Newsletter
Rendering of new Vienna police station (via Town of Vienna)

The Vienna Town Council approved increasing a contract yesterday (Monday) for construction on the police department’s new station.

The council agreed to allow up to $67,680 more in response to a “pre-construction design phase that took longer than expected and several unknown condition incidents that arose during construction,” according to a board item.

In January 2019, the town council approved a nearly $304,000 contract with construction management firm Downey & Scott with a 5% contingency of just over $15,000.

The firm reported that it had $64,456.24 in additional expenses. It broke down the costs in terms of staff pay, which ranges from $98.73 per hour for a construction inspector to $135 an hour for project executive Bill Downey.

It wasn’t immediately clear why the town council awarded over $3,000 more than what the company documented. A message seeking clarification from the Town of Vienna wasn’t immediately returned. A town official later wrote that the additional amount is a 5% contingency, allowing the town to address “additional unforeseen circumstances that arise in the construction process without having to go back to Council for approval.”

Police Chief Jim Morris said the increases were due to a soil issue, a gas line, and challenges on Center Street that he described them as unforeseen issues.

“All of those took Downey & Scott expertise and time to rectify,” Morris said. “Whether it be meeting with utilities, meeting with town council, meeting with town manager, they were heavily involved in rectifying those situations for us, on the town’s behalf.”

Downey said many of the changes were related to unforeseen soil conditions as well as relocating unmarked utilities.

A letter from the company said that over $30,000 of the increased expenses came from staff costs for Downey and project manager Kevin Fallin after requested changes from Vienna officials and COVID-19 disruptions added eight months to the project’s pre-construction phase.

The firm also reported $34,000 in staffing costs, plus $627 in mileage reimbursement, that were related to the re-alignment of a storm sewer at Center Street, design management, and other costs for a gas line relocation and soil issues.

Morris said the additional expenses could be paid with unused money in a 2018 capital improvement plan.

Prior to the funding approval, the project had $708,000 left in the town’s $1.1 million contingency fund, Fallin told the town council.

“Vertical construction is well underway, so a lot of the unknown conditions that we might typically encouter, we have surpassed that in terms of construction,” Fallin said regarding his confidence that the budget will stay within the contingency. “We feel good about where we are currently.”

Morris noted that contractors are currently calculating cost estimates for a proposed solar canopy and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, which could both be implemented as part of the project or as subsequent tasks.

Construction on the new police station at 215 Center Street South began in early 2021.

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Compensation increases for employees and real estate tax cuts for residents are on the table, as the extra money keeps rolling in for the Town of Vienna.

In addition to receiving $8.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds this summer, the town ended the last fiscal year (July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021) with $900,000 in surplus revenue, staff told the Vienna Town Council in a conference session on Monday (Oct. 18).

“We’re in this position because we cut our budget. We cut our revenues to deal with the pandemic. We had to cut our expenditures,” Finance Director Marion Serfass said. “But then our revenues came in in some key areas pretty darn close to what we had budgeted, so that gave us a nice surplus.”

According to town staff, Vienna got higher-than-expected revenue from sales taxes, business licenses, zoning permit fees, and state and federal revenues in FY 2020-2021. In addition, position vacancies helped keep costs down.

Vienna’s budget committee presented three options for allocating the surplus funds.

Scenario 1

The town could follow its traditional practice of putting half of any surplus in a rainy day fund and using the other half to cover currently unfunded priorities:

  • $125,000 to fix pay compression for 41 employees
  • $175,000 for street paving work
  • $50,000 for tree maintenance and beautification
  • $100,000 to address 2022 budget corrections

Scenario 2

Because the rainy day reserve is already above where it needs to be, town staff proposed instead “returning” some money to employees and taxpayers. If the town allocates all $900,000 in the current fiscal year, it could:

  • Cover the unfunded priorities above, except paving would get just $75,000
  • $280,000 to give residents a half-cent tax rebate
  • $270,000 to give employees a 3% salary increase starting on Jan. 1, 2022

Scenario 3

The town could also hold $550,000 to spend next fiscal year, while still covering the unfunded priorities now:

  • $280,000 to reduce the real estate tax rate by half a cent
  • $270,000 to increase employee salaries by 3% starting on July 1, 2022

Serfass noted that the surplus could be spent on any priorities, but she suggested paving and tree maintenance because the town council had previously floated those as areas that could use more money.

