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Fairfax City Likes Things the Way They Are

Fairfax City, a 6.3-square-mile jurisdiction surrounded by Fairfax County, has 23,000 residents, features a historic downtown and is dotted with Civil War memorials.
Fairfax City, a 6.3-square-mile jurisdiction surrounded by Fairfax County, has 23,000 residents, features a historic downtown and is dotted with Civil War memorials. (By Dayna Smith For The Washington Post)

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By Dagny Salas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 5, 2009

The idea of Fairfax County becoming a city came as a surprise to many.

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Like, say, those who live in Fairfax City.

"We got it first," declared state Sen. J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen (D), a longtime resident of Fairfax City.

Petersen said changing the county's name would create more than a few problems. "Since I've been in the legislature, we've never faced an issue where two [jurisdictions] would want to be called the same name," he said.

Besides, "folks in Fairfax City are somewhat wedded to the name," he said. "There's a lot of history here. It's not something you do spontaneously."

After receiving e-mails from concerned constituents, Petersen wrote a post on his Web site Wednesday titled "Another Fairfax City?" It expressed little sympathy for the county executive's reason for wanting to transform the county into a city: gaining greater control over its road network.

"The County's problems are not radically different than any Virginia locality right now," he wrote. "All governments have to redo the way they do business. That includes all the cities, which are losing revenue just like counties."

Fairfax City sits 15 miles west of Washington, a few miles outside the Capital Beltway. The 6.3-square-mile jurisdiction, with 23,000 residents, features a historic downtown and is dotted with Civil War memorials.

Fairfax City incorporated in 1961, coinciding with a growth in civic pride that longtime resident Armistice Turtora was active in fostering.

Turtora, now 82, began by writing for a civic association newsletter, racing off to City Council meetings and spearheading issues such as the preservation of open spaces and the arts; her husband stayed home to take care of their three young children.

As her involvement deepened, she said, she started to realize the importance of easy access to local agencies. Once, a fellow member of an association told her how fortunate she was to live in Fairfax City, saying: "You're so close to your government. There's always a time when they will listen to you."

The commissioner of revenue for Fairfax City, Page Johnson, also recognizes what he calls a unique sense of place in the community.

"We have a small-town atmosphere in the center of a large suburban community," Johnson said. "Elected officials work hard at maintaining that. It may cause some confusion, but our name is not in jeopardy."

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.


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