Botanical makeover for Vienna’s main streets delayed to uproot cost concerns

A Fairfax Connector bus stop and trees line the sidewalk on Maple Avenue (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Town of Vienna wants to bring more color to Maple Avenue and Church Street with a landscaping refresh, but new greenery won’t be in the ground until August at the earliest.

Department of Parks and Recreation staff approached the Vienna Town Council on Monday (March 20) to request $600,000 for a landscaping contractor that will help design and install new planters along the town’s main commercial streets.

However, uncertainty over how exactly those funds will be spent led the council to postpone a vote until its next meeting of April 10.

“Many of us have questions we’d like to get answers to,” Mayor Linda Colbert said.

Staff had hoped to get design options for the improvements this April and choose a final one in May so that the project could finish by the end of July, according to a request for proposals issued Jan. 12.

The town was seeking a vendor to design and install 81 landscape planters on both sides of Maple Avenue between East Street and 213 Maple Ave. West, along with 46 planters on both sides of Church Street between Mill Street NE and Lawyers Road NW.

The existing landscaping, including planters, brick sidewalks, streetlamps and bus shelters, was installed on both streets approximately 20 years ago, according to the town.

“The landscape plants have matured over the years and the uniformity of the design has waned,” the RFP said. “The trees are the predominant feature of the landscape planters while the shrub and herbaceous perennial layer is inconsistent and often absent.”

In addition to the actual plants, the requested funding would cover soil remediation, root pruning, the public engagement process, traffic control and sidewalk closings, and any needed removals of vegetation other than trees, which will be taken care of by town staff, Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Herman said.

The Tysons-based firm LSG Landscape Architecture, which previously assisted Vienna with a study of the Maple Avenue streetscape, was selected as the contract recipient.

Councilmember Chuck Anderson balked at the lack of details on the price of individual plants and other expenses, questioning why staff was seeking $600,000 right now when, so far, LSG has only provided a cost estimate of about $83,000 for the design portion of the project.

“I understand that the design’s not done, but we lack any leverage over pricing, so for the remaining $520,000, in theory, they could come up with whatever they wanted at whatever price,” Anderson said. “…This does not sound like to me to be sound contracting practices, particularly for a contract that’s this big. I think we need more certainty.”

According to Herman, the town believes having one firm design and install the project would be more efficient than doing separate RFPs, but after talking to LSG, staff decided they could get a more accurate estimate for the cost of implementation after the design is chosen.

Though initially skeptical, other council members ultimately agreed with Anderson that more financial information is needed after staff seemed unable to explain how they arrived at $600,000 as their proposed funding cap.

Despite her lingering questions, Colbert lauded the project’s overall goal of bringing more life and color to Vienna’s streets year-round.

“We’ve had residents come to us, email, come to our meetings and speak, businesses have talked to me about expecting Maple Avenue and Church Street to be greatly improved,” Colbert said. “It will help our businesses, and it will define our town better, I think, as people drive into town.”

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