“Here’s some things that fall into the category of things we wanted to do but haven’t had enough money to do them,” she said. “We could always put more money in paving. We’re only getting the index of ‘fair’…We know we have issues with trees.”

The council gave its support for funding those needs as well as holding money for a tax rate reduction in July instead of an immediate rebate.

“I know it’s not much either way, but I think [a rate reduction] has more value than mailing somebody a pretty small check,” Councilmember Ed Somers said.

The council proved skeptical, however, when it came to the proposed 3% salary increase, since it would be a recurring expense paid for with a one-time surplus.

“If you are using long-term money for short-term gain, I have never seen that work,” Councilmember Steve Potter said, adding that he would be more comfortable offering bonuses or another incentive to help recruit and retain workers.

According to Michelle Crabtree, Vienna’s human resources director, other jurisidictions have seen some success in using bonuses to recruit employees, particularly police officers and commercially licensed drivers.

“We’ve had a high turnover in public works,” she said. “We’ve lost eight people this year, and seven of them said it was one hundred percent because they could find more money elsewhere.”

Noting that Vienna is hardly alone in having labor challenges, Councilmember Nisha Patel said she would support bonuses targeted toward the positions facing the biggest hiring and retention issues.

“If we have additional funds that can go to staff, maybe we should use those more wisely to attract and retain, as opposed to just spreading it out,” Patel said.

The Vienna Town Council will hold a public hearing on the surplus funds on Nov. 15.

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Morning Notes

McLean Soccer Field Conversion Reaches Completion — “The Fairfax County Park Authority, in collaboration with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and McLean Youth Soccer Association, will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the grand opening of Holladay Field in McLean, Virginia. The celebration begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.” [FCPA]

Town of Vienna Downsizes Planning Commission — “Seeking to bring the Vienna Planning Commission’s membership in line with those of similarly sized nearby jurisdictions, the Vienna Town Council on Oct. 11 agreed to reduce the commission’s size from nine members to seven…Three Planning Commission members have departed this year.” [Sun Gazette]

Celebree School Tysons to Hold Grand Opening — “Celebree School, a preschool and infant and toddler care center, is celebrating its grand opening in Tysons with a fall festival on Saturday, Oct. 16. The preschool and child care center announced its opening in September at Valo Park, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean.” [Patch]

Fairfax County Urges Flu Shots — The Fairfax County Health Department is encouraging everyone 6 months of age and older to reduce their risk of contracting the seasonal flu by getting vaccinated, ideally before the end of October. Public health nurse Alisa Brooks talks about what people should know about this year’s flu season in a YouTube video. [FCHD/Twitter]

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Delano Drive SW is on deck to get a new sidewalk as part of a project on Alma Street SE in Vienna (via Google Maps)

The Vienna Town Council is moving forward with engineering work on four potential sidewalk projects, even as one homeowner opposing a proposed sidewalk floated the possibility of legal action.

The council voted 6-1 yesterday (Monday) to approve final engineering designs for sidewalks to piece together missing sections using trust money that must be spent by fall 2024. Councilmember Nisha Patel was the lone dissenting vote, citing safety concerns for one project.

The money comes from the Maud Ferris Robinson Charitable Trust that the town created with more than $7 million that the former councilmember left after her death in 2019 to pay for sidewalks.

