parcel from the plan and divide the parking between the east and west sides (see image). This leaves room for the park to expand in both directions too. But with only 11 of the 39 spaces remaining on the west side of the block, it doesn’t alleviate the concerns of the loss of the gravel parking lot.
So, it seems we are at a stale mate between providing convenient parking and providing a quality civic space. Perhaps a compromise can be reached on Tuesday.