Tysons, VA

Ahead of the Town of Vienna’s election this year, Tysons Reporter asked the candidates to answer the following questions and also submit a short biography. Each candidate had an opportunity to answer the same questions in their own words. We are publishing the Q&As this week in the order we received the responses. 

Featured here is Ed Somers, who is running for one of the councilmember seats. 

Bio: I am running for town council to focus on priorities related to transportation safety, community engagement, and balanced development. I have 30 years of experience fighting for local governments at the national level and want to apply what I have learned to my home — Vienna.

Nearby, Tysons is urbanizing. How do you think the Town of Vienna’s identity should change in response to Tysons’ growth?

Vienna’s identity does not need to change as a result of Tysons. Yes, we will have to work with our neighboring communities to mitigate traffic as much as possible. But what I would also like to ensure is that Vienna does not simply become a “pass through” for people on their way to somewhere else. I want people to spend time in our Town, spend money in OUR stores and OUR restaurants, and generate business tax revenue to offset OUR property taxes.

What are your solutions to Maple Avenue congestion and cut-thru traffic in neighborhoods?

As for Maple Avenue, much can be done with signal timing and reducing the number of entrance and exit points to businesses that will help move traffic smoother through our major artery. Cut through traffic is a trickier issue, in that efforts to limit traffic on one person’s street can result in more traffic on someone else’s street. So, the entire Vienna street network must be evaluated as an interconnected system. Where needed and based on solid data, traffic calming should be employed.

But my top priority remains making sure that people who want to walk, bike or run in our town — especially children — can do so safely. Sidewalks and modern street crosses tools should be installed wherever possible — as we have prioritized during my time as chair of our town’s Transportation Safety Commission — with engagement and community support.

Should Vienna keep its “small town feel”? If so, how? If not, why and what do you propose?

I am not sure Vienna has been a “small town” in the traditional sense for some time. We are not a country village surrounded by farmland. I believe that many people have stayed in Vienna, or recently moved to Vienna, because it is a town with a good “balance.” We have houses of various sizes, nice sized yards, condos and apartments, shopping, restaurants and entertainment that people can walk to, and what amounts to the “river” that connects us — the amazing W&OD Trail.

I remember when some fought against having a Town Green — and now I bet many would say it is one of our best assets. The key is maintaining the proper “balance” and I believe this can be done, while still moving our town forward and NOT ending up with more vacant properties that are not generating business taxes for our town or providing the services we would like to have in our town.

Vienna has a long history of being named a “Tree City USA.” What steps would you like to see Vienna take to become greener and more sustainable/environmentally-friendly?

Let me answer that question in two parts.

First on the issue of tress, I remember a discussion we had in the Transportation Safety Commission regarding a sidewalk petition from residents. They were united for a sidewalk and our commission agreed their street needed it — until they learned that trees would have to come down. Then they changed their mind about wanting the sidewalk. I say this to point out how important trees are to our residents.

The trick I think is to have a long-term vision for tree installation and to remember that you can’t “build” a tree like you can something else. We need to invest in trees that match our ecology, can thrive in our climate, and will not need to be cut down because they were planted in the wrong location or became overgrown. This is why we have a town arborist and we need to listen to both the desires of town residents and professional advice. And we must ensure that all new construction requires tree installation.

But to the bigger question of how me make Vienna a more environmentally friendly and sustainable community, consistent with everything I have said, we MUST design a town the encourages and helps people to not use their cars whenever and wherever possible.

What do you want to see happen for parking when Parking Henry Library gets moved and rebuilt?

Let me just say this. What I know I do want is for people to have a place to park their cars and then walk in Vienna — on Maple Avenue, on Church Street, to the Town Green, and so on. It bothers me greatly when I see cars driving from shopping center to shopping center. This is not good for traffic, and it is not good for the environment.

Some kind of integrated parking solution for our main shopping and entertainment district must happen. Not having been on the town council or planning or zoning boards, I simply can’t say what the design should be. But I know that many towns have dealt with this very issue, and I plan to call on my network of experts to help us design parking solutions that are appropriate for Vienna.

What are your ideal height and building sizes for developments in the Maple Avenue Ordinance?

Again, not having been on town council or the planning board, I can’t exactly say what I think the maximum limit should be. Having studied the excellent survey that the town sent out to all residents to get their input — something I think must be replicated for other big issues the Town needs to address — my general feeling is no more than four stories.

I want to make sure there is plenty of sidewalk space, and I would like the designs to both encourage outside eating and gathering and have the proper rear designs to protect as much as possible people who live behind these new developments. I believe that consensus can be found on this issue — and much like the Town Green that many fought against — if done correctly, we really will have a vibrant Main Street that is appropriate for Vienna and that our residents will use and love for generations to come.

And I also know this. If we do not come together with a consensus plan for Maple Avenue that engages the current land owners in the process, we will end up with more “one off” construction projects and will look back with regret at a missed opportunity to help design a comprehensive, unified approach to Maple Avenue development. Just saying “no” is not enough. We must work together to get to a “yes” that benefits all who live in our town.

People interested in learning more about Somers’ campaign can check out his website, Facebook and Twitter.

Photo courtesy Ed Somers 

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