Robinson bequest will help Vienna fill gaps in sidewalks

Late Vienna Town Council member Maud Robinson, pictured with her late husband, former Vienna Mayor Charles Robinson Jr., bequeathed $7 million to the town of Vienna for sidewalk construction following her death in March 2019.

Vienna officials will seek support from a majority of property owners on affected streets before deciding to build new sidewalks there.

The Vienna Town Council faces a deadline of October 2024 to build sidewalks using $7 million bequeathed to the town last year by former Council member Maud Robinson, who died last March at age 96.

Robinson’s bequest stipulated that the new sidewalks should be built  along sections of street where no such walkways already were planned or likely would be financed via grants or new construction. Robinson set a deadline of five years for spending the money.

The Council at its Sept. 21 work session debated how much consensus the town should seek before proceeding with sidewalk projects to be financed by the Maud Ferris Robinson Charitable Trust.

Some Council members favored obtaining support from a majority of property owners who will be sent letters from the town about proposed initiatives on their streets. But other members favored tracking down even more responses to obtain consent from a majority of property owners along those streets.

“We don’t want to pit neighbor against neighbor,” said Mayor Linda Colbert. “We want this to be a good process for everyone.”

After debating the subject for more than an hour, the Council agreed on the following regimen moving forward. In a pilot effort, the town government will send letters to property owners on 10 streets where officials are considering installing sidewalks and try to ascertain their thoughts and concerns.

If some of those property owners do not respond, Council members and people serving on the town’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee will visit those streets and try to contact them. If residents express concerns about trees, driveways or other factors that would be affected by a sidewalk project, town staff members could provide them with additional information.

If the Town Council receives support from a majority of homeowners on a street, the town would move forward with that project. If no favorable majority emerges, the town would put off consideration of that project, but offer to return to it later. The Council will seek to obtain residents’s views within about one month.

Town officials also are considering publicizing the advantages of sidewalks in the town’s monthly newsletter, the Vienna Voice, and having it be the topic of one of Town Manager Mercury Payton’s “On Deck with Mercury” community discussions.

Sidewalks improve the public’s health, safety, quality of life and property values, said Council member Ray Brill Jr.

The Council so far has approved five sidewalk projects to be funded with Robinson’s bequest. Town officials estimate the fund will pay for about 22 sidewalks. The initiatives will be conducted on town-owned land and require only temporary construction easements from property owners, said Vienna Public Works Director Michael Gallagher.

Council members on Sept. 14 approved the latest project, a $60,000 initiative to build a sidewalk along the even-numbered side of Cherry Street, S.W., from Courthouse Road to Cottage Street.

But the Council at the same meeting delayed decision indefinitely on six other proposals because of opposition from some residents.

Neighbors expressed concern that the projects weren’t necessary, would hurt trees, were too close to houses, would disrupt yards, would take away needed driveway space, would obligate residents to shovel snow from the sidewalks and mow grass near them, and would make it easier for strangers to access the neighborhood.

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