Tree-removal in Vienna caused by miscommunication, town officials say

Vienna residents gather at Nutley Street, N.W., and Maple Avenue, W., Nov. 23, 2019, to protest the mistaken removal of three large silver maple trees two days earlier on town property next to the Wawa construction site. (Photo contributed)

Mistakes and misunderstandings are no fun to endure, but at least they offer opportunities for improvement.

The Vienna Town Council and town staffers devoted the first half of a Feb. 10 work session to discussing why some recent missteps occurred, and what can be done to prevent them in the future.

• Wawa Tree Removals: Neighbors near the Wawa store under construction at 465 Maple Ave., W., received an unpleasant surprise Nov. 21 last year when the convenience store’s contractors removed three mature silver maples on town property, in addition to 10 trees on Wawa’s property that had been slated for removal according to the project’s site plan.

After public outcry, town officials took responsibility for the mistake, and Wawa representatives agreed to plant more trees on the town’s property and that of a neighboring family. That work is slated to be performed this spring. Wawa also has agreed to plant bushes along the fence line to reduce noise.

Vienna officials said the takeaway from the mishap was that the town’s arborist should remind contractors about approved site-plan changes, and the contractors should submit revised site plans to the town, which then would require approval before work began.

Vienna leaders also will develop an internal policy on determining if and how the public should be communicated with if work needs to be performed on town property.

The town’s urban arborist, Alex Shy, said he also plans on extending bond terms for developers to ensure there is sufficient money available to cover tree protection, removal and replacement.

* Electrical Transformer Siting: Town officials expressed concern about the recent locating of an electrical transformer on private property at the Chick-fil-A/Flagship Carwash Center site at 540 Maple Ave., W.

The transformer initially was located directly adjacent to a sidewalk at the site, but town staff persuaded the developer and Dominion Energy to back it away by 1 foot.

Vienna officials subsequently modified the town’s site-plan-approval process to include plans for “dry” utilities such as gas, electric, cable and telephone service. The new process allowed town staff to catch potential infrastructure conflicts at the Vienna Market redevelopment project on the former Marco Polo restaurant site.

Undergrounding such utilities in Vienna is a costly proposition for developers, as projects typically are not large enough to justify the cost, said Deputy Public Works Director David Donahue.

* Width of Wade Hampton Drive, S.W.: When builders recently planned to redevelop a commercial-building site at 374-380 Maple Ave., W., town staff recommended reducing the width of adjacent Wade Hampton Drive, S.W., from 36 feet to 32 in order to slow down traffic.

Neighboring residents, however, expressed a preference for keeping the street at 36 feet wide, in part to ensure adequate on-street parking. Town Council members concurred when they approved the mixed-use project last June, and did so again this January when signing off on plans to convert the site into a Sunrise assisted-living facility with some retail.

“It’s back where it belongs, at 36 feet,” said Council member Steve Potter said of the street’s width. Potter, who been critical of the initial mixed-use project, was elected to the Council last May but did not take office until after the proposal had been approved.

If the town in future projects seeks to narrow a street’s width for a redevelopment project, Council member Pasha Majdi recommended that any newly created space be for public use and not buildable for the developer. Majdi also favored retaining on-street parking, encouraging pedestrian-friendliness and installing dark-sky street lamps.  

Council member Howard Springsteen encouraged town staff to do more public outreach before recommending narrower streets.

“We really need to be in the driver’s seat, not the developers,” he said. “You’ve got to reach out to the neighbors.”

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