Some Q&A Thoughts, Part 2

[BACKGROUND: The Northeast Vienna Citizens Association asked all candidates four questions for their newsletter. Below is an my response to their questions]

The last town wide traffic calming study was done in 2008.  With all the new developments proposed for Town, how do you believe the Town should deal with all the additional traffic issues that will certainly follow? Should the town be more proactive in traffic control, initiate a new study, and consider new technologies as they develop to move traffic through Town more efficiently?

Our traffic calming program is driven by safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers.  We do need to update the Town’s Guide to Traffic Calming to reflect more recent practices and available solutions.  Vienna should develop town-specific street standards to size streets for adjacent land uses (see the new street typology added to 2015 update to the Comprehensive Plan) that are distinct from VDOT residential street standards. We should incorporate traffic calming design into roadway reconstruction projects. The Town has already installed rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFB’s) on Beulah Road which have just recently been reauthorized for use. Further, the Town has allocated funds to purchase active speed feedback signs and is beginning to design a centrally controlled traffic-responsive traffic signal system.

Included in the Parks and Recreation mission statement is a commitment to “maintain 13 parks and numerous trails and stream valleys” in Town.  Many times our streams need extra help during the year besides the town-wide clean ups.  How would you encourage Parks and Recreation to do more clean-ups on a needed time frame.

The first step is to identify and notify the Town that help for a particular location is needed.  In addition to calling, recently the Town has launched a service request web portal (https://help.viennava.gov/TIMPublicLive/TIMPortal/ , also as an iPhone or Android app) where citizens can report a wide range of issues including those with our streams.  The next step is to determine the type of response whether by Town staff for immediate or high risk situations, or something that can be planned and incorporate community members.  An idea I will be exploring with our parks and recreation director this coming year is an “Adopt a Stream” program that could potentially provide more frequent opportunities.

Some Q&A Thoughts, Part 1

[BACKGROUND: The Northeast Vienna Citizens Association asked all candidates four questions for their newsletter. Below is an my response to their questions]

This year the Town staff and the Planning Commission will begin the process of updating the Comprehensive Plan for 2020, an ideal time to begin analysis of the Mill Street / Dominion Road Light Industrial /Commercial Corridor.  Do you support public meeting(s) to bring together residents and businesses in the area to discuss its future.

The development process for the Comprehensive Plan makes extensive use of public Planning Commission subcommittee meetings as well as Planning Commission and Town Council work sessions and public hearings prior to adoption.  Our community is looking forward on a variety of issues and areas where the Comprehensive Plan update would benefit from focused meetings as part of the overall process. This includes subjects such as sustainability/environment, transportation, economic development, and business formation/retention. In addition, commercial areas such as Maple Avenue, Church Street, Cedar Lane Shopping Center as well as the commercial/light industrial area along Mill

Street/Dominion Road would benefit from additional conversations.  The goal of the Comprehensive Plan process is to develop a five year plan for the community with input from business, residents and property owners expressed as goals and measurable objectives that focuses the annual budget and Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

What is your position on the Town granting variances on projects where the Town will be part owner and therefore a beneficiary of the variance?

Many communities throughout the state have projects for their own public buildings that move through local planning process which include requests for site plan modifications, conditional uses, rezoning, and other changes. The process requires the recommendation of the Planning Commission, potential action of the Board of Zoning Appeals, and an affirmative action by the Town’s Council. Vienna  is not unique in this matter. The recently opened Vienna Community Center included site plan modifications for minimum side yard, open space, parking space size and the number of parking spaces.  The interest of the community is protected by an open process of public meetings and public hearings where citizens can express their position and provide input to the process.

