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BLOG: City Needs a Plan for Downtown

Pressure to come up with a design for the Kitty Pozer Garden expansion highlights the need for a long term plan.

Last week the city council held a work session on the expansion of Kitty Pozer Park, reacting to the . The attached plan shows the plan that was presented to the council, though the discussion shifted toward taking out the commercial building and associated parking on the east side of the site.  Another public forum will be held on January 10, so please bring your thoughts and ideas.  Also, the city has a designated page on their website for this project.

This post isn’t just about Kitty Pozer Park though.  It is about a bigger issue that I came to realize during this discussion…

We need a plan for Downtown Fairfax!

Go the Fairfax City Community Planning and Development webpage, and you will find a link to the Fairfax Boulevard Masterplan (a work still in progress, I realize) but nothing about downtown except for design guidelines from 1993 and some photos of Old Town Village when it was under construction.

There are a lot of ideas for long term improvements to the center of our city, but nothing is concrete and there is very little documentation to back it up.

For example, various members of the council and planning commission have informally mentioned that someday we will probably need a second public parking garage. If so, we should include in our downtown plan exactly where it should go, even if it may not happen for 10-20 years. This way we can start thinking about acquiring land or developing partnerships with landowners to make it happen in a location that adequately serves the center of downtown. Otherwise, we could come up with the funding for it a few years down the road, but at that point the only suitable piece of land may be several blocks away – making the garage utterly useless.

The parking garage is just one example of what should be included in our downtown plan. We should be looking at where additional development could be the most supportive of the existing downtown without overwhelming it. We should examine every parking lot and every underutilized/non-historic building to think about how they could be redeveloped to contribute to an economically robust downtown. We should come up with a plan for every excess parcel of land owned by the city, and solicit them as a single redevelopment opportunity.

A downtown plan should also look at pedestrian and bicycle access. One discussion at the work session last week was to use some of the excess library funds for four bike parking stations. Great, but they are all proposed several blocks from the core of downtown, even as far away as City Hall. There is no space for them on the narrow sidewalks in downtown proper. A downtown plan could designate locations for bike parking so that they are included in future property redevelopments or public improvement projects.

The point of such a plan is not to expect anything to happen overnight, or to expect the city to invest significantly in any specific projects. But it allows us to be ready as opportunities arise.

The expansion of Kitty Pozer Parks is just such an opportunity. We have $2.4 million in excess library funds that have to be spent in the near term. But we have no real plan that addresses the park or adjacent properties even though it has been one of the city's goals for years. Now we are scrambling to come up with a good plan under a tight timeline. 

The original “unofficial” plan was for the gravel parking lot to be temporary and eventually replaced by the park or a plaza. Now that lot could become permanent.  George Mason Square was to be redeveloped to compliment the park. Now that is the proposed site of the park expansion.

The good news with these piecemeal changes is that the park will be bigger. The bad news is that it will be bordered on three sides by heavily traveled thoroughfares, making it a less pleasant space to be in. In addition, the east side faces the back side of the Main Street Marketplace shopping center. With a downtown plan in place, the shopping center redevelopment that took place several years ago could have been designed with the park in mind. On the other hand, a permanent parking solution in the plan could have relieved the need for the gravel parking on land that should have been part of the park. 

With a stronger long term plan for downtown, the result could have been a better Kitty Pozer Park that compliments both old and new development downtown. In the future, it can help ensure that new developments and public improvements are independently successful and contribute to a cohesive downtown.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Douglas Stewart January 01, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Is it the lack of a plan, or the lack of sufficient backbone, that is the root of the problem here? I thought the comp plan had some pretty good guidance for Old Town redevelopment. The Fairfax Boulevard master plan is essentially being ignored. The developments approved since its adoption hardly follow the plan. For bike parking, the best solution I would think would be to embed standards in commercial zoning, which the city has been examining.

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