Post #546: Last night’s Town Council meeting

Cedar Lane I-66 bridge will (probably) close for six months, starting before this summer.

There wasn’t much to last night’s (3/10/2020) Town Council meeting.  The Town has already posted a link to its recording on the Town’s website (but no link to the recording is posted yet on the Granicus site). The meeting materials can he found at this link. Continue reading Post #546: Last night’s Town Council meeting

Post #536: Last night’s “Community Conversation”, 1: A brief review, and one useful fact about requesting Town services

Source:  Town of Vienna Website.

Last night (3/2/2020) the Town held a “community conversation“.  Admirably, they already have the video posted at this link.

Nominally, the “conversation” was about the two topics chosen by the Town.  These were a proposal to expand the single-family-home lot coverage limit beyond the current (and long-standing) 25%.  And, separately, what priority should be given to (what appears to me to be a subset) of projects recommended in the Town’s multimodal transportation study.

Offhand, I’d say that the room was full and that the number of speakers was in the low dozens.

Continue reading Post #536: Last night’s “Community Conversation”, 1: A brief review, and one useful fact about requesting Town services

Post #522: The 2/3/2020 Town Council meeting

The Vienna Town Council met last night to consider a few items of business.  You can find the agenda and meeting materials on this web page.

Land at 440 Beulah and 114 Locust converted to government use.  The main item on the agenda was to get the ball rolling on legally allowing a couple of parcels of land in Vienna to be used as part of the new police station project.  The properties in question are the area directly adjacent to the existing police station (114 Locust) , and a house out on Beulah Road (440 Beulah), adjacent to the “Beulah Road Mulch Yard”.  The Town bought that Beulah Road house back 2018, but refused at that time to say why it had bought it.

Unsurprisingly, that proposal passed unanimously.  That was pretty much a given, as they’ll have to rezone at least the house next to the police station in order to build the new one there.

As I understand it, this was just the first step – amending the Town’s comprehensive plan to allow this.  I have the vague impression that they’ll have to come back and redo this, for the rezoning proper, in order to satisfy all the legal requirements.

Town account balances.  A second item of business was one that I think I haven’t seen before, which was a report on the Town’s financial assets — its investment balances.  Given the property values and incomes in Vienna, it should come as no surprise that the Town is in good financial health and has tens of millions (30-ish million?) of dollars invested in various interest-bearing accounts.

I still have not quite puzzled out why I haven’t seen this before, and why I’m seeing it now.  Either I wasn’t paying attention when I researched the budget last year, or this is a new report.  I can recall looking for and being unable to find information on account balances, but simple incompetence on my part could easily explain that.

Councilman Noble will not run for re-election.  The only surprise in the meeting was that Councilman Noble will not run for re-election, citing (I believe) the need to care for a relative.  I think everyone of a certain age can empathize with that.  And those not yet of that age can be glad they haven’t had to deal with it yet.

To me, the right context for this is the controversial vote to approve 444 Maple West, against considerable citizen opposition.  The vote was 5-2.

Of the five voting in favor:

  • Three have chosen not to run for re-election.
  • One was defeated in the last election.
  • One is running for mayor.

Of the two voting against:

  • Both are running for mayor.

In hindsight, that vote, plus the simple passage of time and the occurrence of life events, appears to have been as much of a watershed moment as you are likely to see in the politics of a small town.  But only in hindsight.

As an aside:  I assume the Town will have its recording of this up soon, so I do not plan to post my own recording of the meeting.  I also have to admit that I didn’t much pay attention during the discussion of the police station item, and maybe I’ll replay the tape and see if there’s anything else worth reporting about that.

 

Post #507: Last night’s Town Council meeting

The 1/6/2019 meeting was largely uneventful.  In this post I summarize a handful of items from that meeting in not-quite-chronological order.

You can find the meeting materials on this page.  You can find my audio recording of the meeting (taken from the Town’s streaming of the meeting) at this Google Drive link.  My .xls “index file” to show you where to find items on the tape can be found at this Google Drive link.

For your reference, here’s the agenda:

2020 01 06 Town Council meeting agenda

 


A pig flew past the window, chasing after a lead balloon.