 

Follin Lane…Update from DPW

Friday at close of business I received the following update and two week look ahead from Mike Gallagher, the Deputy Public Works Director:

Week of May 9th

  • Mon. May 9  –  Grade and compact street and sidewalk subgrade, backfill sidewalk, pour sidewalks and curbs
  •  Tue.  May 10 – Grade and compact street and sidewalks subgrade, backfill curbs, reinstall signs, place topsoil
  •  Wed. May 11 – Manipulate and place cement in subgrade*, place topsoil, re-install signs, place 6” base paving in slot closest to NFCU
  • Thur. May 12 – Manipulate and place cement in subgrade*, place topsoil, reinstall signs, Look to start 6 inch stone street base
  •  Friday May 13 – Finish Manipulation if needed, place stone street base,
  • Sat. May 14 –  Work if we lose day due to Rain

Note: From personal observation street grading is working between Hine and the townhouses near Maple as of Saturday May 7. Sidewalk area is cleared and the stone base being placed from both ends of the project.  My understanding is that adding cement to the subgrade is to stabilize the clay soil and necessary for the road to not deteriorate too quickly.

Week of May 16th

  • Mon. May 16 – Place 6 inch street stone base, topsoil, look to place sod
  •  Tue. May 17 –  Place 6 inch Street stone base, place sod, start fine grade stone base
  •  Wed. May 18 – Finish 6 inch Street stone base and continue Stone fine grade, place sod, get ready for storm and water work on Echols and detour needed
  •  Thur.  May 19 – Complete fine grade stone, start 4 inch base asphalt , place sod
  •  Fri May 20 – Complete 4 inch base asphalt, get ready for storm and water relocate on Echols and detour needed

May 23rd and beyond
The Deputy Public Works Director provided the following summary of work beyond May 23rd toward completion of the entire project, “…there is some storm drain work and water relocation to be done on Echols Street. This will be done while traffic is open on Follin Lane, with Echols closed between Follin and Mashie during the days and re-opened at night. This will require temporary daytime detours for about a week. Then the intersection of Follin and Echols will be re-built and which will require the complete closure of the intersection completely for about one week. 24 hour detours around the intersection will be required.  As we get closer to this work being scheduled, notices will be sent to surrounding community.  Last, the final surface pavement will be laid with Follin lane open using flagging operations and appropriate  traffic control.”

Thank you! ! !

Thank you for your support today! As a result, I will be serving our community as a council member for the next two years effective July 1.  Congratulations to Linda Colbert and Pasha Majdi for being reelected to Town Council and to  Laurie DiRocco for winning another term as mayor. I look forward to working with you in the coming years for the benefit of Vienna. I would also like to thank Craig Burns and Roy Baldwin for a race well run.  I believe  a number the issues they raised during the course of the campaign resonated with voters and I would like to seek solutions to them for the benefit our community.

Maple Avenue Zoning Amendments…What They Are, What They Aren’t

…please don’t let me be misunderstood.

the Animals

Will things develop faster or slower due the Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) Zoning Amendments?  Really, only the market will determine the pace of development. That market is already being significantly rearranged due to the Tysons redevelopment.

So the important conversation is about how the Town of Vienna will control development. What can we do?  Here are some important points to consider about the Town’s commercial zoning:

Existing Commercial Zoning

If a developer submits an application that conforms to the Vienna’s existing zoning and site plan requirements and does not require a variance or conditional use permit the development is termed by right. Vienna’s existing commercial zoning (C-1, C-1A, C-1B and C-2) permits by right a wide variety of business-related land uses, including: product sales; home installation services; offices, recreation, repairing, manufacturing, processing or assembly businesses, restaurants;  and apartments.  There are other uses that are conditional or require a use permit subject to approval like motels, drive thrus, medical facilities, animals hospitals, etc.

There are a number of minimum requirements to be conforming:

  • 15 foot front yard setback to building
  • 0 foot setback side yard
  • 10 foot rear yard set back to building
  • 35 foot height limit (effectively 3 floors)
  • Rental apartments on 2nd or 3rd floor only but cannot exceed 50% of square footage.
  • Entire operation of the business or activity shall be conducted wholly within an enclosed building.

Town council and planning commission have no say in a proposed commercial development submission as long as it conforms to existing commercial zoning regulations and site plan requirements. Reviews are handled at the staff level.  There is no public hearing requirement. Board of Architecture Review has limited review against basic architectural standards.

