Q&A: Vienna Town Council Candidate Steve Potter

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.

Steve Potter is one of four candidates running for the three Vienna Town Council seats up for election this year. A U.S. Navy veteran and professional consultant, Potter is seeking his second term after joining the council in 2019.

Interviews with fellow incumbents Howard Springsteen and Nisha Patel are also available.

Why did you decide to run for reelection?

I’m running because we’re in the midst of numerous projects that I’ve been a part of and would like to see through completion. I believe continuity, knowledge, and experience are going to be more important in this election than in previous elections because of the magnitude of the initiatives involved and the long-term effects they will have on the community. They include the zoning code rewrite, transportation and traffic studies, land purchases, library and parking expansion, police station construction, new sidewalks, infrastructure upkeep and repairs, and economic development.

What has it been like dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic? How well do you think the town has handled its pandemic response?

I think the major focus has been on financial relief for our businesses and identifying sources of funds and revenues that can help our businesses through tough times. Just the RISE grant alone, we had 254 businesses and nonprofits who got $2.76 million in grant funding. So, we have been able to help people with those kinds of relief to get them through. There was another relief fund for $100,000 for the Town of Vienna residents and business workers, and there’s been loan and grant application systems.

We have temporary permits that we’ve put in place for outdoor commercial activity for our restaurants. We did things for child daycare businesses in commercial zones and expanded opportunities in that area. We’ve done…an eight-course boot camp for new business owners. There’s a weekly newsletter that provides business-related news. We’ve had several social media campaigns to promote local businesses. So, I think we have done a lot in terms of being able to support the community and help folks get through this.

What are your thoughts on how the zoning code rewrite has gone so far?

The zoning code prior to the rezoning update was very antiquated. It was very ambiguous. It allowed multiple interpretations on a single subject, and it was also conducive to having very large buildings, high density very close to the borderlines, small setbacks, and all of these things didn’t contribute to what really needed to be done in today’s world, in our minds.

Bringing it back to the drawing board has allowed us to look at how each ordinance interfaces with each other, to look at the logic of having a 1.2-mile stretch [on Maple Avenue] of the same code, and just allows us to look at things differently so that we can update things that reflect smart growth, reduce density, increase green space, allow for greater setbacks, and are environmentally sound.

What issues do you see as a priority in terms of what you want the zoning code update to address?

There’s a lot of moving parts to it. It’s badly needed, and I think transparency is at the top of the list. We want all the citizen input that we can get, and we want to be able to do this right, because it is so critical to the future of the town. What we’re doing now and the decisions that the council is making and getting involved in are things that will impact Vienna for 50-plus years, so they can’t be done lightly. They have to be done with thorough evaluation and discussion and determination as to what makes the most sense for Vienna moving forward.

(Editor’s note: In his interview, Potter mentioned that the town is evaluating housing options, such as for accessory living units, cottage homes, and duplexes, as well as the possibility of breaking up Vienna’s commercial corridor into smaller districts to improve walkability.)

What are your environmental goals for the town?

Having LEED compliance in new buildings is something that has been emphasized in new construction, where you have the products and building standards that are more energy-efficient. That will go a long way. I think one of our biggest examples or the most recent is the new police station. It’s going to be LEED Gold, which is top of the line…I know that we’re looking at opportunities [in the town fleet] for start-stop capabilities, hybrids, electric options, all to reduce our carbon footprint.

We have a very active sustainability group, and they have come out with suggestions involving mulching, concerns about tree cover, and areas such as that. The town’s promoting green space in new construction [and] looking very closely at lot coverage and its relationship to stormwater management…So, I think there’s a large focus on reducing our carbon footprint wherever we can.

What’s your stance on whether Vienna should underground utilities?

The situation is, if you’re going to go underground, we don’t have a really easy place to be able to do that other than underneath the streets, but the costs on this have been very, very high…Last I heard, it was $22 million, and that’s a lot of money for our budget, and we’ve really got to kind of figure out what we’re going to do about it.

We have Maple Avenue, but we also have neighborhoods, where undergrounding is being discussed and being approved as we speak, so there’s undergrounding going on in some of the neighborhoods, and the council in general has been supportive of that.

If reelected, what would be your top three priorities?

  • Maintain sound fiscal management
  • Finish the zoning code update
  • Develop “smart growth plans” that improve the town’s walkability, add green space, and expand parking opportunities

What do you think should be done to address traffic on Maple Avenue?

Maple Avenue, we know, is at full capacity during the peak hours. COVID has taken a big chunk out of that, because all these people aren’t traveling back and forth to work, and when people are on the road, it’s spread out over a larger period of time, but we would have to assume that we’re going to come back to the pre-COVID level sometime moving forward. The question is, how do we do that in a fashion that’s effective and affordable?

One of the things we’ve come to realize is that we’re not going to be able to necessarily reduce the volume along Maple. It’s a VDOT road. It’s a major avenue to get to Tysons, and there’s always going to be a demand for that space…We could spend millions of dollars that would only improve the amount of time to get through town by two or three minutes, so I think we’re in a position now that we’re looking at it and saying, we need to do traffic signal improvements through enhanced signal technology, and that way, it keeps the flow going so that we’re moving the volume through town faster.

Anything else?

I think [the Robinson Trust Sidewalk] Initiative we have going on right now is very important. We have a generous gift that was given to us by a former councilmember, Maud Robinson, and that would allow 3.3 miles of sidewalk and enhanced walkability and connectivity. So, that is being looked on, because I think we recognize that sidewalks are good. They’re good for health, they’re good for safety, they’re good for connecting important parts of town and destinations within the community, and they support sustainability, which you mentioned earlier, and town businesses.

Photo courtesy Steve Potter

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