The Vienna Town Council unanimously approved $400,000 in funding for emergency sewer repairs yesterday (Monday).
The funds will go to contractor Tri-State Utilities for the inspection and potential repair of the Piney Branch-Difficult Run trunk sewer, a 21-inch line located inside Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.
The sewer line serves the Town of Vienna as well as surrounding portions of Fairfax County, including the Tysons business district.
The Town of Vienna learned that the sewer would need to repair the sewer in late March after Fairfax County inspectors alerted the town’s Department of Public Works that portions of the line were in danger of collapsing.
“It has holes in it. There’s rocks protruding in it, and roots,” Vienna Public Works director Michael Gallagher said. “It’s about 750 linear feet of pipe that needs to be rehabilitated.”
The repairs are expected to involve lining three sections of the sewer where the pipe wall has been corroded by hydrogen sulfide and broken up by roots and a large rock protruding through the top of the pipe, according to the Department of Public Works.
Vienna used an emergency waiver to hire Tri-State Utilities for the emergency repair work on Sept. 21 after facing challenges finding a contractor and obtaining permission to proceed from the U.S. National Park Service, which owns Wolf Trap National Park.
Gallagher says costs for the repairs are not expected to exceed $400,000, though the contractor has not yet determined the final scope of the work.
Because of a 1963 agreement that allows the town to share operations and maintenance costs for its sewers with Fairfax County, Vienna will be reimbursed by the county for 63 percent of the project’s expenses. The town is responsible for 37 percent of the costs.
As the owner of the sewer line, the Town of Vienna is obligated to contract for the full cost of the repairs. Any money left over from the approved $400,000 will be funneled back into the town’s capital improvements program, according to Gallagher.
Gallagher could not confirm a date for when the repairs will be completed, but he says they will allow the sewer line to last at least 50 more years.
Photo via Emerging Arts Leaders DC
A representative from consulting firm Kimley-Horn presented the next steps to improve transportation through the Maple Avenue area to the Vienna Town Council for its consideration on Monday.
Following surveys of Vienna residents conducted by the town and Kimley-Horn, several portions of the Maple Avenue Multimodal Study were highlighted as top priorities and presented to the council. According to the town’s survey, residents identified eight items as top priorities.
Among those items are the redesign of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail crossings, integration of leading pedestrian intervals (LPI), filling vital sidewalk gaps and providing traffic impact analysis guidelines. A streetscape master plan and design, a long-range transportation master plan, parking and demand study, and the redesign of Church Street and Lawyers Road intersection rounded out the top concerns.
Jinks shared the priorities with the council while echoing the redesign of the W&OD Trail Crossing as one of the public works department staff’s top projects to “start to find funding and implement as soon as we can.”
While Kimley-Horn conducted independent engagement meetings with community members to address challenges or concerns, many of the top priorities were the same as reflected in the town’s survey.
Based on the meetings and a survey of the baseline condition of Maple Avenue, consultant David Samba from Kimley-Horn presented solutions to the council that could be implemented in the next five to 10 years. The projects presented would address some travel conditions or challenges – not just traffic with vehicles, but with biking, walking and transit experiences.
Kimley-Horn’s study looked at a single future development scenario including 13 mixed-use developments across the corridor that would add about 700 vehicle trips in the morning and 500 vehicle trips in the afternoon. According to Samba, analysis showed that even with the addition of the traffic, Maple Avenue would continue to function similar to how it does now.
“It gave us confidence that if we address today’s challenges, we’d be addressing tomorrow’s challenges at the same time,” Samba said.
The survey identified a number of challenges, but primarily established public concern that multiple means of travel in the area need to be addressed, not just the automobile experience.
Kimley-Horn presented 18 projects to the council with considerations for near-, mid- and long-term recommendations.
Short-term recommendations include the redesign of the intersection of Church Street and Mill Street, W&OD Trail Crossing redesign, implementing leading pedestrian intervals, and all way stops. They also include trail management or extension on Locust Street, redesign of the Pleasant Street and Courthouse Road intersection, roadway operation and safety improvement, filling sidewalk gaps and redesign of the Nutley Street and Courthouse Road intersection.
