When Jim Collins was a boy, he would walk across the woods near his home to Beulah Road, where his friend lived. Years later, that woods, which serves as the site of the Town of Vienna's leaf-mulching operation, is at the center of debate between area residents and the Town.
"We considered it a park. We didn't think twice about it. I have strong feelings about it," Collins said.
The property in question, an 8-acre site located off Beulah Road, has come into question because residents have concerns about the environmental impact of the leaf-mulching operation on the property. They point to the gradual clearing of trees within the property since the early 1990s, former uses of the property as a temporary holding area for equipment and supplies, and the noise pollution and questionable air quality that has resulted from the leaf-mulching operation.
"The Town may have violated the stewardship of that land," said Edgar Adamson, president of the Northeast Vienna Citizens Association (NEVCA). The group hosted a meeting at the Vienna Community Center on Feb. 6 to present its concerns about the property, located at 440 Beulah Road N.E., to the wider Vienna community.
"I would like to see that the Town will hear the citizens of the northeast [quadrant] and hear from the citizens from the entire town to see if we can have a better forum out of this," said Mary Ellen Larkins, first vice president of NEVCA. "We all live in this town together. ... Let's try to make it a small-town atmosphere by helping each other."
NEVCA has stated that while they don't want the Town to discontinue the leaf-mulching operation, they do want to see Town government address their concerns of environmental impact as well as examine alternatives to leaf-mulching with Fairfax County.
In October 2003, NEVCA submitted to the Town Council a resolution, passed unanimously by the association, to form a joint task force between citizens and the Town to examine its concerns.
That resolution was discussed briefly at a Vienna Town Council work session in November 2003. The Council opted to direct staff to create a proposal that addresses citizens concerns. That proposal is scheduled to be released and discussed at a public hearing sometime this spring.
But citizens with NEVCA want a greater role in presenting their findings and concerns to the Town. To support their case, they have pointed to aerial photographs of the site from 1968 to 2000. Taken every two years (with the 1992 image missing), the photographs show a densely wooded area until 1990, when a little kidney-shaped clearing appeared. In 1996, that clearing doubled in size. Today, NEVCA estimates the clearing to be around two acres.
NEVCA also questioned the purchase of an industrial-sized, 70- to 100-decibel, $130,000-plus tub grinder in March 2003 for use in an area where the surrounding neighborhoods are zoned residential.
"When that thing cranks up at 7:30 in the morning, it rattles your windows," said NEVCA member Linda Ebersole.
NEVCA ARGUED that the dust, mold and mildew from leaf mulching has harmed the area's air quality. They were also concerned about contamination of the soil resulting both from leaf-mulch storage and from the summer 2003 storage of debris, supplies and equipment from the Maple Avenue Enhancement Project. Furthermore, they said, impervious surface on the cleared area from the site has caused run-off into neighboring yards.
The equipment and supplies from the Enhancement Project were removed by the Town in August 2003.
NEVCA members summarized their case by arguing that the property had been designated in past town Comprehensive Plans as a park. They said the land was deeded to Vienna in 1934 by a former resident, who wanted the property to remain for public use. The most recent plan showing the property as a park was in 1995, which designated the area as "open space."
The property currently is known by the Town as a "governmental property," although NEVCA members argue no such zoning exists in the Town Code.
"It saddens me to see that this beautiful resource has been destroyed," Ebersole said.
While NEVCA members said that their objective isn't for the Town to discontinue its leaf-mulching operation, they do want the Town to look at other options.
The Town's leaf-mulching started at the Nutley Street Property Yard but then moved to the Northside Property Yard, before relocating to its present location off Beulah Road. Seven percent of Vienna households use the town's leaf mulch.
ALTHOUGH NEVCA members are awaiting the Town's response this spring, they are currently petitioning other citizens to listen to their cause. Among their objectives is the request that the Town not store machinery on the site, prohibit dumping and access ways, discontinue clearing, create a citizens and committee watch, and establish a schedule to monitor the site.
"The main goal of tonight was to try to bring some of the neighborhood associations to the mix," Collins said at the Feb. 6 meeting. About 20 citizens attended. "Vienna is so small, you can't move the problem. You have to deal with it."
Pat Hynes was one of several meeting attendees who didn't live in the northeast quadrant, but she appreciated the information NEVCA had presented.
"This sounds to me like a town-wide issue. I think the stewardship of public property should include the residents. I want to make sure the whole town is heard from before the Council makes decisions," said Hynes, who added that she hadn't heard the presented information before. Hynes is also the president of the Malcolm Windover Heights Civic Association. "The need to convince Town leaders to include citizens in Town decision-making — to me, that's the most important."