Editor’s Note — Tysons Reporter is running Q&As with the candidates who qualified for this year’s Vienna Town Council election on May 4. The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Nisha Patel is one of four candidates running for the three Vienna Town Council seats that are up for election this year. A working mother with two medical practices, Patel has served on the council since 2019 and is now seeking her second term.
Why did you decide to run for reelection?
I first ran because I felt like we needed a new, fresh perspective on how we handle the development in the town. We did make significant changes over the past two years, but these changes are not permanent yet. I want to complete the job that I set out to do: Maintain smart growth to strengthen the commercial district in town while still maintaining our hometown character.
Vienna has this very unique character. It’s the kind of place where we want to see growth and development, but we don’t want it to change that character. It’s like a “mom and pop” town. It’s a safe place to have your family; there are so many family and community events. The people care about the town and each other. I want to make sure that’s not diluted or changed in any way, shape, or form.
What has it been like dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic? How well do you think the town has handled its pandemic response?
The people in town really rallied behind our local businesses, especially our restaurants. We anticipated a significant decrease in meal tax income, but the numbers were surprisingly on the favorable side, which we really appreciate. Without the residents, we would’ve suffered so much more.
Our new Economic Development Manager [Natalie Monkou] has tried hard to figure out ways to get people out and enjoying the community and supporting businesses. She’s been a huge resource for businesses needing information about CARES Act funding.
As a council, we adjusted the budget very conservatively to ensure essential services were maintained. We got CARES funds. But we do need to keep the pandemic in mind, and budget conservatively. We’ve attempted to attack that in the 2021 budget, but I’m only one voice of seven, and I’m occasionally outvoted.
This coming year, I would like us to lower our real estate tax just a slight fraction because I feel like, with the pandemic, it’d be nice to give something back to the people, however insignificant.
What are your thoughts on how the zoning code rewrite has gone so far?
For commercial zoning, we had a big issue with our previous laws. We eliminated the Maple Avenue Commercial zone because the buildings were too large and too dense. Going forward for new commercial zoning, I would push for more open space, reasonable building height, reasonable lot coverage, and adequate parking.
The residential zoning is just fine, but there are certain people who are in special circumstances and cannot have a front porch or handicap ramp.
What issues do you see as a priority in terms of what you want the zoning code update to address?
I’ve been the proponent of increased outdoor living space with patios, decks, and screened-in porches. We have to figure out how to do that in a reasonable manner so that everyone’s happy — I know there are concerns about houses getting bigger.
We need to look at how we can help residents build ramps and porches and make it easier for residents to navigate the code. The permitting process needs to be simplified, and the zoning codes need to be a people’s document. It needs to be so that the average person can find the information they need and act accordingly.
What are your environmental goals for the town?
- Make achieving Gold or Silver LEED certification the guideline for all new construction
- Make roads, streets and trails more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly to help with environmental causes and decrease traffic
- Figure out a way to reintroduce glass recycling to normal recycling (“People are throwing it out because they don’t want to drive to the purple bin,” Patel says.)
- Figure out a good location for composting
What’s your stance on whether Vienna should underground utilities?
It’s crucial we consider doing this for our town. This is something the town has missed an opportunity on when they approved projects in the last few years. Undergrounding utilities does leave space on Maple Avenue for increased pedestrian traffic and walkers and cyclists.
Going forward, I’d like to see us figure out a way have developers set aside funds to put forward toward undergrounding utilities. I think it’s a reasonable ask. It’s a vision for 30 years from now — not in the next few years, especially since it’s such an expensive endeavor.
Other than zoning and the budget, what are your other top priorities?
I want to make it easier for citizens to express their concerns and get solutions to real-time problems. I think the best way to do that is to continue encouraging community participation through surveys, community conversations, anything we can do to get citizens to let us know what they want to see in town.
What do you think can be done to address traffic on Maple?
I think traffic is the biggest thing that will be impacted as buildings go up and more people come into town. There are several ways to attack this issue with a few recommendations from the multimodal transportation study. We should elevate the W&OD crosswalk across Maple Avenue and Church Street so that the drivers see the elevated crosswalk and promote a bike route from Tysons — whether with signs or designated bike lanes.
My message is always this: I have three kids and I own two practices. I work full time, but I dedicate my time to the town because I care about the town. In order for me to do my job well, I need people to vote and let the council know how they feel about certain issues. Please, please, please take an interest in local government and participate any way you can.
Featured image via Town of Vienna