Mid-term recommendations include a local circulator, a bicycle network, Capital Bikeshare, curb reconstruction and bus stop enhancements on Maple Avenue.
The firm lists redesign of Branch Broad and Beulah Road intersection, raised medians and a Maple Avenue off-peak parking plan as long-term recommendations.
Of the 18 recommendations, Samba listed six as the top priorities:
- The redesign of the intersection of Church Street and Mill Street
- W&OD Trail Crossing Redesign
- Leading pedestrian intervals
- A local circulator
- A bicycle network
- Filling sidewalk gaps.
Following the presentations by Jinks and Samba, Council member Howard Springsteen expressed gratitude for the project documents, but also emphasized the effect the COVID-19 pandemic is having on traffic and commuting.
“I think your study is a very good reference document out there that we can look at,” Springsteen said of the Kimley-Horn report. “But I think right now, we’re just trying to keep our heads above water with the pandemic.”
Image via Town of Vienna
This afternoon, the Vienna Town Council unanimously approved the use of outdoor gathering space for churches, schools and other non-commercial entities during the ongoing pandemic.
The ordinance will allow groups to socially distance and meet under safer conditions by avoiding indoor spaces with less air circulation.
A town attorney said that the council made the ordinance as broad as they could, as to make it inclusive for groups that need it.
“The good news is that if we left anything out in a rush, the good news is that it will come back before you,” the attorney said to the council, noting that they will have to vote to readopt it in 60 days.
Mayor Linda Colbert said at the meeting that she was greeted this morning before the vote by students from Green Hedges at her weekly “meet the mayor” event. The kids and their headmaster all encouraged the council to vote yes on the proposition.
The council also received emails and correspondence from church groups in the area, pushing for the changes, according to the town clerk.
“If you can get the kids out of the classroom and out into the open air, I think is safer in general,” councilmember Nisha Patel previously said.
The change comes after the council approved to extend the use of outdoor space for commercial businesses yesterday.
Restaurants and businesses in the Town of Vienna can take advantage of outside spaces for the next seven months.
Last night, the Vienna Town Council voted to extend a temporary waiver on commercial activity outside in hopes of helping local businesses stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.
Businesses are utilizing parking lots and sidewalks in hopes of attracting more customers as they operate under state and local rules capacity restrictions and social distancing guidelines. As the pandemic continues, customers are gauging how safe they feel inside or outside — with some people opting to limit their time inside businesses.
“We have got to do this to keep our businesses going,” Councilmember Howard Springsteen said.
The Vienna Town Council first approved the emergency ordinance on June 1 and then readopted it on June 15. Before the town officials voted last night, the temporary waiver was set to last until Sept. 30.
Now, town businesses will have until March 31, 2021 to apply for and use temporary emergency outdoor commercial activity permits, which Town Manager Mercury Payton authorizes. Payton can also waive regulations for signage and conditional use permits for outdoor dining activities.
After Councilmember Nisha Patel pushed the town to consider a similar waiver for non-commercial zones, Colbert suggested calling for an emergency session on Friday for the Vienna Town Council to consider the proposal.
Patel said that she knows of private schools that would like to use outdoor space for teaching. “If you can get the kids out of the classroom and out into the open air, I think is safer in general,” Patel said.
Photo via Vienna Business Association/Facebook
The Town of Vienna announced plans to buy the Faith Baptist Church — and now wants residents’ input on what to do with the property.
The Vienna Town Council last night (Monday) approved buying the 3-acre property at 301 Center Street S. for $5.5 million after councilmembers lauded the upcoming acquisition as a long-term benefit to the community.
Councilmember Chuck Anderson called the purchase a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” saying that the church is in the core governmental area of Vienna.
“Center Street is literally in the center of town,” Mayor Linda Colbert said.