MAC Zoning, What It Does

It provides the Town control, first and foremost

Requires rezoning and site plan:

  • Board of Architecture Review at initial design phase against standards and the final architectural design
  • Planning Commission review/recommendation to Council approval
  • Town Council review/approval or rejection

Sets specific requirements for:

  • Front and side yards
  • Height limit w/ specification related to roof peaks
  • Parking and loading minimums and location
  • Pedestrian pathways
  • Bicycle parking
  • Sidewalk zones
  • Tree coverage in parking lots
  • 10% open space set aside
  • Site configuration
  • Roof forms, overhangs and parapets
  • Neighborhood compatibility protections in setback distance and height, screening walls
  • Building facades and architecture (transparency and materials)
  • Lighting

It creates the opportunity for different types of development than existing commercial zoning, including mixed-use residential condominium/retail spaces.

Incentivizes things that the Town desires:

  • Green building certification
  • Water conservation and quality
  • Closing driveways (which reduces traffic congestion)
  • Public art
  • Commercial recycling
  • Public parking and shared parking
  • Transit and bicycle amenities

Provides an applicant one extra floor of development to four floors (54 feet, 62 feet  including mechanical systems).  For this, the Town receives many things it desires to retain the small town atmosphere many people in our community talk about. MAC Zoning also gives the Town something more important… the ability to say, “No.” For a comparison of commercial by-right zoning to the Maple Avenue Commercial Zoning see this presentation.

MAC Zoning, What It Isn’t

Unlike the existing commercial zoning, MAC Zoning does not allow a developer carte blanche to do whatever they want; to build to whatever architecture that suits them.

The MAC zoning amendments were not created in the dark, it was not a closed process.  It was created through a series of public meetings of Maple Avenue Vision Steering Committee representing all facets of the Towns boards, commissions, businesses and residents supporting by Town staff and an external consultant (Elisabeth Lardner who designed the Town Green).  The group worked  through many different versions and variations to reach consensus on the complex planning and zoning issues addressed in the amendments.  All of which is documented here.

The resulting Maple Avenue Commercial Zoning Regulations were proposed to Planning Commission and recommended to the Council which passed them after a public hearings before each.

 

Why Can’t We Make Them Stop?

[BACKGROUND: The Northeast Vienna Citizens Association asked all candidates ten questions as part of the Candidate Forum on April 21st. Below is a narrative version my response to this question.]

This may be a question for the police. I never see bike riders stop when crossing Church Street on the bike path. What can be done? Also too many motorist do not stop at stop signs all over Town. With more density and cars, is it time to consider “stop sign cameras”?   If not, what pro-active measures would you recommend besides police patrols, since they cannot be everywhere?

Traffic safety is made of four legs of a stool:

  • Education
  • Enforcement
  • Engineering
  • Emergency response

Safety is a community and collaborative effort, so for all the items mentioned below assume that baseline of facilitation and consensus building.

For bicyclists, education of young riders is available through programs offered by the Vienna Police, elementary schools, bicycle shops and bicycle organizations like Washington Area Bicyclists Association.  Adult riders education is primarily through the last two groups.  Much of this already occurring but it is always helpful to increase collaboration. (Note that all drivers need to on-going education and reinforcement as well)

Police enforcement should be part of comprehensive plan focusing on safety and where the highest risks exist whether with bicyclists, pedestrians or drivers. Where there are significant conflict points like the W&OD / Church Street crossing, I would expect that would be of high importance.

Stop sign cameras are not currently allowed in Virginia (at least in my review).  The state does explicitly allow “traffic light signal violation monitoring systems” aka red light cameras (§ 15.2-968.1. Code of Virginia) but this is only for signalized intersections.

Engineering covers such a wide range of topics it could be several posts by itself, so I will just hit some highlights where Town staff can be creative but still be within accepted engineering practice:

  • Different sign and pavement marking treatments on trails approaching intersections. This can be applied really any intersection.
  • Roadway design features as part of our traffic calming program such as road narrowing, raise intersections, etc. have been demonstrated being effective in making streets safer

One other item I want to mention, is the Streets subsection of updated Comprehensive Plan that I drafted on behalf of the Transportation Committee of the Planning Commission.  This subsection introduces the concept of connecting street design to adjacent land uses. (I will post more on the Comprehensive Plan separately.)  This is important and different because it defines streets based on the use people make of them rather than simply a place for traffic.

