Tysons, VA

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.

David Patariu is one of four candidates running for the three Vienna Town Council seats up for election this year. A practicing attorney and Vienna planning commissioner, Patariu is seeking his first term on the council after also running last year.

Interviews with fellow candidates Howard Springsteen, Nisha Patel, and Steve Potter — all incumbent councilmembers — are also available.

Why did you decide to run for election? 

Residents asked me to run this year because they felt their voices were not being heard by Vienna’s Town Council. The story of how I got on the ballot is a good example of the residents-first, can-do attitude we need on Town Council.

I figured that going to 125 to 150 homes to gather in-person ballot petition signatures during the pandemic would not be safe and would show a real lack of judgment regarding the safety of the residents.

Meanwhile, other Virginia office-seekers had filed cases to have the ballot signature requirement modified because of the pandemic. So, I filed a court case (Patariu v. Scott) and obtained a court-approved consent decree to make this process safer in the Town of Vienna, allowing candidates to use a form that does not require the circulator to personally witness the signature of each voter.

I saw other Virginia municipalities were being smarter about voting in a pandemic and put in the time and was the only candidate to use the modified ballot petition process. And I am running at the request of many residents to bring this kind of good judgment and concern for every resident to Vienna’s Town Council.

How well do you think the town has handled its pandemic response? 

Because of the pandemic, households and businesses across the country are conserving resources, spending less money, and deferring large projects. The Town Council, however, has spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars on arguably unnecessary consultants, started construction on a $14.5-plus million police station to replace a roughly 25-year-old police station, and opened up all residential and commercial zoning to a rewrite when residents cannot meet in person.

The town needs to hit “pause” on many of these non-essential projects and re-focus on pandemic recovery efforts directed toward residents and small businesses who have suffered the most.

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

Residents cannot use the traditional channels of meeting in person and standing up at Town Council meetings to express their opinions. Surveys are drafted and interpreted by pro-development town staff, distributed in a non-random way, and presented as if they show what all Vienna residents want.

The town must wait until in-person meetings are once again possible, and hire an independent company to do a true random-sample survey of residents on any proposed zoning code changes that will affect their property values.

Before we move ahead with the residential and commercial zoning code rewrite, we need a Maple Avenue traffic study signed by a professional engineer — who did not have a possible conflict of interest for simultaneous work on behalf of Maple Avenue developers — to inform our decisions related to traffic impact and the zoning code rewrite. Read More

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Town of Vienna residents might soon be able to drop their compost off in the town instead of having to drive up to 10 miles to the nearest Fairfax County facility.

However, the town is still searching for a location and a vendor to pick up the compost, according to Christine Horner, a water quality engineer for Vienna who is spearheading the project.

The idea of a stand-alone composting drop-off site has been long mulled-over.

The Vienna Town Council approved funding for such a program on May 13, 2019 as part of the 2020 fiscal year budget, Horner says. Since then, the town has been looking for a place to set up a compost site.

“The project is in motion,” she said. “We are actively searching for an appropriate location.”

Once a location is set, Vienna will be ready “to get the facility installed and contract with a vendor for pick-up services,” Horner said.

Finding a location is top-of-mind for Councilmember Nisha Patel, who is campaigning to get reelected for a second term this May.

“We don’t have an area that is free of residents to compost,” Patel told Tysons Reporter. “It’s something we need to look out and see where we can encourage more composting.”

While Vienna staff look for an appropriate location in town, Patel encourages residents to use Fairfax County’s composting drop-off at the I-66 Transfer Station (4618 West Ox Road) in Fairfax and the I-95 Landfill Complex (9850 Furnace Road) in Lorton. Those locations are open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

“These programs provide a similar service but are separate initiatives,” Horner said in an email. “The Fairfax Composting Drop Off location is currently available for Vienna residents.”

The county sites accept a wide range of goods for composting, including food — meat, dairy, eggs, vegetables, fruits and grains — along with flowers, uncoated paper bags, towels and plates, compostable flatware, flowers, coffee grounds and tea bags. Scraps and paper goods can be collected in kitchen pails, secured in compostable bags, and tossed into the green bins.

Image via Fairfax County

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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. Read More

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The Town of Vienna plans to add sidewalks along Park Street NE between Ayr Hill Avenue and Albea Court. (Photo via Town of Vienna)

The Vienna Town Council authorized funds for two sidewalk improvement projects last week, paving the way for the town to create a more integrated sidewalk network.