With the vote, the council authorized Vienna’s public works department to enlist the contracted engineering firm Urban for final design work on four projects:

  • Alma Street SE: from Delano Drive SE to Follin Lane SE, on the side of the street with even-numbered houses (budget: $38,050)
  • Blackstone Terrace NW: from Lawyers Road NW to Holmes Drive NW, even-numbered houses (budget: $25,300)
  • Charles Street SE: from Locust Street SE to Branch Road SE, odd-numbered homes (budget: $19,300)
  • Symphony Circle SW: from the cul-de-sac to Melody Lane SW, odd-numbered homes (budget: $19,050)

Matt Sanders, of 610 Delano Drive Southeast, wrote a letter to the town about the issue, saying he would retain an attorney if the town “approves the installation of a sidewalk in front of my house.”

“While I’m not opposed to sidewalks in general, in my case, I stand to lose 50% of my driveway and one parking space,” he wrote. “I purchased my home specifically for the two-car garage and the ability to fit two cars in my driveway.”

During Monday’s town council meeting, town engineer Robert Froh suggested expanding part of the width of the driveway at the town’s expense, but a section by the home would have to be done by the homeowner. It wasn’t immediately clear if such an adjustment would address Sanders’ concerns, which also involved privacy due to pedestrians being closer to his garage.

Meanwhile, Patel’s worries stemmed from the Symphony Circle sidewalk project, which she described as a partial sidewalk that would not extend to the end of the cul-de-sac.

She said a vehicle may be unaware that the sidewalk as proposed would end, requiring pedestrians to go into the road.

“I think that’s very dangerous,” Patel said, adding that a blind spot on the corner could cause a vehicle to hit a little kid.

The sidewalk could be extended in the future, even during the design of the project, town officials said. The extension is currently blocked by two trees that a developer preserved, but the town could remove them.

The council defeated Patel’s motion to revisit Symphony Circle later, but it approved a motion to extend an engineering study involving the road.

Public Works Director Michael Gallagher said the proposals presented on Monday were concepts, and further engineering could address issues as the work progresses.

Photo via Google Maps

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Vienna Inn’s outdoor dining tent

The tents and patios for outdoor dining that have popped up in shopping center parking lots around Vienna could be here to stay.

The Town of Vienna is now considering whether to permanently adopt the more relaxed permitting process that enabled restaurants to set up outdoor dining spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under a zoning ordinance amendment proposed by town staff, restaurants would be able to obtain a permit for outdoor dining through an administrative review instead of the existing conditional use permit process, which involves a planning commission review, approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals, and a $1,500 fee.

The change will help restaurants not just by speeding up the process, but also by giving them the security to invest in more durable tents, seating, heaters, and other equipment, Vienna Business Association President Peggy James says.

“I think this will be key to business and restaurant survival,” James said, noting that while indoor dining has picked up recently, many people likely won’t feel comfortable eating inside in public for a long time.

The Vienna Town Council first approved the current emergency ordinance waiving certain regulations on outdoor commercial activities on June 1, 2020.

The ordinance has been extended several times since, but after Gov. Ralph Northam let Virginia’s state of emergency expire on June 30, the town won’t be able to keep the measure in place past its Dec. 30 end date.

Vienna has approved outdoor dining set-ups for 22 restaurants during the pandemic, according to town staff.

While the emergency ordinance included other activities, the proposed zoning ordinance amendment is specifically for outdoor dining. It will let restaurants serve diners at ground level outside their building with the following conditions:

1. Outdoor dining may only be allowed with issuance of a permit after plans showing proposed dining are submitted to the Zoning Administrator for review.

a. To-scale plans shall show location of any outdoor dining furniture or structures.
b. All permanent structures and permanent exterior modifications shall be subject to review by the Board of Architectural Review. Permanent changes may also be subject to Site Plan Control Provisions under Article 25.

2. Outdoor dining furniture and equipment cannot block pedestrian access or interfere with ADA accessible routes to and from buildings and public facilities.

