Seven candidates seeking three Vienna Town Council seats in the May 5 election took part April 2 in a first for the town: a video-recorded forum with contenders participating remotely.
The discussion, sponsored by the Vienna Business Association and North East Vienna Citizens Association (NEVCA) in lieu of other forums canceled by the COVID-19 outbreak, was moderated by NEVCA first vice president Doug Francis, who made the candidates hew to their allotted time limits.
Candidates made their first impressions with short opening remarks. Charles Anderson, a former Vienna Planning Commission member, focused on four virtues: experience, judgment, compassion and commitment.
“It’s not the time for political experimentation,” Anderson said. “We need people who have spent time at Town Hall. We need people who are comfortable with budgets, balance sheets and spreadsheets.”
Ray Brill Jr., a former U.S. Air Force pilot and corporate executive, recalled serving on the staff of Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., who told him, “When you’re asked to do something, don’t wait. Do it now and do it right.”
“This is what I would like to bring: the practical, creative approach to the town of Vienna,” Brill said.
Attorney Roy Baldwin, who chairs the town’s Board of Architectural Review, said Vienna residents oppose overdevelopment.
“You’ve made it clear that you don’t want our little town to turn into a big town, and I’m with you on that,” he said.
Andrea Dahl, a Vienna resident since 1998, formerly worked in the corporate world and now is a community volunteer and full-time mother to her two children.
“My family and I have fallen in love with this town and all that it has to offer,” she said. “In everything I do, I strive to keep that small-town feel and work to build a strong sense of community.”
David Patariu, an attorney and Vienna Planning Commission member, said he is a “zealous advocate for residents.”
Worsening cut-through traffic has made it unsafe for children to play or ride bicycles and scooters in front of their homes, Patariu said.
He also expressed alarm over large buildings that may be built under the (temporarily suspended) Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zoning ordinance, and worried the town’s zoning-code updates could discard what makes the town special.
Ed Somers, who works for the U.S. Conference of Mayors and chairs the town’s Transportation Safety Commission, said the COVID-19 pandemic’s financial and social impacts will be felt long after the crisis passes.
Observing so many local officials throughout his career has taught him the value of listening to residents and building consensus, he said.
Chris Wright, who works in the data-analytics field, said Vienna residents want fresh perspectives on the Council. Wright promised to bring a can-do attitude that would help the Council navigate the virus crisis as quickly and safely as possible. He also favored solving problems through better communication and coordination with surrounding jurisdictions.
Anderson expressed reservations because Dahl, Patariu, Wright and one of the three mayoral contenders, incumbent Council member Pasha Majdi, are running as a slate.
Baldwin agreed, saying, “We have to work together as a team and not as a slate or as seven separate individuals.”
The contenders varied in their views on Maple Avenue’s redevelopment. Anderson said he supports “appropriately scaled” development along the roadway, with the MAC’s coverage area shrunken and maximum building heights reduced.
Brill would limit new buildings under the MAC to three stories, lower development density and more green space.
Somers wants to see fewer vacancies along Maple Avenue and the creation of a vibrant downtown with appropriately sized mixed-use buildings that mirror Vienna’s character and support small businesses.
Patarui favored keeping the town’s traditional 35-foot height limit, shelving the MAC ordinance and helping local businesses survive the COVID-19 crisis.
“The MAC is a disaster and we need to get rid of it,” he said. “Additionally, the new zoning-code update of commercial and residential [properties] is just a way to make MAC by-right, so people will attempt to do that. So that needs to be stopped in its tracks.”
Dahl said growth was inevitable, but the town could do a better job of managing it. She also favored a three-story height limit, tree replacements, repurposing of existing buildings, larger setbacks and more green space.
“I support redevelopment that encourages small Mom-and-Pop-type businesses, which help differentiate Vienna from the rest of the Northern Virginia sprawl,” she said.
Wright acknowledged many Maple Avenue buildings could use facelifts and said the town would benefit from more building repurposings, as exemplified by Bear Branch Tavern.
Baldwin opposed buildings that are too tall or dense for Vienna’s small-town feel and said extra building density incentivized by the MAC ordinance should be a manageable amount.
Asked how they would help Vienna’s small businesses recover from those economic impacts, Wright recommended supporting and promoting businesses and Baldwin said residents should buy more carryout food from local restaurants.
Anderson said Vienna officials should defer the remaining tax burden of those companies, while Brill cited his initiative to have town residents buy gift cards from local businesses, but wait to spend them until after July 1.
Somers vowed to help local businesses access some of the $350 billion in federal stimulus moneys. Patariu said he would ensure local first-responders have the needed equipment and procedures to respond to the crisis, and that town officials should consider budget cuts. Dahl would ease restrictions and tax collections on local businesses and work to promote them.
Regarding future uses for town-owned property on Beulah Road, N.E., the candidates said it would be nice to have a park, but Brill and Baldwin worried about the cost of relocating the site’s mulching operation and Somers was concerned about the environmental aspects of doing so.
Forum moderator Francis read a statement from Fairfax County General Registrar Gary Scott, who said current plans call for the town’s polling place at the Vienna Community Center to be open on Election Day, but there will be minimal election staff on hand. Election workers frequently will sanitize equipment and the public will have to observe social-distancing norms dictated by the COVID-19 outbreak, Scott said.
County officials encourage Vienna voters to cast absentee ballots in the election. Scott recommended registered voters visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/elections and click on “Casting an Absentee Ballot by Mail.” Voters may use reason 2A, which pertains to illness or disability.
The town government will broadcast the candidate forum repeatedly in coming weeks on its cable-access channel. To view the discussion on the Web, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XwrxspLG1w.