Town Attorney Steve Briglia said that the church — a “vital and established part of the town for many, many years” — started internal discussions about changing its mission and possibly selling the property a few years ago.
Previous Town Councils were interested in buying the property, but the church wasn’t ready to sell it, Briglia said. The town is scheduled to close on the property on Sept. 18, using funds from the general obligation bonds issued earlier this year for the purchase, according to a press release from the town.
The town plans to rent the space to the church while the church makes its transitions.
“I’m sure it’s bittersweet whenever a house of faith decides to move into a new way of operating and I certainly wish them the best of success in the future,” Anderson said.
In the short-term, the town is looking to temporarily relocate the police department to the church for one to two years while the new station is under construction.
Police Chief Jim Morris said that the church — instead of the originally planned relocation to the town’s Beulah Road property, will allow the police station to have business hours. “People can come in and we’ll still remain in the community in the heart of all of the activity,” Morris said.
How the property will get used in the long-term is still to be determined. The building includes classrooms, a sanctuary and a full-size gym, Briglia said.
Councilmember Nisha Patel urged residents to share their ideas for how the property can get used. “It’s your property, and as town residents, I really hope you guys provide us with feedback about you’d like to see go into that space eventually and after its temporary use,” Patel said.
Colbert said that the town will do a feasibility study to help figure out how the property can get used. The Vienna Town Council will also start discussing the options during its Capital Improvement Plan work session on Sept. 21, according to the press release.
Image via Google Maps
Churches, nonprofits, fire stations and many other institutions can now temporarily offer daycare in the Town of Vienna.
The Vienna Town Council met last Wednesday (Aug. 19) to approve an emergency zoning ordinance that eliminates hurdles to new childcare services. The ordinance will allow commercially- and industrially-zoned properties and public, semi-public and private institutions to offer daycare.
“I think this is going to be really great for the businesses that want to try this,” Mayor Linda Colbert said.
Previously, the town only allowed residential properties to get conditional use permits for daycare, Kelly O’Brien of the town’s Planning and Zoning Department said.
Now, places like businesses, churches and nonprofits can temporarily bypass the town’s typical procedures and restrictions on daycare.
O’Brien said that the temporary ordinance stemmed from a local business’s requests to provide emergency childcare — an urgent need in the town and Fairfax County as many schools in the area switch to fully virtual learning this fall.
Roughly half of the respondents to a Tysons Reporter poll in mid-July said that childcare is a concern for them once summer ends.
Because it’s an emergency temporary zoning ordinance, Town Attorney Steve Briglia said that the proposal, which will last for 60 days, did not need to get approval from the town’s Planning Commission.
Briglia said that the town staff will immediately advertise to readopt the ordinance, and the readopted ordinance would last until Jan. 31, 2021.
“We’ll know well before then whether the schools are going to be in session for the second semester. If they are, we won’t really need this,” Briglia said. “If they are going to be further suspended, we’ll have plenty of time to readopt and modify this as you feel fit.”
Vienna businesses and institutions looking to offer childcare will still need to meet the health and safety regulations set by Fairfax County and comply with state regulations for daycare facilities, Briglia said.
When new Councilmember Ed Somers asked why the town hadn’t previously allowed more places to offer daycare, O’Brien said she wasn’t sure, but that the town does plan to get community feedback on the idea for the long-term.
Councilmember Ray Brill Jr. said that competition with home-based daycare could be the reason, while Councilmember Chuck Anderson said that daycare has changed over the decades.
“It seems like a logical thing to do,” Somers said.
Image via Town of Vienna
On one of her final days in office, Laurie DiRocco took a moment to reflect on her accomplishments as Vienna’s mayor.
DiRocco was first elected to the Town Council in 2009 and has been the mayor since 2014, according to her town bio. She has lived in the town since 1995.
Going back 20 years, DiRocco said that serving on the Town Council or as mayor wasn’t on her radar when she was working in finance, but decided to run for mayor at the request of her predecessor.