3. Outdoor dining area must be clearly delineated by cordon, marking, or other means and must be protected from vehicular traffic to the extent possible.

4. Parking spaces located directly outside a restaurant may be used for outdoor dining with a temporary permit to be reviewed and issued annually by the Zoning Administrator. Such use of parking spaces are subject to the following conditions:

a. No more than 20% of the required off-street parking for a restaurant may be utilized for outdoor dining. Additional spaces may be allocated for restaurants located with buildings developed under Sections 18-87.4 and 18-87.5 after review by the Zoning Administrator.
b. Outdoor dining cannot be located in any designated fire lanes.
c. Only non-permanent structures, such as tents, are allowed to take up said parking spaces and parking spaces must be able to be easily converted back to be used for parking.
d. No ADA accessible parking spaces may be used for outdoor dining

The town council is scheduled to request a Nov. 15 public hearing on the proposed amendment when it meets tonight (Monday).

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Morning Notes

Silver Line Phase 2 Construction Could Finish This Fall — Construction on the long-delayed Silver Line Phase 2 could reach substantial completion in November, letting Metro take control of the project for a potential opening in the first half of 2022, officials said yesterday (Thursday). The project will add six stations to the rail line, whose first phase opened in the Tysons area in July 2014. [The Washington Post]

Vienna Town Council Gets Peek at Police HQ — “Donning hard hats, members of the Vienna Town Council got a first-hand look at the new police headquarters construction [Thursday] morning. Later they joined staff and contractors to sign one of the steel beams. As of now, the new facility is on schedule to open in summer 2022.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

Tysons Consultant and IT Firm Merge — Tysons-based consulting company Guidehouse has agreed to acquire the McLean-based Dovel Technologies Inc., which provides data analytics, artificial intelligence, and other technology services. Expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year, the sale will add 1,800 employees from Dovel to Guidehouse, which plans to expand with a new global headquarters on International Drive later this year. [Virginia Business]

Annandale Resident Dies in Helicopter Crash — “An Annandale man was one of the five sailors killed in a helicopter crash following a flight operation off the coast of San Diego on Aug. 31. Lt. Paul R. “Boo” Fridley, 28, of Annandale was part of the crew…conducting a routine flight operation from USS Abraham Lincoln when the aircraft crashed into the sea roughly 60 nautical miles off the coast of San Diego at 4:30 p.m.” [Patch]

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Vienna elected officials will discuss how to use the town’s federal COVID-19 relief funds at a meeting next month, though the town council is leaning away from using the money to give essential workers extra pay, Director of Finance Marion Serfass said on Monday (Aug. 30).

The Town of Vienna formally received $8.5 million on July 12 — half of its $17.1 million allotment from the American Relief Plan Act, which is providing the money to help local and state governments respond to the pandemic.

“Any funds that are not expended or that will not be expended on necessary expenditures incurred by December 31, 2024, by the locality…must be returned to the federal government,” Virginia Secretary of Finance Joe Flores noted in a June 9 letter to recipients.

At a public hearing on Monday (Aug. 30), Serfass detailed the limits on how the town can use the money, noting that it can’t independently offer certain services that are provided by the county, such as schools and libraries.

The U.S. Treasury permits localities to spend ARPA funds on four categories, as summarized by the town:

  • Category A: Response to the public health emergency and negative impacts of the pandemic, including capital improvements to adapt buildings and maintenance of park space for deferred upkeep and extra use during quarantine periods
  • Category B: Premium pay to essential workers and grants to employers of essential workers; the only eligible workers in the town would be sanitation and public safety
  • Category C: Provide government services related to revenue reduction from the pandemic
  • Category D: Necessary capital investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure, which has been interpreted to involve stormwater

Serfass said that the town so far has informally elected not to allocate funds to category B but added that the issue could be discussed further.