In closing, I should mention the last item, emergency response.  When, in the unfortunate case a crash occurs, the time for emergency medical services to be on scene to provide treatment and move any injured people to hospitals for advanced treatment is of paramount important in survivability.

That Was Then…and Now…

I was so much older then.  I’m younger than that now.

My Back Pages — Bob Dylan

When I started my career as a young engineer right of out of Purdue University, I went to work for the City of Los Angeles Transportation Department.  As you would expect, in LA, we were all about moving traffic…cars, buses, trucks, etc. At the time the city was spending tens of millions of dollars expanding its traffic responsive signal system…that was 25+ years ago. We followed the standards and guidelines…and we really moved traffic.  The Rolling Stones concert at the L.A. Coliseum we could completely empty in about 45 minutes, lots of green signals in the traffic peaks, rush hour traffic lanes ticketed and towed by parking officers…all the most aggressive approaches to address congestion.

Fast forward 16 years later, when I worked at the District Department of Transportation in Washington, DC, I had the opportunity to work with Karina Ricks on the city’s Great Streets Initiative under Mayor Williams.  This approach was to create urban spaces on major thoroughfares in the city using infrastructure projects.  The city did a lot of design work when I was there and some of the projects have been built, most notably H Street, NE. The city also was aggressively moving forward with traffic calming, bicycle lanes and other approaches to make neighborhoods safer and provide alternate transportation options

Through this process my perspective about the purpose of streets changed…

Streets are for people. 

When streets are designed for people, businesses are successful, engagement between community members increases, safety improves. What transportation a person choses to use is a product of the type of trip they making between different activities.

  • Drive to and park the car to go grocery shopping, pick up dry cleaning, and a cup of coffee.
  • Walk to a restaurant
  • Take shuttle bus to Metro to work.
  • Bicycle to school and the park

Land uses should not be driven by parking lot size and driveway entrances simply for cars. Choices for land uses should driven by the communities needs for residences, businesses, parks, libraries at the like. Streets are a means not an end; more simply they connect people to activities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Absentee Ballot Application Deadline Tomorrow, 5:00pm

For more information online on absentee voting go to Fairfax County Department of Elections:

By Mail

Deadline to apply for an absentee ballot online, mail, fax or email: Received by the Office of Elections by April 26, 5 p.m.

What you need to do:

  • You can apply for your absentee ballot online; Or: Print the online absentee ballot application (PDF). Absentee ballot applications are also available at county governmental centers and library branches, or call the Office of Elections at 703-222-0776 (TTY 711).
  • Complete the absentee ballot application (PDF) – make sure you sign the application.
  • Fax the application to the Office of Elections at 703-324-3725, or email the application to absenteeballot@fairfaxcounty.gov. Or, mail to the Office of Elections, Box 10161, Fairfax, VA 22038.
  • Once your application is received, your absentee ballot will be sent to you within three business days, beginning no later than Jan. 15. If you have questions about your ballot, call the Office of Elections at 703-222-0776 (TTY 711).

The deadline for your mail-in absentee ballot to be received by the Office of Elections is Election Day, May 3 at 7 p.m.

You can keep tabs on the status of your mail-in absentee ballot application and ballot. Go to the Virginia Citizen Portal and click on Absentee Status.

 In Person

Fairfax County Government Center, Suite 323
12000 Government Center Parkway
Fairfax, VA 22035

Weekdays March 18 to April 29
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Thursday: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Saturday Schedule, April 30, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(April 30 s last day to absentee vote in-person)

Biggest Changes in Vienna over the Next 5-10 Years

[BACKGROUND: The Northeast Vienna Citizens Association asked all candidates three questions for their newsletter. Below is a much expanded version of my response]

What do you anticipate will be the biggest changes to life in Vienna in the next 5-10 years [with the new Maple Avenue Corridor development options, growth in Tyson’s Corner, widening of I-66 and potential for increasing traffic levels]?