Her key efforts included environmental sustainability, town walkability and financial responsibility, she told Tysons Reporter earlier this week.
Under her leadership, the town built a brand new community center that met the mark for a LEED Gold Certification, meaning that the center was built keeping in mind the highest standards of energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.
This building was the first in the town to meet such high standards, according to DiRocco.
DiRocco said her focus on sustainability also applies to commuters and pedestrians.
“A big thing for me was walkability. I walk all the time. I love to run and bike and wanted to improve that in the town,” she said.
To encourage exploration of the community and relations with her constitutes, DiRocco would organize Friday morning walks. Each week, people were invited to join her at 9:30 a.m. to take a roughly 3-mile walk — giving them the chance to personally meet DiRocco and check out sites around the town. Roughly 10-20 people would take her up on the offer each week, she said.
“Some people would stop by because they wanted to talk to me in a casual environment,” she said. “But I also had some regulars.”
Thanks to funding from Maud Robinson, a former council member, DiRocco said that the town was able to install miles of sidewalks during her term.
To ease traffic in the town, DiRocco noted that a roundabout at Locust Street SE and Park Street was “wildly successful” in eliminating traffic jams for commuters. “That was a nice little transportation project that I’m proud of,” she said.
DiRococo has been active in the Black Lives Matter rallies around town, posting photos and videos showing community members kneeling in allyship to the Black community on her personal Facebook page.
“I thought they were really powerful,” she said, noting how “peaceful and well thought out” the protests were.
DiRocco said that “there hasn’t been an issue within our police station,” but that nearby localities have had issues with police brutality and racial injustice.
For Vienna specifically, she said that the Town Council began examining how policing happens in Vienna. About five years, the town started work on the conception plans for the upcoming police station.
Though a subject of controversy around town, DiRocco said that the plans for the new station include more involvement from the community to rethink the relationship between police and the community.
“We have an opportunity to make changes,” she said.
Following in DiRocco’s footsteps, Linda Colbert, who was first elected to the Town Council in 2014, is the incoming mayor.
“She has a knowledge base of how things operate,” Di Rocco said. “She really cares about the town, the people and the community. It’s about her love for Vienna, not political purposes.”
The two leaders have already met to talk about the position, according to DiRocco.
DiRocco said she’s confident that Colbert will continue many of the popular traditions, such as the town’s volunteer recognition — which DiRocco said she has expanded upon during her time in office.
Photo via Laurie DiRocco/Facebook
Dozens of locals created a petition to reexamine the use of Vienna’s budget to construct a new police station.
The petition, which has since gained over 1,000 signatures, calls for the Town of Vienna to halt the building construction until the Town Council arranges a “formal commission and engages in meaningful dialogue with the community to discuss the best way forward with regard to public safety.”
Twenty-three alumni of James Madison High School started the petition.
“Within the first 24 hours of publishing the petition, we’ve received hundreds of signatures,” Casey Grage, one of the petition’s creators, said. “It turns out we were correct in our assumption that there is a better way to spend Vienna money.”
The police station project includes plans to create a community gathering space. It would be located at 215 Center S. Street and cost roughly $14 million.
Grage first decided to get involved with the project after she said she felt that the project wasn’t properly publicized.
The petition outlines concerns that the police station plans lack enough community input and proposes how town officials should move forward with engaging residents.
“This community engagement process, beginning with community conversations and producing a formal report, is the best way to involve all Vienna residents in building a more just model for public safety,” the petition says.
Megha Karthikeyan, another person behind the petition, said that though the money from the budget must be dedicated toward town infrastructure growth, there is room for interpretation in this purpose.
“We think there are a lot of creative ways to use that money,” she said, adding other choices include a sexual assault resource center and a more welcoming community center design without a shooting range design.
“Making such a significant budgeting decision regarding community safety mandates the input of all constituents, especially that of Brown and Black people, whose insights and lived experiences must be heard by Town leadership,” the petition says.