About two and a half minutes into the meeting, my wife got up and asked Town Council voluntarily to comply with both the Virginia Campaign Finance Disclosure Act (CFDA) and the Stand by Your Ad act.

The reception to this request was less than enthusiastic.

You can see my CFDA discussion in Post #340.  Currently, no campaign finance laws apply in Town of Vienna elections.  Anyone can give any amount of money to any Town of Vienna candidate.  There is no requirement that any such contribution be publicly reported.  And anyone may post ads trying to influence the outcome of the election without revealing who they are.

My wife is asking the Town to change this situation by voluntarily placing town  elections under the CFDA, as the Town of Herndon did earlier this decade.  They aren’t going to do that.  Not much I can do except to say, please remember this (and the Noah’s Ark meeting) the next time Town Council starts blathering about how much they favor transparency in government. 


Candidates for Mayor

Council members Colbert and Springsteen announced that they would be running for Mayor.  Colbert stressed her strong association with (and blessing from?) the current Mayor.  Springsteen emphasized both his long-standing service and his understanding of Vienna citizens’ desire to maintain “small town” Vienna.  You can hear their speeches starting around 1:01:00 (just over one hour) into my tape of the meeting.

Apparently it is Vienna tradition that anyone on Council who intends to run for Mayor should makes that announcement at the first meeting of the new year.  (I wasn’t aware of this but others assure me that’s the case.)  The inference — but clearly not a hard-and-fast rule — is that nobody else on Council is running for Mayor.

If that’s the full list of candidates, then from my myopic lens of reducing the size and extent of redevelopment, that gives me an obvious choice of Springsteen over Colbert.  This, notwithstanding the recent vote to commingle the MAC rewrite with the rewrite of all the zoning in Vienna, and to develop the ground rules for doing that in secret (Post #495).


Level of service standards for Maple

This one turned out to be a huge disappointment for me.

You can read my just-prior post for the background, but, briefly, the issue is whether to adopt some goal for reasonable traffic flow down Maple as part of the Town’s comprehensive plan. That goal would be expressed as a “level of service” on Maple, graded from A (free flow of traffic) to F (gridlock).  Fairfax County has a county-wide standard of no less than a “D” level of service, but accepts level “E” in some congested areas.  Currently, Maple Avenue as a whole appears to score as level “D”.

Why was I disappointed?  First, this appears to have been initiated by Town staff, not Town Council.  (Councilmen Noble, asked, in effect, “did we ask for this”?).  Second, apparently Town staff intend to use this in the narrowest possible way, by looking at the additional traffic from one development project at a time, and if that traffic pushes Maple Avenue below the acceptable level of service, requiring that project to adopt “mitigation measures” to maintain the level of service.  Third, Councilman Majdi brought up the issue of integrating such a standard into an overall redevelopment plan for Vienna, he got (what I heard) as a bunch of evasion and double-speak.  To me, at least, it was not at all clear how this fits into the overall rewrite of all the zoning in the Town of Vienna, if at all.

On that last one, I’ve seen that sort of purposeful ambiguity enough times to realize what that means.   Town staff aren’t going to do that, but they aren’t going to say that they aren’t going to do that.  So if there is any overall concept of “please do not develop Maple to the point where traffic cannot move”, that’s going to have to come from Town Council, and will likely be opposed in the usual manner by Town staff.

So that’s the crux of my disappointment.  I thought that Town Council would use this to act like real planners, and use it to shape the overall scope of allowable Maple Avenue redevelopment.  As in, if we forbid any expansion of Maple Avenue itself to handle more cars (which is unspoken but appears to be true), then let’s estimate how much additional development we can afford on Maple before we drive the level-of-service below level “D” (or “E”, or whatever they adopt as the standard).  And then structure the new zoning regulations to give us no more than that limit.

I.e., I thought they intended to do some actual forward-looking planning, acknowledging the key role that traffic congestion plays in qualify-of-life in Vienna.  But if they did that, it would probably limit the overall extent of development on Maple.  So that sort of proposal certainly isn’t going to come out of our strongly pro-development Town staff.  Any such thinking would have to come out of Town Council.  And I’m not hearing any such thinking, yet.

The other disappointment is that, if used as proposed by staff, this is a traffic-control placebo.  Staff can point to it and say that they’ve addressed the impact of development on traffic, when they have done no such thing.

