An article in the May 20 Fairfax Extra about Fairfax City's acquisition of open space incorrectly said the portion of the city's tax rate for open space acquisition was 5 cents last year. It was 3 cents, the same amount as the current budget year. (Published 5/27/04)

Fairfax City has agreed to buy nearly 27 acres from private landowners that will be used as open space and public parkland, officials said, continuing a plan to expand green space in the six-square-mile city.

In addition, officials said, the city is attempting to purchase a downtown building next to the Old Town Hall so it can be demolished and add space to the Kitty Pozer Garden behind the historic Ratcliffe-Allison House on Main Street.

The $6.45 million land deal consists of two tracts: a $5.7 million, 23.23-acre parcel known as the Stafford Drive tract located off Lee Highway near the Mosby Woods and Cambridge Station neighborhoods, and a $750,000, three-acre parcel on the west side of Providence Park, called the Jester tract.

"I'm pleased that most of these landowners have begun to sell to the city," said City Council member R. Scott Silverthorne, who helped initiate Fairfax City's land purchase program in 2000. "I think the Stafford tract is going to be a crown jewel for the city," he said, adding that the parcel was large enough to accommodate new trails, ballfields and other potential recreational amenities.

Purchase of the properties, identified by a citizens' advisory committee, was made possible by a portion of the real estate tax levy approved by city voters in 2000. Currently, 3 cents of the city's 90-cent tax rate goes toward open space acquisition, a drop from 5 cents last year. The 90-cent rate applies to each $100 of assessed value.

Fairfax City homeowners pay an average of $100 more in taxes a year to fund the open space acquisition program.

But city officials emphasized that even with the additional levy, the city's tax rate is lower than neighboring jurisdictions. The acquisitions have raised the ratio of open space to total area in the city from about 4 percent to more than 51/2 percent, officials said.

Since the open space acquisition program started three years ago, 30.9 acres of open space has been secured at a cost of $7.8 million.

The city's effort to preserve green space mirrors initiatives taken by other local governments, including Fairfax and Montgomery counties, as leaders seek ways to balance development with preservation.

Silverthorne said that the city is taking the initial steps to acquire the Weight Watchers building at 3987 University Dr. through a condemnation. That would add space to the adjoining Pozer garden.

"The council agreed it was important to have the downtown open space," he said.

Silverthorne contrasted the city's recent efforts to remake itself -- which include not only the open space acquisitions but also a planned downtown redevelopment -- with the state of the city 10 or 15 years ago.

At that time, he said, "We had an older decaying downtown core . . . less open space and park space compared to other jurisdictions. Now, we've really turned the corner. It makes the city a great place to not only live and work but also to play. It really makes the city well-balanced. This is an exciting time to live in the city."

City Council's R. Scott Silverthorne had particular praise for the Stafford tract.