Not only Vienna's mayoral race, but also the Town Council election is being contested, after a year that has given the town ample opportunity to consider its long-term future. Topping all of the council candidates' platforms is concern about the pressure that is expected to be put on the town by upcoming development along its borders, at the Vienna Metro Station — commonly referred to as MetroWest — and Tysons Corner.
The three incumbent council members up for re-election are Laurie Cole, Mike Polychrones and Edythe Kelleher. Challengers are Vienna residents R. Blair Jenkins and Susan Stich.
<bt>Cole has already been involved in various land-use issues, some regarding Tysons and MetroWest, through her work with Fairgrowth, the Southwest Vienna Citizens' Association, the Hunter Mill Defense League and the Wedderburn Neighbors.
She noted that the town will soon have to deal with added pressure on much of its infrastructure including roads, schools and recreational space, and she expressed a "very strong interest in protecting our residential streets." This could be accomplished, she said, by working with the county to influence the development process outside of town, as well as through police enforcement and traffic calming measures in town.
Cole pointed out that if schools add trailers and modular buildings to accommodate additional students, they will be taking up land that is currently used by organizations such as youth groups and Little League. However, she said, Fairfax County Public Schools has to go through a permitting process with the town to add trailers and get site plan approvals from the town to build modular structures.
"I think this reflects the stake we have in this process," said Cole. "We have serious concerns about the capacity of our schools and how the land is used."
As development is added in the surrounding county, she said, "we need to work closely with Fairfax County and make sure the concerns of Vienna are considered when they make these decisions."
Aside from growth, rising real estate taxes due to increased assessment values have been a concern in town, she said. She noted that last year the town lowered its own rate enough that there was no net increase in the average real estate taxes paid. "I think what we did shows that the town is fiscally prudent," she said.
However, she added, "I'm not going to make a 'no car tax' promise." Rising costs, particularly energy prices and landfill fees, can limit the tax cuts the town can make, she said.
Construction of the proposed Town Green and Nutley Street Park are projects Cole said she is especially looking forward to working on. "As the area around us gets denser, we're creating green space," she said. She added that she is pleased with the work being done to extend the times that Waters Field is available through the use of durable, quick-drying synthetic turf.
She said she can be trusted with citizens' votes because "I have always been and will continue to be outspoken in the interest of Vienna." She said she sees her role as being an advocate for the town.
Cole served on the Town Beautification Commission for two years, on the Planning Commission for four years and on the Board of Zoning Appeals for almost two years. She has served on the council for four years.
"TRAFFIC-WISE, we're going to be hit hard with cut-through traffic," said Polychrones, adding that he thought the number of people expected to ride Metro to and from the proposed developments was overstated. He said he expected the southwestern area of Vienna to be particularly hard-hit and expressed some concern for the strain which added population could put on Marshall Road Elementary School.
"We made our views known to the county," he said. "Are they listening? They don't seem to be." At this point in the process, said Polychrones, it is up to the council to "try to represent the views of our citizens as much as we can and be prepared to deal with whatever the fallout is."
One way to address the traffic problem, he said, is to evaluate the traffic-calming measures that have been put in place around Vienna and use those evaluations to begin working out an overall traffic management plan.
Polychrones also said he looks forward to working on the Maple Avenue Vision Project, the goal of which is to adjust the zoning along Maple Avenue to preserve some of its small-town characteristics. "It should give us the tools we need to go ahead and control what happens there," he said. "I think it's imperative that we do move forward with it."
He also said maintenance of the town's aging infrastructure, such as sewage and water, is a standing priority. "We have to make sure the money is available and the maintenance stays on track," he said.
Traffic management, the Maple Avenue Vision Project and maintaining services are "what I pledge to work on over the next couple of years, he said, adding that he wants to be elected for his agenda, not just for his past service.
Polychrones served on the Planning Commission for two and a half years, on the Transportation Safety Commission for three years and on the county's Industrial Development Authority for four years. He has been a council member since 1996, with a year off.
KELLEHER NOTED that more people coming into town to shop could be good for business but said she feared that the streets, schools and parks in and around Vienna may not be ready to handle the influx. "We've got parking problems and traffic problems already," she said. She pointed out that the town has already begun working on the parking problem along Maple Avenue, where parking is most difficult, hashing out cooperative parking problems with some of the businesses and negotiating the leasing of an unoccupied, graveled piece of property on nearby Church Street for use as a parking lot.
Such cooperative public/private partnerships will be an important way to creatively manage resources to accommodate a larger population, she said, adding that something like a parking garage is not a feasible solution due to a lack of funds and, moreover, land.
