With the local economy showing some small signs of recovery, candidates for the Fairfax City Council are turning their attention to growth and redevelopment, which were at the center of city discussions just before the Great Recession hit.
Recently, the current city council dusted off the master plan for Fairfax Boulevard and is working to incorporate that vision into the city’s overall comprehensive plan. The master plan, developed in 2007, envisions redevelopment scenarios for several “nodes” along one of the city’s main thoroughfares.
“Now is the time to try and seek out people who are interested in redeveloping those locations,” said Jeff Greenfield, an incumbent councilman seeking re-election. The election is scheduled for Tuesday.
Greenfield said he thinks the city needs to put its energy into economic development right now to try to nudge developers into revamping the older shopping centers in the city that date back to the 1960s.
Ellie Schmidt, who also is seeking re-election, said the city needs to make it as easy as possible for businesses to operate, as part of city’s economic development efforts.
“As much as we can streamline processes, we need to do that,” she said.
Another incumbent councilman, Dan Drummond, said he wants to build on the work that already has been done on the Fairfax Boulevard master plan, and develop a long-term community vision for what the city should look like in 20 or 50 years. This effort would go along with a revision of the city’s zoning ordinances, rules governing business signs and other things that might need to be tweaked to spur growth.
Drummond said the city needs to consider mixed-use and higher density projects to attract redevelopment, “but at the same time not losing sight of what makes us unique.”
Michael DeMarco, running for council for the second time, said the city should not solely focus on development as a way to grow the city’s business sector. As a current member of the city’s economic development authority, he said the city could do more to grow businesses by empowering its EDA to more actively support businesses, such as helping them find grants and loans.
“[Economic growth] doesn’t just mean development. ... Development may be part of the answer,” DeMarco said.
Promoting and incubating small businesses and revitalizing older commercial properties also are options, he said.
Gary Perryman, who is seeking a first term on the city council, said he thinks parking and accessibility also are key factors to consider in attracting and keeping businesses. In the downtown area, for example, he said there are certain businesses that are hard to park near.
“People are not going to drive to the area and then walk,” he said, because there are other nearby locations to get the same services with more convenient parking.
For Catherine Read, also a challenger, encouraging the right type of residential redevelopment is a priority. She said the city is lacking housing options for young people and empty nesters who either can’t afford or don’t want to maintain a single family home. Some recent residential redevelopment projects have been luxury townhomes, she said, where maybe condos or rental apartments might have been a better option.
“We keep taking what little land is left in Fairfax City and we’re building townhouses on it, and I’m not sure who we’re building them for,” Read said. “We’re not meeting the needs of people who want to live in this community.”
There are a total of eight council candidates vying for six seats in Tuesday’s election. Incumbents David Meyer and Steve Stombres were not available for an interview as of Thursday afternoon, but both also have highlighted development and economic issues as part of their campaigns.