According to Serfass, the government services category has been interpreted to mean any services that the town provides, which could include cybersecurity improvements, for example. She also said a preliminary calculation suggests the town won’t be allowed to spend more than $2.6 million in this area based on federal restrictions.

The public hearing on Monday drew only one speaker, Bob McCahill, who represented the civic group North East Vienna Citizens Association.

McCahill said his group recommends that the town devote money for water and sewer infrastructure to free up capital money for purchases of equipment that could be used to collect and remove leaves in the fall.

“The idea is that the purchased capital equipment would be much more efficient than the current method,” he said.

The NEVCA has advocated for changes to a town-owned property along Beulah Road that is currently used to store leaves and process them into mulch. The group says those operations disturb residents, and the space should be restored back to a park.

McCahill also said the association wants the town to use the federal money to mitigate parking issues.

The town council will deliberate on how to spend the money in a conference session scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 20 at Vienna Town Hall.

The public hearing is closed, and there won’t be public comment at the September meeting, but residents are always encouraged to share their thoughts with the mayor and council, town spokesperson Karen Thayer said in an email yesterday (Tuesday).

Residents can email Town Clerk Melanie Clark at [email protected], call her at 703-255-6304, drop off correspondence at the town hall, or contact elected officials directly.

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A man drinks beer at the Town of Vienna’s 2018 Oktoberfest (courtesy Vienna Business Association/Facebook)

Break out the beer steins and lederhosen.

While the original Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, has been canceled for a second year in a row, the Town of Vienna is bringing back its iteration of the annual folk festival on Oct. 2 after it got stricken from the calendar last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Vienna Town Council approved a memorandum of understanding with the Vienna Business Association (VBA), which helps organize the event, as part of the consent agenda in its meeting last night (Monday), setting the terms of their partnership.

Oktoberfest serves as the VBA’s main fundraiser, according to Executive Director Peggy James, who says the revenue it generates is crucial to keeping the organization going and enabling it to maintain low membership fees so that small businesses aren’t excluded.

“Our goal is to have a safe, outrageously fun event that raises lots of money so that the VBA is able to continue to support our community and the wonderful service organizations that help make this Town so special,” James said by email.

Like previous versions of the festival, the 13th annual Vienna Oktoberfest will be held around Church Street and the Town Green. It will last from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a beer and wine garden, food vendors, live music, children’s activities, a marketplace, and more.

Since the novel coronavirus remains a concern, this year’s festival will likely have fewer vendors and more spacing, James says.

Additional measures could include scheduled cleanings in the kids’ area and dining tents, signs and ground markers with social distancing reminders, and a mask requirement for volunteers. If current recommendations hold, masks will be strongly suggested for attendees when they’re not actively drinking or eating.

The VBA’s MOU with the town commits it to adhering to all local, state, and federal health guidelines related to COVID-19.

“If the CDC guidelines change, we are prepared to alter our event to be fully compliant,” James said.

Oktoberfest will benefit from the Town of Vienna’s growing experience with organizing large outdoor events amid the fluctuating conditions of the pandemic, from ViVa Vienna — which became the first event of that scale in Fairfax County when it returned at the end of May — to the 2021 Virginia State Little League Majors Tournament in July.

Most recently, the first Chillin’ on Church block party drew approximately 2,500 people on Aug. 20, according to Town of Vienna Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Herman, who says the return of major events “has gone very well” so far.

“Viva Vienna required extensive planning in order to abide by the regulations of the [governor] of VA and recommendations of the Fairfax County Health Dept and CDC in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Herman wrote in an email. “Due to Viva Vienna’s extensive planning, the Vienna Business Association is able to utilize that event’s model should there be similar restrictions in October.”

In past years, Oktoberfest has gotten between 20,000 and 25,000 visitors over the course of a day, according to James.

Organizers anticipate having about 60 vendors, though applications are being accepted until Sept. 7.

Proceeds from wine and beer sales will go to the VBA Foundation, which supports local nonprofits and community service organizations. James says the foundation has especially focused on efforts to address food insecurity over the past 17 months.

