As their campaigns for Vienna’s Town Council pull into the final week before elections, candidates have been walking the town’s neighborhoods, listening to residents and outlining their stance on the issues.
The closing week before the May 1 elections will feature a debate on Wednesday night between the five candidates vying for the three contested seats on the issues that residents have expressed the largest amount of concern over the course of the campaign.
Ranging from a need for increased attention to the future of Vienna’s Maple Avenue corridor to new sidewalk construction to the fallout from growing regional development, the issues that have played high on residents’ minds have been made apparent during the run-up to the election, candidates said.
This year’s election will see council incumbents Dan Dellinger, George Lovelace and Maud Robinson defending their seats against challengers Deborah Brehony and Susan Stich.
A HIGH TURNOUT is expected as residents have expressed a growing concern for the town’s perceived handling of regional growth, and the effort to balance that with residential neighborhood preservation and traffic management, according to Brehony.
"I think people want Vienna to stay small and they realize that in order to do that, we have to remain proactive and not reactive" to regional changes such as the development of neighboring Tysons Corner, Brehony said.
A strong desire to limit major rezoning of certain areas in town, particularly along Maple Avenue as well as an increased amount of attention paid to safe development of a pedestrian system for Vienna have been recurring themes among residents heard by Dellinger.
"I think people want to stick with what we have going," he said. "I think people are just concerned with maintaining a nice, comfortable experience when it comes to our downtown."
Those same concerns — limitations on any new construction and preservation of Vienna as it has been — have ranked high among the issues important to residents, said Lovelace.
"It seems that the one thing that is constant is that [residents] don’t want to see anything that will disrupt our residential communities," Lovelace said.
Above all, contentment with Vienna’s long-standing character and the need to preserve it has been the flagship issue of this election to Robinson.
"I think this will be a watershed election year in terms of future development in downtown Vienna and whether or not we’re going to preserve Vienna’s small town feel or are we going to see a mini-Reston or Ballston or Clarendon with tall buildings and all," she said.
An increased call for more control on "needless" spending on public developments, such as the newly-established Town Green park, with a focus instead on increased sidewalk construction have emerged as the wants of residents, Stich said.
"A lot of people are mad about the taxes and about the town green," she said. "I thought I would be the lone wolf on this but as I’m knocking on doors I’m seeing a lot of people thinking the same way."
THE SUGGESTIONS voiced to Stich by residents have focused on moving away from just listening to calls for change and taking action by managing new mixed-use downtown development and finding "out of the box" traffic solutions, she said.
"We have been studied to death and what we need is action at this point, not more studies," Sitch said. "There have been lots of calls for change over the years … and they’ve fallen on deaf ears."
But it is just the opposite that Robinson has said she is hearing from residents, who she says are, for the large part, standing firm against Maple Avenue mixed-use development.
"The impression I get is that the residents are happy living in Vienna," she said. "As many of them have spent good money on their homes, they made these investments in Vienna the way they see it as it is, and they want to keep it as it is."
As the Metrorail expansion creeps ever closer to Tysons Corner and regional development of central Fairfax County continues, a need to reinforce height limitations on new buildings in town and manage traffic on both Maple Avenue and Vienna’s side streets have been paramount in residents’ suggestions, Lovelace added.
"There is definitely a lot of concern that with the added development we might lose that feeling of Vienna," he said. "These things are a challenge because we will be inundated with new traffic … we need to find something to eliminate these negative effects."
The same calls for developmental architectural scrutiny are being heard as solutions among residents that Dellinger has spoken with during his campaign, he said.
Residents "don’t want to remake the downtown," Dellinger said. "I’m hearing that some little things need to be tweaked here and there but we should keep it the same for the most part."
A varied solution for the future of downtown that incorporates some mixed-use with appropriate attention for preservation has featured high among residents’ suggestions offered to Brehony.
"People want to see some revitalization … attracting more quality merchants to Vienna," she said. "But they are also saying we must be proactive about finding these solutions. People know we can’t just sit on our hands."