Several candidates who are critical of high-density redevelopments along Maple Avenue have declared their candidacies for the May 7 Vienna Town Council election.
Tim Strike, Nisha Patel, Steve Potter and Julie Hays all have staked out positions seeking to protect Vienna’s small-town character, which may spell trouble for the Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zoning ordinance that encourages higher-density, mixed-use redevelopments.
A potential fifth challenger, Sandra Allen, could not be reached before deadline. Allen made an unsuccessful bid for Fairfax County School Board in a 2017 special election and now serves on Vienna’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
Patel has lived in Vienna since 2007, belongs to the Vienna Business Association and Northeast Vienna Citizens Association, and is an ophthalmologist. A media release announcing her candidacy stated she had “voiced her concerns about keeping Vienna’s small-town character through responsible development limits.”
Potter, a former Navy lieutenant and a Vienna resident since 2004, helped found Vienna Citizens for Responsible Development. In a media statement, Potter said he looked forward to raising awareness of the need for “common sense, transparency, citizen collaboration in town governance, and smart, properly scaled development of the Town of Vienna.”
Strike, who kicked off his campaign Feb. 9, said the Town Council’s approval last fall of a controversial redevelopment proposal on Maple Avenue, W., had missed an opportunity last year to preserve Vienna’s small-town character and protect it from unnecessary development.
Hays has served on the town’s Transportation Safety Commission for four years and chairs its Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Hays said she would like to provide a new voice and fresh ideas on the Council.
“I feel like we can maintain a small-town community, yet think strategically and develop the town thoughtfully,” she said.
At least one of the challengers will obtain a seat on the Council. While incumbents Howard Springsteen and Tara Bloch have announced their re-election bids, Council member Carey Sienicki will not seek a fifth two-year term.
This spring’s election could put the brakes on MAC developments within the town’s main commercial corridor. Sienicki supported the first three MAC proposals, but given the challengers’ positions on such developments, her successor may have different ideas.
That one vote (or more, if challengers succeed in knocking off one or both of the incumbents running) may make all the difference, because MAC proposals require a five-vote super-majority from the Council if property owners surrounding the application’s site file a protest petition. This happened in two of the first three MAC cases that came before the Council.
A protest petition in 2016 triggered what previously was a six-vote super-majority requirement, which scuttled the initial Vienna Market proposal at Maple Avenue, W., and Pleasant Street, N.W., despite its having obtained five favorable Council votes.
The Council subsequently modified town code to tighten up protest-petition requirements and lower the super-majority threshold to five (or a similar percentage of the votes, if some members were absent). Developer Doug D’Alexander returned in 2018 with a scaled-back Vienna Market proposal, which the Council unanimously approved.
The Council in 2016 approved a MAC proposal to build a Chick-fil-A restaurant topped by a Flagship Carwash Center at 540 Maple Ave., W. That structure is well into construction and some town residents have commented on how massive it is. The project is entirely commercial, unlike the mixed-use applications town officials had been seeking in the MAC zone.
The Council last October also approved, on a 5-2 vote that overcame a protest petition, Vienna Development Associates LLC’s plans to build 151 residential units and at least 19,000 square feet of commercial space at 430, 440 and 444 Maple Ave., W. This application drew hundreds of town residents to public hearings and led the Council last September to place a moratorium on new MAC applications until June 17 this year so the ordinance could be tweaked.
Discussions regarding MAC changes are continuing, but the Council will have to consider two applications that developers submitted before the moratorium took effect.
More candidates also may enter the mix, provided they file with the Fairfax County Office of Elections by March 5 at 7 p.m.