Other Oktoberfest revenue, including vendor and sponsor fees, will cover the costs of putting on the festival and help the VBA support other events in the Town of Vienna, including the Halloween Parade and Taste of Vienna.

Organizers say the festival also helps the town by bringing in meals taxes from participating food vendors and attracting visitors.

“Vienna Oktoberfest also attracts visitors from outside the Town of Vienna, thereby showing off our Town and encouraging them to revisit and also to shop/eat at our local businesses,” Oktoberfest Committee Chair Kathy Georgen said by email.

Courtesy Vienna Business Association/Facebook

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The Town of Vienna is receiving a huge tranche of money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), but it’s still unclear where that funding is going.

The Vienna Town Council formally accepted $8.5 million in ARPA funding this year on Monday (July 12). The town is expected to get an identical amount in funding next year.

Marion Serfass, the town’s director of finance, told Tysons Reporter that Vienna staff will be working over the next few months to gather public input to help determine where that funding would be best utilized.

The town will hold a public hearing on Aug. 30 to collect feedback on what issues locals would like to see that funding put toward, and the town council will have a conference on Sept. 20 to pin down a definitive list of where the $8.5 million is going.

Serfass told the town council on Monday that the advice she has received in conferences about the funding is to “take your time, be deliberate, and look at transforming projects.”

Serfass said her office is currently working with the town attorney to pin down what is or isn’t eligible for ARPA funding. The town could also get ideas, she said, for how to proceed from watching where other localities spend their ARPA funds.

Nearby, Alexandria received $29.8 million in its first tranche. The city spent the most — $4 million — on rental assistance and other emergency assistance programs. $3.7 million went to stormwater repairs and $3 million to a pilot program to guarantee a minimum income for city residents.

Looking long-term, Serfass told the town council that there’s no set deadline to spend the funding, giving Vienna room to invest in longer-term programs without putting next year’s tranche of funding at risk.

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Plum Street (via Google Maps)

For much of Plum Street, pedestrians can travel on a sidewalk along one side of the road. But once it hits Cottage Street, pedestrians continuing southeast face a difficult choice: walk in the street or trespass on nearby lawns.

At a meeting on Monday (July 19), the Vienna Town Council authorized $388,000 in funding to resolve the dilemma once and for all and install sidewalks along Plum Street SW, Holmes Drive SW, and 503 & 505 Park Street SW. The Town Council also authorized $30,000 for a concrete maintenance contract for the new sidewalks.

The funding includes a 15% contingency in case costs run over during construction. The funding comes from former Councilmember Maud Robinson, who died in 2019 and set aside much of her estate in a trust to help the town she served complete its sidewalk network.

One casualty of the Plum Street sidewalk expansion will be a large oak tree on the street. Councilmember Howard Springsteen asked if the tree could be saved, but staff explained that the owner would not agree to an easement that would bypass the tree by going further into their property.

The street is also considered too narrow to bump the sidewalk out into the street without creating a traffic hazard.

The town also considered working around the tree with rubber sidewalks but determined that these would not be ADA compliant. The work would also ultimately end up irreparably damaging the roots of the tree the rubber sidewalk was ostensibly there to save.

The council unanimously approved new sidewalk construction, but Councilmember Nisha Patel said the town needed to consider focusing the sidewalk efforts around streets closer to downtown Vienna.

“We still have quite a few sidewalks in the heart of town that could use some improvements and upgrades for safety issues,” Patel said. “When we approach this Robinson Trust money, I would like us to prioritize sidewalks adjacent to Maple Avenue and one or two blocks out before we delve into smaller, safer streets that don’t necessarily need a sidewalk as badly.”

Mayor Linda Colbert noted that while downtown sidewalks definitely need work, the town also needed to consider which streets are routes to schools or connected to bus stops, making them likely for pedestrian use.

Photo via Google Maps

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