My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

Public Safety Building

The big tamale in the City's Capital Improvement Budget (CIP) is the "Public Safety Building" (PSB).  $30 million bucks worth of big tamale.  This is a facility that has been under consideration since I was first elected.  The big idea then was to buy up some (most?) of the Georgetown South Shopping center and put a large police headquarters on the property.  I didn't really know where this project currently stood so I emailed the Council and Mayor.  Of the 2-3 replies that I received (only 2 from incumbents running for office) what was clearly communicated was that "no decision has been made and in fact we aren't sure if this will ever happen"……imagine my surprise when I was watching the Council meeting last night and they voted to buy a hunk of the Georgetown South shopping center for a "public purpose"…..sounds like we're a little further along than "no decision" to me…..

The PSB has looked different according to different plans but the general idea is that it would be a place where we consolidate all of our public safety administrative offices and maybe some operational space.  Back in the day, the facility also included a firing range.  With the advent of Elite shooting sports that may or may not be necessary but it has been part of the plan.  It has also included a fire/rescue station at times in the past.  Is consolidating all of these offices in a single place a good idea?  I really don't know.  There is so much that goes into this.  The cost to build is high.  Could we use the current Rescue Squad building for something else?  The current state of the office market is cheap and the rent on the Fire department HQ space is quite modest.  Would it be nice to have a shiny new administrative building?  Sure….but I'm not sure it makes fiscal sense.  Yes, we need a second fire/rescue station over in Wellington but a new admin HQ ?

There is no denying the police need more space.  The department has continued to grow over the years as our population has expanded.  The size of their building has not expanded to keep pace.  Instead they have converted interior space to accommodate their staff.  About the only thing that hasn't been "reconfigured" is the public conference room and lobby.  The police department needs more space…but I think the police department's building is in the right place: right next to the largest concentration of schools and students in the city.  And maybe in northern Virginia.  I'm wild about the fact that the police are literally next door.  I'm pretty sure I don't need to draw you a picture as to why I'm so taken with their proximity.  In my mind, it makes a lot more sense to keep the current facility and expand it.  If we need to buy adjacent property then let's do that.

Ten years ago, the idea was that the PSB would be built on the north side of the Georgetown South shopping plaza.  I don't know that it was ever communicated to the public as such but the thinking in City Hall was that this might possibly be the impetus for a massive redevelopment of the GTS shopping plaza area.  It appears that, in this vein, we are indeed converting part of a bustling, if not exactly attractive, commercial center into a public use….and taking it off the tax rolls.  In any event, We didn't talk much about the PSB project over the ensuing years because the economy went south not too long after I was elected and the Council spent a lot of time trying to balance the operations budget and ultimately eliminated almost all CIP spending.  The project now seems to be back and I think it is time for a more thorough airing of our options.  I'm not interested in "well we had a public hearing on the CIP and nobody came forward."  That's weak sauce and a cop out.  Take a look at the process that the schools used when they were preparing to build the new Baldwin.  

There is also this: I believe that the optics of building a huge police / admin facility immediately adjacent to our largest immigrant neighborhood sends the whole wrong signal.  My friends on the Council can tut-tut all they want and insist that this isn't an issue but I'm not buying it.  Think about a very large 2-3 story government building in that parking lot.  How do you think the residents of GTS are going to receive that?  The schools do huge outreach into these communities, the city does it through enforcement.  I'm not sure this is the way to handle this.  It continues the tendency of the City government to govern the city they want to have, not the one that is here.  If we're to be successful, that has to end.  Face it, diversity is our hallmark and these communities must be engaged if the city is to grow to our full potential.  The sooner the government gets down with that and figures out a way to embrace it instead of holding it arms length like an inconvenient truth that nobody wants to recognize, the sooner things will get better in Manassas.  


  1. On the Firing Range:  I seem to recall that when PWC was looking at having one at their PS Academy, the BOCS leaned toward reducing costs by having the two Cities and the FBI go in on building it with them.  The funny part about the idea of the FBI was…gee, why pay PWC when they sit on Quantico and have a ton of ranges to use?

    Buying the property on Fairview:  I have been a big fan of that idea and even mentioned it back in the Joint CIP days.  Of course, our City Development gave me all kinds of reasons such as historic property, renovations, etc etc (the standard walk-around excuses).  I had counters for that which I'll skip.  But that property with the main building and outbuildings and large lot would be the perfect spot.  

    Pubilc Hearing:  I rate their cop out right up with using "advertised tax rate" and yet you have no idea where advertised since the City does not put out any press release.  "Check our website" "sign up for e-notice".  All well and good, but if you want the citizen involved (like in the Joint CIP Process and the School Process), do better than wave your hand at me with an excuse.

    And as for Public Hearing…look how many turned out on the budget.  Lack of interest?  Lack of what to speak to since no information about work sessions?  or what?   Even when the City Manager gave his opening presentation, it was the "warm fuzzy slides" and not a summary of issues from work sessions as has been done in days past.

    Ok, rant over.  Thanks!

  2. I have no clue what "public use" is intended for GTS Shopping Center, but if the idea is to put Fire/Rescue there that means what? Shut down the existing Fire Station and Rescue Squad? A Fire/Rescue station there isn't going to improve response times significantly to where we need improvement, but WILL increase response times to places well covered now. And then we will need another new station to improve Wellington/Airport response times?  I'm all for giving our PD more/better space, they need it, I'm not sold GTS Shopping Center is the place to do it. The existing Fairview site in my mind is ideal, I'd be in favor of a complete tear down and rebuild on the existing PD site versus relocating, I too very much like the proximity to our most precious assets.


  3. Andy,

    Thanks for bringing this issue to everyones attention. I noted that a concern expressed by "staff" regarding the Fairview property and expanding at the current location was concerns about the "historic nature" of the adjoining property. I think that the "historic district overlay" should be removed from any consideration when discussing public safety locations. Bullet proof glass did not exist in the 1890's but it is essential for a facility of this type. I am aware of people in the city that wanted to install energy efficient tripple pane windows in their home in the historic district and the style of these windows would have closely resembled the 1890's style. They were denied permission by the committee. While I'm sure that getting plans approved for a "use appropriate" building might take a little longer, I cannot see this being the dealbreaker on the Fairview option. If it is, we should disband the historic district overlay and the committee that oversees it.

  4. You could always buy the apartment building on the other side and leave the other property alone….

  5. Mary Ann Jenkins

    May 13, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    I do not believe that the Fairview Avenue property is in the historic district and the beautiful home that sits on it could be demolished without the ARB.  This also goes for the Annaburg Manor house.  It too is not in the historic district.  The Fairview property has been sold.  Don't know what the future proposed use will be, but keep hearing rumors of 80 townhomes.  Just a rumor, but would not surprize me.

  6. 80 townhouses on that property is madness.

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