First, the council voted unanimously on March 22 to approve an additional $61,000 for the town’s Park Street NE sidewalk project, which will close an approximately 850-foot gap between Ayr Hill Avenue and Albea Court NE with five-foot-wide concrete sidewalks, including curb and gutters.

In the works since at least 2016, the project’s total estimated cost of $855,104 is being funded by a Virginia Department of Transportation transportation alternatives grant. The grant requires a 20% local match, which Vienna is providing through its Northern Virginia Transportation Authority funds.

The additional $61,000 is needed to pay a contracted construction management firm Whitman, Requardt & Associates for right-of-way services. The project will require 10 temporary property acquisitions to accommodate construction, according to a scope-of-work document from the town.

Vienna Director of Public Works Mike Gallagher says the town previously expected to be able to handle the right-of-way process on its own or with “limited consultant help.”

“For town and state projects, we’re very fortunate in the town. The citizens and adjoining property owners routinely sign temporary easements if it’s necessary,” Town Attorney Steven Briglia said. “Most times, we just use right-of-way agreements so it’s not recorded and a cloud on their title.”

However, this project requires more formal right-of-way agreements, even though the takes aren’t permanent, because the VDOT grant includes federal funding. That means it has to adhere to the “complicated and time-consuming” process set by the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act, Vienna town staff say.

Gallagher assured the town council that the public works department will not need any more money for the Park Street sidewalk project, stating that the new funding request is likely for more than they will actually need.

“I know that the project is budgeted higher than what we projected the cost to be, so there’s sufficient funds,” he said.

The Vienna Town Council also approved a $1.4 million construction contract for a project to replace an existing asphalt trail on Old Courthouse Road with approximately 500 linear feet of concrete sidewalk, closing a gap between Gosnell Road and Pine Valley Drive.

The project will also add curbs and gutters with drainage improvements to eliminate a ditch alongside the roadway.

The contract went to Sagres Construction, which submitted a bid of roughly $1.2 million, the lowest amount out of the six vendors that responded to the town’s invitation to bid. The approved funding includes a 10% contingency.

Initiated in 2013, the Old Courthouse project is divided into two phases since a portion of the road extends outside of town limits into Fairfax County. The Vienna Town Council approved an agreement with the county to get $2.3 million for construction funding in January 2019.

The Town of Vienna has prioritized filling in gaps in its sidewalks to improve the town’s walkability. A gift from the late Councilmember Maud Robinson enabled the town to establish a dedicated fund for sidewalk construction, though the Park Street and Old Courthouse projects don’t qualify since they are getting funding from elsewhere.

The town council also voted in February to require developers of single-lot properties to construct a sidewalk regardless of whether sidewalks exist on adjacent lots.

Map via Google Maps

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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.  Read More

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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.

Howard Springsteen is one of four candidates running for the three Vienna Town Council seats that are up for election this year. A retired Fairfax County employee and firefighter for the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department, Springsteen has served on the council since 2009 and is now seeking his sixth term.

Why did you decide to run for reelection?

Well, I’ve been on the council since 2009, and I still think I make a difference. I enjoy serving the town and serving the community, and I just think we have a lot of issues that we’re dealing with that I’d like to see through to fruition. We have a great mayor and council right now. Everyone’s pulling together as a team, and I enjoy doing it…I bring a really good history with my experience of the community, and also my experience on the council is very valuable. I have a good institutional knowledge, what has worked, what hasn’t worked, what needs to be done.

What has it been like dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic from your perspective?

It’s been really challenging this year, but we’ve continued to maintain essential town services. Sidewalks are being built, maintenance projects being done, water and sewer pipes being done…We’ve cut the budget back, but I think the biggest challenge we’ve had is trying to keep everyone safe and maintaining essential town services and moving forward with projects.

We started the new police station…That was five, 10 years in the planning stages, and we’re getting that done. We bought the First Baptist Church that gives us much more ability to have additional recreational facilities around town, so we’re surviving.

How well do you think the town has handled its pandemic response? What’s been your approach to balancing keeping people safe and supporting businesses?

We have different areas of responsibility than [Fairfax County] does. We don’t have a health department. We have a police, public works. I think Natalie [Monkou], who’s our new economic development person, has done a good job. Linda [Colbert], the mayor, has worked with the business community. We’ve had a lot of campaigns, lot of carry-outs. We’ve extended these ordinances where you can have tents in the parking lot.

We really have gone out of our way to reduce the regulations and actually try to be as helpful to businesses as possible. It’s still a challenge for businesses, but…we’re definitely trying to reach out to the community. We got CARES funds. We’ve used those in areas that we could. We basically have used a commonsense approach. We maintained county services with an eye towards safety, and I think it’s paying off.

