Fairfax City Split On Open Spaces

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 14, 2006

Open space is scarce in Fairfax City, especially along Lee Highway, the traffic-choked corridor of auto dealerships, motels and chain restaurants likened by some residents to a three-mile strip mall.

The dwindling supply of undeveloped land has ignited a debate this summer over the fate of two large parcels bordering the road. One could become a condominium development, the other ballfields. The discussion in the six-square-mile community has hit an almost philosophical note, with some asking: When is open space truly open?

The disputed sites are on the north side of Fairfax Boulevard (the name of Lee Highway in Fairfax City) between Plantation Parkway and Stafford Drive. In 2004, the city purchased one of the parcels -- 24 acres behind an Outback Steakhouse -- as part of an open-space program approved by Fairfax voters to buy and protect green spaces.

This spring, city planners recommended that the land, known as the Stafford property, be devoted to a baseball diamond and a large field for soccer, lacrosse or rugby.

Some residents of the nearby Mosby Woods and Cambridge Station neighborhoods said that when they voted in 2000 to allow up to 5 cents of the city's real estate tax rate to be used for buying and maintaining open spaces, they expected that the Stafford property would be left undisturbed or developed as a park.

"The public understood, as I did, that this would be open space in the truest sense," Elisa Lueck, a Plantation Drive resident, said at a City Council hearing last month.

Others said it was clear that some of the open space would be devoted to recreation.

"Open space to me means the lack of a building. To some people it means woodlands," said Tom Scibilia, a member of the board of the Fairfax Police Youth Club, who supports using the Stafford property for ballfields.

Scibilia, who served on a citizens advisory committee on open-space issues, said the city needs more athletic fields. Of Mosby Woods, where Scibilia lives, he said: "There's no place for kids to play pickup football or throw a Frisbee, except in the street."

Fairfax City Mayor Robert F. Lederer, along with some members of the council, acknowledged that the city needs to be clearer on the potential use of open space and called the Stafford property "a classic case of miscommunication." The plan is pending before the council.

Mosby Woods residents are divided over the future of the second site, a privately owned 13-acre area known as Rocky Gorge that is west of the Stafford property and adjacent to their neighborhood. The council is scheduled to vote next month on a developer's proposal to build 123 condominium units for people 55 and older on the land.

Much of the thickly wooded Rocky Gorge is in a flood plain, where construction is prohibited. The developer, KMRG, said the condominiums would take up only three of the 13 acres, with the rest proffered to the city as open space. The builders also said the closest unit to the neighborhood would be 450 feet away.

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