Following months of negotiations, Verizon and Vienna appear to be friends again. "We've really finally come up with a package that I believe will be beneficial to our citizens," Mayor Jane Seeman said at Monday night's Town Council meeting, during a public hearing on the company's proposed franchise with the town.
At a meeting in early June, tensions had run high as council members protested against a Verizon franchise proposal that bore little resemblance to the deal the company had offered the rest of the county.
Verizon representative John Knapp has since said the cable provider was unaware that the county is Vienna's cable administrator, a circumstance that would make it difficult for the two localities to operate under radically different terms.
Verizon came before the council Monday with a contract that Town Attorney Steve Briglia said was similar to both Verizon's franchise with Fairfax County and Vienna's existing cable franchise with Cox Communications.
One difference is the speed with which services will be made available. "They've agreed to a very aggressive build-out schedule," said Briglia, noting that most of the town will have the option of Verizon's fiber optic cable, Internet and telephone services within eight months after adoption of the franchise. The area served by Verizon's Vienna central office, which includes over 90 percent of the town, will be fully wired within a year, but a pocket of southeast Vienna, served by the company's Merrifield Central Office, could take up to three years to be connected. Verizon has explained that the Merrifield office is not yet equipped to provide fiber optic service.
Monday, Knapp was apologetic toward Councilmember Mike Polychrones, who lives in the southeast portion of town. "We can't build this network everywhere at once," he told Polychrones.
In order to bring service to the town, Verizon would be installing 40 cable boxes, each serving about 140 homes. Most would be mounted on utility poles. Verizon network engineering manager Ken Crump assured council members that the ratio of boxes to homes would allow the company many options for strategic placement in order to make them as unintrusive as possible.
RESIDENTS CAN EXPECT flyers hung on their doorknobs 30 days before construction begins in their neighborhood and again five days before the project. The flyers will let residents know what to expect and will include a hotline number for questions, concerns or complaints.
Councilmember Maud Robinson asked whether the person at the other end of the line would be familiar with the work being done in Vienna and would be taking the call from this side of the ocean. She was assured that the operator would be a Verizon employee with full knowledge of the project.
A source of contention since the early discussions about Verizon's move into town was whether cables would be buried in the commercial district along Maple Avenue, rather than strung from utility poles. According to the agreement discussed Monday, Verizon would install cables underground where their current lines are underground and overhead where their existing cables run overhead, including along Maple. However, the town will bury all lines in the commercial district within the next few years, and Verizon has agreed to bury its lines on Maple at that time at no cost to the town.
The proposed franchise was placed on the council's agenda to be adopted at the Sept. 11 meeting.
ANOTHER TOPIC that was discussed at length, although it did not appear on the meeting agenda, was the presence of two Argentinian pit bulls at a residence on Oak Street.
Dale Griffiths, one of the dogs' neighbors, again appeared before the council to ask that the breed be banned from the town. He had originally made the request at a meeting in June. "I have been stating all along that it was not a matter of whether these dogs got out but when," Griffiths began on Monday. He said both dogs had recently escaped from their yard and attacked a passing car. "What if that had been my child on a bicycle?" he asked.
Griffiths arrived accompanied by several neighbors, armed with letters from other neighbors and bearing a petition he said was signed by every resident on the street except the house where the dogs live.
He said his children rarely play in their back yard because the animals regularly strain against the fence, menacing anyone in sight.
Several other neighbors testified to frightening behavior on the dogs' part and their own fear for their children's lives. Joseph Alonso said he asked one of the tenants at the house if he could pet the dogs. The man brought out the female, restraining it with a choker collar. "She was barking and snarling loudly and lunging at me," said Alonso. He said he then asked to see the male dog but was told it was too mean.
Briglia said Virginia state law would not allow the town to ban dogs based on breed and that barking at passers-by, however ill-mannered, would likely be considered defending territory. However, he said, an attack on a car could possibly constitute some grounds for labeling the animals "vicious dogs," which would place an elaborate set of restrictions on them.
Council members were openly disturbed by the situation. "Even if it's wrong, I think I would like to see us take some action," said Councilmember George Lovelace. He urged that the attack on the car be used to the fullest extent possible to push for a legal solution to the problem.
Seeman said she intended to appeal to the owner of the house to remedy the situation and would also send police to talk to the tenants again.
IN OTHER ITEMS of interest, the council approved a waiver for the construction of homes around the cul de sac at the end of John Marshall Drive, in spite of consideration in the town's Comprehensive Plan for extending the road to meet Beulah Road. Four of the homes, to be built by Sekas Homes Ltd., would be situated around the existing cul de sac, and the other three would front Beulah.
The council also considered the installation of a four-way stop at the intersection of Park Street and Tapawingo Road. There are currently stop signs only on Tapawingo. The town's Traffic Safety Commission had endorsed the measure, but the Department of Public Works recommended against it.
Residents spoke both for and against the signs. Those who desired a four-way stop pointed to problems of visibility and frequent speeding, in appeals for safety. Those who were against the measure reminded that Park Street was intended for through-traffic and that there are already stop signs within two blocks of either side of Tapawingo.
The council approved the request for a four-way stop.