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

I’m not opposed to growth. I just want reasonable, realistic, responsible growth…We repealed the MAC [Maple Avenue Commercial zone], so by doing this code update, we’re being very measured. We’re getting community input, we’re getting buy-in, and it probably won’t be approved until the end of this year or beginning of next year.

We’re being very careful. We did a survey. We want to reach out to folks. We did the residential first and the commercial. I don’t believe in knee-jerk reaction. Development’s going to happen, but we want to do it so it’s managed. The town’s in the driver’s seat, not the developers. That’s the key. The town and residents need to be in the driver’s seat, and we have to do it to be very respectful of our past and sensitive to our future. Read More

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The ballot for the Town of Vienna’s May 4 election has been finalized, with four candidates — three incumbents and one challenger — vying for the three seats that are up for a vote.

Councilmembers Nisha Patel, Steve Potter, and Howard Springsteen all announced on Feb. 1 that they will be campaigning to retain their seats. Patel and Potter are both seeking second terms after being elected to the council for the first time in 2019, while Springsteen has served six consecutive, two-year terms since 2009.

The fourth candidate is Vienna Planning Commissioner David Patariu, a lawyer who was appointed to the commission in October 2019. This is his second time running for a position on the town council after he joined six other candidates in last year’s race.

The Town of Vienna holds elections annually on the first Tuesday of May. Three town council seats go on the ballot every year, and even years also feature mayoral elections.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Vienna Community Center (120 Cherry Street SE).

All Vienna residents who are over 18 years old and have U.S. citizenship are eligible to vote in town elections. New voters can register in person with the general registrar’s office at the Fairfax County Government Center (12000 Government Center Parkway), by mail, or online.

Vienna will not be utilizing ballot drop-off boxes for the upcoming election, according to the Fairfax County Office of Elections.

However, that could potentially change. The Virginia General Assembly passed a bill during its special session in February that requires the establishment of drop-off locations for absentee ballots, aiming to make permanent a measure that was implemented on a temporary basis last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation went to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk on March 1 with a deadline of 11:59 p.m. on March 31 for him to act on it.

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The Town of Vienna is leading the way in Virginia with a newly conceived celebration of four amendments to the U.S. Constitution that enshrined the rights of people of color and women.

The town announced on Friday (March 12) that planning for the inaugural Liberty Amendments Month celebration is officially underway, and community organizations, businesses and individuals are encouraged to help shape the four weeks of festivities.

Liberty Amendments Month is the brainchild of Vienna Town Manager Mercury Payton, and the Vienna Town Council adopted a resolution on Dec. 7 to officially recognize the occasion. It has since been ratified by the Virginia General Assembly as well.

“We all can celebrate these amendments that ensure rights and liberties for each of us,” Payton said.

Patrons of the now-passed bill included Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna) and state Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), who was one of Payton’s professors at Hampton University, Inside NOVA reports.

“I’m so proud that the Town of Vienna is leading the way in initiating this holiday and month-long commemoration of these fundamental rights that we all cherish,” Mayor Linda Colbert said. “I’m especially proud that Town Manager Mercury Payton came up with the idea and has worked hard to see it become a reality.”

In the wake of last summer’s racial justice protests, Payton conceived of Liberty Amendments Month as a celebration of the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Constitutional amendments, which abolished slavery, granted citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in the U.S., and extended voting rights to all citizens regardless of race and gender.

Liberty Amendments Month will begin on June 19 — also known as Juneteenth — with an educational event that will “offer a thoughtful reflection on the liberties assured by these four amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” according to the town.

Each of the next four weeks will be dedicated to one of the four liberty amendments with contests, lectures, classes, themed restaurant specials, walks, art exhibits, films, and performances.

The celebration will culminate on July 19 with a multicultural festival featuring food, drinks, crafts, and entertainment from around the world. The Vienna Town Council has designated that day as Liberty Amendments Day, replacing Columbus Day on its list of official holidays.

“There’s lots to celebrate here,” Councilmember Chuck Anderson said. “This is going to be a people’s event just as the Constitution is the people’s document.”

Groups interested in sponsoring, participating in, or hosting events can apply online by April 1.

The town is advising planners to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions and social-distancing guidelines, which could still be in place this summer.

Planning meetings will be held at 5 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Interested organizations can contact [email protected] for a Zoom link to the meetings or more details.

