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Last-Minute Surprise Doesn't Stop Kitty Pozer Plans

Council votes unanimously to expand garden.

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 .

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. , would eliminate about 20 parking spaces from the block containing and the .

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  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.

"I'm confident that moving the parking to the top of the block will only aid the dentist, and across the street," said Michael Boyle, owner of the .

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 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 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.

Toby January 25, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Councilmembers and the mayor need to spend more time in Old Town Fairfax. A LOT more time. Then they'll realize how badly businesses need parking spaces. Open, green spaces are nice but how am I going to get there? How many residents will walk there as opposed to drive there? City planning should always include some flexibility. I am a Fairfax resident but own an ice cream shop in Arlington, and I learned quickly that customers are more likely to become regulars at a particular business or service if there is convenient, free parking close by. We don't live in New York City, or even downtown DC. Out here in the suburbs, parking tells potential customers that they are welcome and approachable, and less parking means less foot traffic, less customers, less business. Did they forget what happened to Piccomolo, Foster's Grill, Metro Diner and Austin Grill Express? The "revitalization" of Old Town Fairfax badly needs the input of current business owners, the ones that are there day in and day out, talking to residents, passersby and customers, the ones that have staked their livelihood on keeping their businesses afloat and doors open. Is it that difficult to understand that RETAIL NEEDS PARKING?
Toby Sorensen January 25, 2012 at 03:28 PM
I don't know who left the comment signed "Toby" but I want to make clear that it was not me. I spoke last night in favor of the Garden expansion. More parking downtown would be great, but this block has a more important role as a town square. I think the block that includes the old Amoco station site has great promise as a convenient parking lot. Toby Sorensen
David Pumphrey January 27, 2012 at 03:37 PM
The issue is far bigger than 20 parking spaces. The input from four major citizens interest groups shows the braoder persepctive that needs ot be taken here. This wasn't a vote about old promises. It wa a vote about a project that makes sense for the City in the long run. We don't want our downtwon to become a strip mall with parking in front of every establishment, we need a space that porvides for a wide range of uses. Businesses with access to parking have been failing as fast as those without parking so you can't just focus on that one issue. We now need to move forward and create an envirnoment that will attract visitors both residents and nonresidents.
Leigh K February 06, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Who owns the parking lot on the SW corner of Main and Old Lee? Any way that could be turned into a multi-level parking deck? Seems to me like that would solve a lot of people's issues with the Kitty Pozer project.
Diana Adams June 28, 2012 at 11:32 AM
I was in kitty p park yesterday on a glorious day for a picnic lunch with my daughter. We were the only people in the park. As usual. When was the last time any member of the council set foot in this park besides we years eve? It's not used at all. So lets spend a million dollars to make it a few feet bigger?

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