First and foremost, I believe that Vienna will find ways to maintain that sense of community that ranks our town as one of the best places to live.  We should not be fearful for the future, rather we should be prepared with presence and advocacy for what we want in our Town as distinct from Tysons, Falls Church, Merrifield, or the rest of Fairfax County.  That is not stay we should be stagnant or try to turn back the clock. We are in 2016 and there are important new challenges to be able to expand the Town’s vibrant community.

We need to look forward while understanding what make our Town special, looking backward to remember who we are…looking forward, finding ways we can, rather then reasons we can’t. We need to have that conversation, together!

People and Housing
Demographics of Vienna will change with more older residents looking to downsize from single family homes.  New families will be moving into town looking for single family homes near the growing employment center in Tysons.

The trend of residential teardowns and larger, new homes will continue due to market demand.  However, Town staff will step up their reviews the proposed and final site plans for conformance to Town codes. We will see housing alternatives for young couples and empty nesters such as condominium and townhome residences as part of Maple Avenue redevelopment. We will find methods to encourage retention of mid-range price point single family homes. The Town of Vienna will be challenged to find housing in the community for its employees to both live and work here. The Town’s zoning code will become a living document rather than a ‘once every five year set and forget’ exercise.

Business
We will see new businesses established and some others come and go.  Vienna will become a distinct destination rather than simply a path to work. Residents of Tysons will come to Vienna to shop and eat. The Town will define an economic vision for development and leverage supporting incentives or credits available to encourage the foundation and expansion of local and small businesses.

Civic Engagement
With addition of new residents from younger generations, the Town will move to embrace the current trends in using technology to connect with its citizens and businesses. Printed newsletters and information will still be issued to the community, but many residents will receive their information though smart phones and tablets. Elected and appointed officials along with staff will become a strong presence in northern Virginia advocating for Vienna’s distinct community. There will be increased civic engagement in community and regional issues.

Transportation
Maple Avenue will remain congested but adding the focus on community with unifying street design, improved walkability, and more transit service. VDOT has several projects in the works that could potentially affect Maple Avenue that will be completed in this time frame: the I-66 Outside the Beltway Project, the East-West Integrated Corridor Management Study and the VA Route 123 widening in Tysons as part of the Tysons Comprehensive Plan build-out. We can expect some diversion onto Maple Avenue where construction will be involved . Post-opening, we will likely see an easing of cut through traffic in Vienna due to the highway project and expansion of transit service from Vienna Metro to Tysons…but will build back up over time in the 10-20 year time horizon.

Each of these projects and studies provide an opportunity to work collaboratively with VDOT to leverage money improvement the Town’s traffic signal system and regional transit service. The Maple Avenue zoning amendments give the Town control over development and the amount of parking and traffic created in comparison to by-right development. The mix of uses on along Maple Avenue will allow people to put together multiple trips by parking once and walking from place to place.

The Town through the Comprehensive Plan and the Town’s transportation design standards will see residential streets designed for people and the adjacent land uses rather simply for traffic. There will be more neighborhood roundabouts designed and installed beyond the first one at Park and Locust Streets SE.

Over the longer term horizon we will see the changes in traffic operation and safety in the 10-20 year range with the increased availability of connected vehicles that use communications for crash avoidance and driving in congested conditions.

Public Administration
The Town will continue to maintain its Aaa Bond Rating and will further align its strategic plan to programmatic and capital budgeting.  There will be an on-going conversation about the value of Town services vs. the tax rate and tax assessments especially in the context of Fairfax County’s increasing rates and assessments.  The Town will move toward a performance management approach to administration of departments.

The Town will continue to be successful in capturing grant money for infrastructure projects to improved roads, sidewalks, storm drainage.  The Public Works Department will be providing expanded performance measure information based on outcomes citizens rather than simply quantities. We will go through another financial and programmatic evaluation to determine whether the value of the Town’s water and sewer system is best managed by the Town or transitioned to Fairfax Water.