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Fewer Trees Targeted In Revised John Mason Trail Plan In Fairfax

Patch logo Patch 9/24/2021 Michael O'Connell
Fairfax City Council will be voting on a resolution to endorse the city's plan to construct the John Mason Trail, after city staff modified the plan so fewer trees would be removed. The modifications were based on public feedback, according to the city. © Michael O'Connell/Patch Fairfax City Council will be voting on a resolution to endorse the city's plan to construct the John Mason Trail, after city staff modified the plan so fewer trees would be removed. The modifications were based on public feedback, according to the city.

FAIRFAX CITY, VA — It appears Fairfax City residents will not be getting a public hearing on the John Mason Trail project.

At its Tuesday night meeting, the Fairfax City Council will vote on a motion to endorse the city's application for 70 percent funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority for Fiscal Year 2027. If passed, this motion will secure $6.8 million to pay for the trail project.

The endorsement motion appears on the agenda for Tuesday night's meeting, which was posted to the city's website late Friday afternoon. The motion appears under section 9 of the agenda, which is for items not needing a public hearing.

A few weeks ago, the public hearing for the John Mason Trail project was on the schedule for Tuesday night's meeting. That all changed when the council voted at its Sept. 14 work session to defer a presentation by city staff to allow for more public feedback. The presentation was pushed back to the Oct. 5 work session and the Sept. 28 public hearing was postponed.

Related: 380 Trees Would Be Cleared For New Fairfax Bike Trail

At first, these changes appeared to hamstring the city's ability to endorse the project before NVTA's Oct. 1 deadline. But, city spokesman Matthew Kaiser told Patch on Monday that all the council was required to do was submit a resolution of support for the project until Dec. 3.

If the council votes to endorse the NVTA plan on Tuesday, it will be able to meet the Oct. 1 submission deadline.

In the weeks leading up to the Sept. 14 meeting, local environmentalists criticized the city's plan, which would remove 380 trees to make way for the trail. The city's own estimates put that number as high as 411.

Related: Removal Of 380 Trees For A Trail Discussion Delayed By Council

Critics also opposed the use of asphalt and other non-permeable surfaces for the trail, which would contribute to runoff and erosion. Also, trees bordering the trail would need to be removed to allow room for construction machinery to reach the site.

Although the trail plan was not up for a public hearing on Sept. 14, a number of city residents shared their concerns by speaking in-person or by phone during the public comment portion of the meeting.

The staff report accompanying the NVTA resolution says the trail plan was adjusted to address the concerns expressed by the public.

"After hearing comment from the public at the September 14 meeting and via email, the proposal has been modified to phase the project and utilize a pier/boardwalk system, which requires less tree removal than an asphalt or similarly graded trail," the report says. "Subsequent phases will be discussed at a later date. The modified request for funding endorsement is for Phase 1 of the trail using the modified construction method mentioned above. This project was approved in the City’s Two Year Transportation Program."

No specific estimates were provided about how many trees would be removed under the modified plan nor the number of phases the project would have. In fact, there was no information about what constituted phase 1. Patch has requested a copy of the modified plan from the city.

"I would hope the city staff would take it upon itself to reach out to concerned citizens proactively at this point, especially if they want to feel confident they have a project that the community can support," said Judy Fraser, who opposed the original trail plan. "Why the silence? If there was a plentitude of information — a real plan — I would feel more assured that the staff is being responsive to the community. With such a dearth of information, rightly or wrongly, it feels like an attempt to turn down the political heat without committing to any real change."

Even though there is no public hearing scheduled about the John Mason Trail on Tuesday, members of the public, as they did at the Sept. 14 meeting, can still speak about any item on the agenda not requiring a public hearing.

The council meets Tuesday at 7 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 10455 Armstrong St.

Those wishing to speak in person can sign up by calling 703-385-7935. Those who wish to dial in to speak can call 571-282-3524. Callers are queued on a first-come, first-serve basis. Each speaker will have 3 minutes to speak and will need to provide their name and address prior to making their comments.

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