The Vienna Town Council advanced several sidewalk projects to a final engineering design phase last night (Monday), even as another project continues to draw strong opposition from residents on the affected street.
Nearly every resident on Alma Street Southeast has signed a petition opposing a proposed project to add a sidewalk on the even-numbered side of their street between Delano Drive SE and Follin Lane SE.
The town council authorized a contract with an engineering firm to conduct final design work on that project and three others on Oct. 11.
A petition objecting to the project has garnered signatures from 10 of 12 residences on the street as of Sunday (Oct. 31). Resident Matt Sanders, whose property is on the corner of Alma and Delano, said he thinks the remaining homeowners will both oppose it.
Sanders tried to speak before the council’s vote on Oct. 11, but in a brief exchange, Mayor Linda Colbert said it wasn’t a public hearing.
“None of the residents on Alma and Delano have asked for or desire sidewalks. In fact they oppose it,” Sanders said by email. “The council appears to be hell bent on spending this money and installing sidewalks whether their constituents want them. Just because this money is available, doesn’t mean it has to be spent ramming sidewalks down the throats of residents.”
Town Feels Urgency Over Trust Fund Deadline
The current wave of sidewalk projects, including the one on Alma Street, is part of a push by the Town of Vienna to speed up work on its Robinson Trust Sidewalk Initiative, which is intended to expand the town’s sidewalk network.
The initiative is funded by a $7 million charitable trust that former Councilmember Maud Robinson left after her death in 2019. Among other conditions, the trust money must be spent by fall 2024.
In addition to the Alma project, Sanders says his property will be affected by plans to add sidewalk on Delano Drive Southeast, from Echols Street to the end.
That project is among five that were approved for final engineering design yesterday:
- DeSale Street Southwest from Moore Avenue to Tapawingo Road and also to the end of the street
- Melody Lane Southwest from DeSale Street to Lullaby Lane
- Tazewell Road Northwest from Lawyers Road to Holmes Drive
- Orrin Street Southeast from Delano Drive to Follin Lane
The town said the cost to prepare those engineering design reports is $46,700, based on a proposal from Urban.
Tensions Rise over Public Input Process
Ahead of the Oct. 11 vote, Sanders said in a letter to the town that he could lose part of his driveway and a parking space to the sidewalk projects, stating that he may pursue legal action.
When he followed up on that letter before yesterday’s meeting, Colbert told him that there would not be time for public comment, since a public hearing wasn’t scheduled.
“We have a place on the agenda for comments from the public that are not on the agenda but sidewalks are on the agenda so it will not be allowed then either,” Colbert wrote.
She also said the Department of Public Works has listened to residents’ concerns and worked with them to achieve the best possible design for the neighborhood, telling Sanders to send comments for the council to [email protected].
The Town of Vienna has posted video of last night’s meeting, but as of press time, audio was not available for most of the public comment period. The town’s information technology department said it would look into the matter.
Colbert acknowledged the audience later in the meeting.
“I know that a lot of you are here — probably all of you in the audience right now — for the sidewalks,” the mayor said. “…[The] Town has to do the designs first and look at those sides of the street and see which one makes more sense, and then we’ll have community input.”
When another person tried to speak while she was talking, Colbert said public comment wasn’t allowed at that time, because it would be unfair to people who weren’t present.
“We’re not ignoring you,” she said, encouraging people to email the town council and adding the town’s goal is to make the area as safe as possible for everyone.
Councilmember Nisha Patel asked about the status of sidewalk projects in the middle of town where they might be used more, requesting that the information be presented at a future public hearing.
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