While the organizers say the petition is a good start, both Grage and Karthikeyan said that it’s going to take other types of effort to attract the attention of the Town Council — including showing up to the virtual town hall meetings, asking difficult questions and directly expressing concern.
“The town has told us they are going to reply to our petition on July 6,” Grage said. Until then, they are going to keep finding ways to get more attention to their cause.
Image courtesy Kelly Jiang
After years of pausing the Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zone in attempts to revamp it, the Vienna Town Council decided last night to repeal the zoning code and “start fresh.”
The Vienna Town Council held a public hearing last night on the two options for the MAC’s future: either repealing it or extending the moratorium, which has been in place since 2018, on the zoning code to June 2022.
To Repeal or Not to Repeal?
The two choices received a mixed reaction during the public hearing. Supporters for extending the MAC generally side that the zoning code has many good aspects that they don’t want to see completely scrapped, while supporters for repealing argued that town staff and consultants the town wants to hire need a clean slate.
Mary McCullough, who recently left the town’s Planning Commission, urged the Town Council to keep suspending the MAC until the code rewrite is done. “Repeal says we harmed,” she said. “That’s the message you send with repeal.”
Vienna resident Roy Baldwin said that repealing the MAC sends the message that the work from volunteers on the zoning code “is of no value.” Resident Ray Brill Jr. disagreed, saying that people’s hard work on the MAC is not enough of a reason to keep it.
“The fact that we repeal does not mean we don’t incorporate the vision and some of the things we like,” Brill added.
Cindy Petkac with the town’s planning and zoning division told the Town Council said she thought they would be “better off starting fresh.”
“I think it would be more efficient to repeal it,” Petkac said. “It is a cumbersome, confusing process in my professional opinion.”
The town’s plans to hire a consulting firm to help with rewriting the code also factored into the conversation last night about what to do with the MAC.
The Vienna Town Council initially paused its plans to hire a firm for $250,000 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baldwin, the local resident, testified that he isn’t convinced the town needs to spend money on consultants when locals with expertise “will work for free.”
Council Douglas Noble argued that bringing in a consultant is even more important now to help the town heal from the pandemic. The Town Council will consider hiring the consulting firm on June 15, Mayor Laurie DiRocco said.
After the public hearing and some discussion among the councilmembers about the MAC, Noble proposed a motion to repeal it.
“It’s not about the MAC,” Noble said. “It’s about how do we make Make Avenue commercially economically viable?”
To quell some concerns about ditching the good parts of the MAC, Councilmember and Mayor-elect Linda Colbert offered an amendment that would make reports, studies, surveys, comments from the Planning Commission and Board of Architectural Review and more a part of the package of information the consultants would review.
A lively discussion continued on the idea to repeal, and Noble suggested withdrawing his motion, saying that he thought the councilmembers wanted to talk more.
Ultimately, the council approved Colbert’s amendment and then voted for Noble’s motion 4-3, with Noble, DiRocco and Councilmember Nisha Patel voting “no.”
“We learned over time the MAC code had flaws,” Noble told Tysons Reporter today. “I did not believe those flaws were fixable.”
Image via Town of Vienna
The Vienna Town Council is pausing its plans to speed up the Maple Avenue Commercial zone update due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In December, Councilmember Steve Potter proposed that the town use a consulting firm, calling the work on the zoning ordinance a “log jam.”
Last night, the councilmembers were originally set to consider a contract award for consulting fees, but Town Manager Mercury Payton said that the coronavirus pandemic is delaying plans to hire the consultant.
Councilmember Pasha Majdi praised the delay in a statement, saying that using nearly $250,000 from allocated funds and prior reserves in the town’s budget should be put on hold for the moment.
“For months I’ve been calling for prudent budgeting and spending, which requires delaying nonessential spending at least until revenues stabilize,” Majdi said. “We need to refrain from nonessential spending during the pandemic.”
As the town grapples with the pandemic, the Vienna Town Council is also looking to extend the moratorium on the zoning ordinance from June 30 of this year to June 30, 2022.