Another example of creative resource management Kelleher cited is the synthetic turf being laid on Waters Field, which will extend the hours and time of year the field is available, as well as cutting down on maintenance costs. She pointed out that Waters Field was also a cooperative effort between the town government, the county and nonprofit sports groups that funded much of the work.
Kelleher also voiced her support for the Maple Avenue Vision Project. "We want to encourage the kind of development along Maple that will be desirable to residents," she said.
Her one pet peeve, she said, is the town's water rate, which is more than double the rate charged by Fairfax County because the town resells the county's water, some of it after it has already been resold by Falls Church. "It looks like the only way to deal with it is to abolish the town's water company," she said. However, the town's water and sewage system does not have the connections necessary to switch completely to the county's water supply. The town has been having some difficulty working with the county on this, she said. "Folks in Vienna really enjoy having some of their own services," she said, "but this has gotten out of hand."
As for her own service to the town, Kelleher said she is willing to listen to all points of view on any matters that arise. "I'm very careful with taxpayer money," she said. "I try to be thoughtful and deliberate with any issues that come up."
Kelleher worked with Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross for six and a half years and has sat on the council for four years.
<bt>"The biggest reason I'm running is I believe the Town Council needs some new blood in it," said Jenkins. "They've done an outstanding job to this point, but they could do better with some things."
As someone who grew up riding his bike around town, he said his biggest concern is the traffic that has made Vienna less pedestrian-friendly than it once was. Jenkins said he would like to work with the town's Traffic Safety Commission and the Vienna Police Department to "get a handle on cut-through traffic" and make sure the through-traffic stays on the main roads. Traffic enforcement on residential roads is not what it used to be, he said, and more of it could help deter and control through-traffic in neighborhoods.
"We're not a speed hump for [commuters] to get to Tysons or McLean or D.C.," he said, adding that he wants to see traffic flow through town unimpeded.
As for the new developments outside the town, he said, "I'm not opposed to it at all. Around the Metro is where growth needs to happen, and it could be very beneficial to the town, as long as the Town Council makes good decisions." However, he said he thinks the town needs to work closely with the parties involved in planning these developments. "We need to have a little bit of reins on the growth around Vienna," he said, adding that planning needs to take a long view, anticipating the next 20 years.
He also said he would like to see the Maple Avenue Vision Plan put into effect and that the new, pedestrian-friendly businesses on Church Street have been long-overdue.
Jenkins' Web site is shared with the race's other challenger, Susan Stich, but he said their campaign is not a collaborative effort, nor are they building a common platform. Rather, he said, the two are acquaintances whose mutual friend owns the domain name and allowed them both to use it.
Jenkins said he is asking for citizens' votes because, although there is "not a whole lot broken about Vienna," he feels there is a need for some change. Having lived in town most of his life, he said, "I know what this town was 34 years ago, and I know what it's capable of being, and I know what I want it to be 34 years down the road," which is not "a sprawling metropolis."
Jenkins has not yet served in a government capacity.
STICH SAID she decided to run because "I can sit here and talk about what needs to be changed, or I can do something about it."
"Vienna has great, great potential," she said, citing the schools and sports leagues as examples of what can be done when parents are involved in the community and saying she would like to encourage additional citizen involvement.
A main concern for Stich is pedestrian safety, which will only become a bigger issue as development brings more traffic, she said. One way to deal with the problem, she said, is for the town to work with law enforcement to see to it that crosswalks are enforced. "We've got to make this a main issue, and there are going to be fines if you don't stop for a crosswalk," she said.
She also expressed her support for the Maple Avenue Vision Project, commercial development along Church Street and the establishment of greenscapes.
Having worked with gang criminals in California for an internship as an adolescent therapist, Stich said she wants to guard against any encroaching gang activity. She pointed to a gang-related arrest made recently in Vienna and said, "It just chilled my blood."
She also said she would like to work on getting all Town Council meetings and work sessions, as well as town committee meetings, televised, "so everybody can watch it, and everybody can feel like part of the government."
Stich and some of her neighbors, all residents of the Windover Heights Historic District, have exchanged some strong words with the Town Council regarding the district's zoning ordinance, and she is a litigant in a suit against the town to have five properties removed from the historic district.
"I believe you can fight City Hall," she said.
She pointed out that she would have to recuse herself from any votes regarding the suit and assured that she was not running for office with visions of dissolving the historic district. The quarrel, she said, "is just a thumbnail of what's going on."
Stich said her 15 years in the counseling field have given her an understanding of conflict resolution, and she thinks her differences with the council can be ironed out so that they can work together.
"I feel like I've got a vision for Vienna, and I believe in Vienna," she said. "It's got a lot of energy." She said she would like the town to be more proactive, for example when dealing with growth, and wants the government to be more responsive to citizens.
Stich has not yet served in a government capacity.