Photo via Town of Vienna

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Thursday Morning Notes

Federal American Recovery Plan Will Prevent Metro Budget Cuts — Metro will not need to make the drastic service and personnel cuts proposed in its fiscal year 2022 budget, thanks to Congress’ approval of a new COVID-19 relief package that includes $1.4 billion for D.C. region transit agencies. The potential changes, which included closures of the McLean and Greensboro stations, would have taken effect in January 2022 if the advertised budget got approved. [WMATA]

Thomas Jefferson Admissions Changes Spur New Federal Lawsuit — “Fairfax County Public Schools is facing a second lawsuit over changes officials made last year to the admissions process at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, its flagship STEM magnet school. The suit, filed in federal court Wednesday, alleges the changes are discriminatory against Asian Americans and therefore violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.” [The Washington Post]

Ramp Closure Planned for I-495/I-66 at Fairview Park — The ramp from southbound Interstate 495 to westbound Interstate 66 will be closed from 11 p.m. Saturday (March 13) to 7 a.m. Sunday, and again on 10 p.m. Sunday to 4 a.m. Monday. The ramp will have two exit lanes when it reopens, one of which has been closed since late January for the construction of a new ramp as part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project. [Patch]

Vienna Town Council Debates Undergrounding Utilities — “Placing utility lines underground in Vienna’s Maple Avenue corridor would beautify the streetscape and improve service reliability, but at a steep cost. According to a feasibility study…presented at the Vienna Town Council’s March 8 work session, utility undergrounding in 10 locations would cost an estimated $22 million – the equivalent of about half of the town’s general-fund budget for one year.” [Sun Gazette]

Capital One Appoints New Board Members — “McLean banking giant Capital One Financial Corp. (NYSE: COF) has appointed executives from Facebook Inc. and Nike Inc. to its board of directors, the company said Tuesday. In May, shareholders will vote on the election of Ime Archibong, head of new product experimentation at Facebook, and Craig Williams, president of Jordan Brand at Nike.” [Washington Business Journal]

Vienna Fire Department to Host Two Inova Blood Drives — The Vienna Volunteer Fire Department (400 Center St. S) will hold two blood drives this spring for Inova, one from 1-7 p.m. on March 25 and the second from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on April 2. Face coverings are required at both events. [@ViennaVFD/Twitter]

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Businesses in the Town of Vienna will now have more leniency for outdoor dining and other commercial activities until at least Sept. 1, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to constrain indoor activities.

The Vienna Town Council unanimously voted last night (Monday) to extend an emergency ordinance temporarily waiving zoning regulations on outdoor commercial operations that was scheduled to expire on Mar. 31.

This is the fourth time that the council has adopted the ordinance, which enables the town manager to grant temporary permits to businesses so they can operate outside without necessarily meeting all of the town’s usual requirements.

Vienna first adopted the measure for a 60-day period on June 1, 2020 in recognition that “COVID-19 constitutes a real and substantial threat to public health and safety,” as stated in the ordinance, which was extended on June 15 to Sept. 30, 2020 and again on Aug. 31 to Mar. 31, 2021.

With scientific evidence suggesting that the novel coronavirus spreads more easily in enclosed, indoor settings, many restaurants and retailers pivoted to offering outdoor activities last summer so they could keep operating under capacity limits imposed by state guidelines. While Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam loosened some restrictions starting this month, dining establishments are still limited to 10 indoor patrons, and capacity for all businesses is limited by the need for at least six feet of social distancing.

Under the emergency ordinance, Vienna is waiving requirements in the Town Code related to business activities that occur “outside of a wholly enclosed building, use of onsite sidewalks, and required parking areas for outdoor commercial activity.” Town Manager Mercury Payton

Town of Vienna Director of Planning and Zoning Cindy Petkac told the town council on Monday that the town has issued temporary permits to 32 businesses so far.

While the extension was approved quickly, Councilmember Chuck Anderson noted that, with the weather about to warm up and public health restrictions easing as COVID-19 cases decline, town officials should start considering what to do once more people start spending time outside of their homes.

“As more and more people get the vaccine and people start going out, the demand for those parking spaces, which has been pretty low, is going to increase,” Anderson said. “I don’t have any good ideas myself right now. It’s just something I thought we should keep on the radar screen over the next several months.”

Mayor Linda Colbert agreed that the town will need to prepare for potential conflicts between businesses that want to maintain outdoor operations and drivers looking for parking, which tends to be a challenge to find along Maple Avenue.

“We’d all be happy to have that problem, I think,” Colbert said. “We want those restaurants to just be booming, but I agree. We should be looking forward and thinking about that.”

Photo via Vienna Business Association/Facebook

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