Post #259 — a repost of “My endorsements for Town Council and the problem of splitting the vote, 2-7-2019”

Posted on May 1, 2019

The Town elections are coming up this Tuesday, May 7th.  This is a contested race and our polling place may be a little crowded.  You probably ought to have a voting plan, that is, a specific time when you are planning to get down to the Community Center and cast your vote.  I don’t think that waiting until the last minute will be a good strategy this year.

What follows below-the-line here is something I posted back in February.  Things have changed a little since then, but not enough to make me change my vote.  The biggest change is that more-or-less everybody is running against the current MAC rules.  Now everybody wants to see some changes.

That said, I’m voting for Springsteen and the two Ps:  Patel and Potter.  If you care to know why, read what I wrote back in February, below the line further down this page.

What do I hope to see change about Town of Vienna government?   Mostly, I want to hear a straight story. I don’t want to hear that, somehow, Town staff swapped buildings between review by the BAR and approval by the Town Council (Post #245, Post #253).  I don’t want to be told that Vienna has no choice but to complete its rezonings within 100 days, while I can see that nearby towns take up to a year  (Post #247).  I would like the Town to stop telling us how responsive they are to citizen input, while re-writing the rules mid-stream to favor whatever the developers appear to want (Post #227). I don’t want the Town to sell MAC as preserving small town Vienna, then repudiate that small-town portion of the law.  I don’t want them to sell it based on four floors, only to find out that five floors is just fine.

I could go on, but you get the drift. Actual development issues aside, just cutting the crap would be a big improvement.

I’m just going to offer up one more, based on a flyer that landed in my in-box yesterday.

I attend a lot of these meetings, and I cannot count the number of times I have heard Town officials swear that it’s simply not possible to build profitable mixed-use buildings in Vienna with less than four (or is it five?) stories.  Simply not economically possible, people who think it can be done are kidding themselves, and so on.  All stated as fact.

Then this arrives, below.  After all those assurances by various Town officials … the impossible appears to be happening, one block off Maple.

I’m not endorsing this building.  I’m not saying I want this building.  I’m not saying I like or dislike this building.

But this is exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about.  If three-story mixed use development is possible, then let’s acknowledge that and have a reasoned discussion.  Rather than shut down discussion by pre-emptively claiming that it’s impossible.

I guess what I’m saying is, I want people who are a little less bought-into the MAC, and a little more bought-into the facts.  Fact is, as I hear it, the Town is completely aware of this building, as they were aware of the failed Mill Street garage.

The original posting follows.  Not all the details are correct now, but the conclusion is the same.

My small random-sample survey of Town residents suggested that many Vienna residents are ready to vote pro-MAC Town Council members out of office.  (“Suggested”, not “showed”, due to the poor response rate for my survey.) In that survey, a plurality of residents opposed MAC zoning in general.  But people strongly objected to buildings the size of 444 Maple West/Tequila Grande.   Almost two-thirds of survey respondents said they’d vote against any Town Council member who approved buildings that size on Maple.

Despite that sentiment, the forces opposing MAC development may lose in the May 7 2019 Town Council election due to a classic split-the-vote problem.  There are currently at least seven candidates for the three open seats in this election.  Of those, my preliminary count of the candidates is:

  • 2 pro-MAC candidates
  • 4 anti-MAC candidates
  • 1 candidate that I am not sure about.

You can see the problem.  The anti-MAC vote is almost surely going to be split among a larger number of candidates.  Even if a majority of voters are against these large MAC housing developments, the anti-MAC candidates may still lose.

I’ll be voting for these three candidates:  First, Councilman Howard Springsteen, who has been a voice of reason in much of the discussion of development in town.  And for the two candidates chosen by Vienna Citizens for Responsible Development (VCRD), Nisha Patel and Steve Potter.   You can read their candidacy announcement here, on Facebook.

This is an endorsement of well-qualified candidates who share my viewpoint on development along Maple Avenue.  

Why do I consider these folks to be qualified?   Putting aside strong personal qualifications, I know the organization endorsing them.  The folks at VCRD do not have a particularly transparent organization, but there is no doubt that they are sincere about opposing the worst aspects of MAC development.  And they have a track record of doing that.  I have tried to work with them — at arm’s length — for the better part of a year now.  That’s why they are the first link in the “Links to Advocacy Sites” section of this website.  And that’s why I’m writing this page today to coordinate with the release of their candidacy declaration.  I am confident that I know where these VCRD-endorsed newcomers stand regarding an oversized apartment block like 444 Maple West.

As importantly, I believe VCRD has enough friends and contacts to be able to deliver a fair number of votes.  How many I am not quite sure.  Their facebook page has hundreds of followers.  And in addition, Potter was the author of the anti-444-Maple-West petition that got more than 1000 signatures. 

As I see it, a key issue here is somehow acquiring a critical mass of votes for some anti-MAC candidates, in crowded field.  And I think that a thousand angry potential voters is about as good a starting point as you could hope for.  To the extent that those petition signers vote in the Town election, that seems like a real leg up for Potter and his fellow VCRD candidate Patel.  And, at present, that kind of a critical mass of voters is the only solution I see to the problem of splitting the vote across so many anti-MAC candidates.

I have nothing against any of the other anti-MAC candidates.  But I can’t vote for them, in the hopes that the ones listed above have the best shot of obtaining the votes needed to win.

In summary, to me, Patel and Potter both appear to have fine personal qualifications.  But all these candidates will have something like that, I would guess.  In addition, their sponsoring organization, VCRD, is well established for opposing massive MAC housing projects and has hundreds of Facebook followers.  Potter has an equally impressive personal track record with respect to MAC, has worked within VCRD to limit these projects, and his anti-444-Maple-West petition had over a 1000 signatures.  Near as I can tell, that makes them the front-runners among anti-MAC candidates.  So this is my best effort to make my vote count.