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MRC Unveils Streetscape Pilot Project

Retaining dark skies, undergrounding utilities and the future streetscape of McLean received the most support of the two-dozen residents who braved a cold rain last Tuesday evening to come out to the McLean Community Center.

The goal is “to reduce the pollution of lighting,” said McLean resident John Fredricks about Dark Skies, not just a concept, but also a national organization in Arizona run by astronomers. Fredricks is a member of the McLean Citizens Association and one of the three panelists hosting a joint MCA and MRC (McLean Revitalization Corp.) meeting on March 19.

“There will be dark sky compliance for new projects,” he said. “Illuminate what you want to illuminate without lighting up the sky. We’ve got to take this one step at a time.”

“My building is a culprit,” said MRC president Jack Wilbern, one of the three panelists for the presentation. “And the renovated Giant is not dark skies compliant,” he said.

“By directing a light bulb, you can use a smaller watt bulb and save money,” said McLean resident Frank Crandall in support of dark skies. Crandall said there are new lights, “shoebox-shaped at the Staybridge [Suites]. We’re interested in having people go look at them. The new lights are four double-headed lights pointed down. We’re going to put a lot of these in pretty quick,” he said without specifying a time frame.

THE ISSUES of dark skies above and placing utilities below ground are what Wilbern referred to as “appropriate for McLean. We’re not going to become another Tysons.”

“The best way to underground utilities is to break it into phases. It is absurdly expensive — mind boggling expensive,” said MCA representative Dan DuVal. “A large part of the cost is in bringing down lines. We need to underground more at once — it’s cheaper per linear foot. Preliminary engineering from Virginia Power is expected by the end of March. This is a very long term process — hope to have MRC work with the landowners,” he said.

Kirby Court resident Mark Zetts asked what the financial return would be on such a project.

“There is an aesthetic and social return on the investment, not financial,” said DuVal.

“Is service improved by undergrounding?” asked Zetts.

“Day to day — overhead lines are less reliable,” said DuVal citing ice on power lines and tree interference. “If something really goes wrong, undergrounding is harder to dig up.”

“New commercial development and major redevelopment projects must be undergrounded,” said Wilbern.

“STREET, TREES, PEOPLE,” said Wilbern in selling streetscape improvements to the assemblage. “People with cars respect trees. People are squishy things — not trees — cars get wrecked on trees and they slow down on tree lined streets,” he said noting that new trees would serve as a protective buffer between vehicles and pedestrians.

“It’s time to stop the study, take an area and demonstrate it in actuality. Virginia Power and V-DOT are the reasons it will take long,” said Wilbern. “There’s papers to sign an inch thick,” he said. The papers Wilbern referred to cede a piece of land to the community that may be “x” inches wide, valued at “x” dollars.

“We plan to deal with the least encumbered site — a gateway on Westmoreland,” said Wilbern, specifying the location as being near the Lutheran church. “Crosswalks — completely in the V-DOT right of way — the easiest to do. We’ve gotten crosswalks fully approved today — three at Westmoreland and Chain Bridge. We need a signature from Richmond, then it goes out for bid,” said Wilbern.

Improving pedestrian friendliness in the community garnered Carolyn Waterman’s interest. “With the increased number of vehicles, it’s a challenge to be a pedestrian,” said the McLean resident.

MCA president John Foust called for trashcans to placed on the roads. “There was not one trashcan on the road for the four miles I walked holding an empty coffee cup,” said.

And while McLean Planning Committee vice president Herb Becker called for raised islands wherever possible, Adrienne Whyte refuted his statement.

“Minimize raised islands — they minimize access into businesses,” said Whyte, chairman of the MCA Planning and Zoning Committee.

A straw poll vote taken prior to the close of the presentation illustrated that the three most popular issues or concerns were dark skies, the streetscape and the undergrounding of utilities — “the most expensive aisle in the whole store,” said DuVal.