Why?  Traffic congestion is the cumulative effect of a lot of little decisions.  Traffic congestion can rarely be attributed to any one point source or any one development.   In all likelihood, any “level of service” goal will never be binding on one individual development.  (With the possible exception of the redevelopment of Giant Food, which could pour on-order-of a thousand cars onto Maple each morning, at that one location (Post #479).)

It’s all about the difference between “development” and “a development”.  If you’re serious about not screwing up Maple Avenue traffic any further, what we need is some overall limit on (the totality of) redevelopment on Maple.  (If such a limit is warranted by objective analysis.)  Absent action by Town Council, what we are going to get from Town staff is a rule that addresses “a development”, meaning one individual project along Maple Avenue.

Not only is that not going to address the issue, it’ll let people dodge around the fact that the true issue hasn’t been addressed.  It’s the traffic analog of the completely ineffective open-space requirement.  Look, MAC is designed to give you parks and plazas!  It says so right in the law.  Now take a close look at the size and quality of the open space MAC has brought thus far.  That’s how much traffic congestion control via a one-development-at-a-time approach to level-of-service will likely bring.


Vacating alleyways

Again, read my last post for details.  This ended up being deferred.

My takeaways from this are the following.  First, I don’t really understand the law here.

Second, virtually nobody else other than the Town attorney understands the law here.  Not the people asking for the Town to vacate the alleyway right-of-way, not Town Council, and so on.  Based on what the Town Attorney said, in most cases, the Town can’t sell the right to the alleyway, it has to revert to one or the other of the adjacent property owners, depending on how the alley was created in the first place.  And that requires researching the original title to the land.)

Third, the Town has no systematic plan for addressing these requests.  I think Councilman Noble emphasized that.

Fourth, there doesn’t seem to be any systematic plan for addressing a lot of issues with the Town right-of-way.  This is what Councilman Majdi had tried to get a handle on at the last meeting, but got shot down in favor of having the Town Manager do an “after action” (followup) report on the Wawa tree cutting, and how the Town could prevent such mishaps in the future.

On that last point, I thought the Town Council was mixing apples and oranges, but maybe not.  Today they were addressing the narrow issue of disposing of Town alleyway rights-of-way that serve no public purpose.  Majdi’s point, from last time, was far broader, and included things like oversight of treatment of Town right-of-way during redevelopment.

Councilman Springsteen was disinclined to consider any requests for vacating alleyway rights-of-way at the moment, in light of what happened with Wawa.  His position is that we needed to keep these a buffers between business and residential areas.

When all was said and done, this issue was tabled until the Town Manager comes back with his “after action” report on the Wawa incident.

 

Post #490: Other happenings at last night’s Town Council meeting

In no particular order, these are the other items I noted from last night, other than the ones about which I have posted separately.


It was not a good night for Councilman Majdi.

In addition to being the only person not to get on board with the creation of a Zoning Czar (Post #487),  I note the following:

Councilman Majdi filed his financial disclosure form waaay after the deadline and took a raft of crap over it.

The audit of the Town’s books revealed that one public official had not filed the legally required financial disclosure (conflict-of-interest) form, and that individual then filed the form very much past the deadline.  That was Councilmember Majdi.  And Councilmembers Noble and Colbert worked him over for it.  Over a six-minute span, under two different interrogations, I counted Councilman saying “my mistake”, “my error” or “I apologize” at least ten separate times.  As it went on … and on … it got a little awkward to listen to.  In fact, it went on even after the Town Lawyer said there was no substantive violation of the law.  It went on even after Majdi said he’d now hired a CPA and given him power of attorney, to ensure that it was filed correctly going forward.  It went on to the point of awkwardness.

In hindsight, in light of Post #487, the many mentions of “transparency” rang a little hollow with me.  But that’s my slant, I guess.

Councilman Majdi’s attempt to keep rental electric scooters off the Maple Avenue sidewalk was defeated.  

The rental electric scooter discussion starts about 1:44:30 into my recording of the meeting, available at this Google Drive link as an MP3 file.  Otherwise, the scooter proposal passed with just two modifications — setting the speed limit on Maple and Nutley to 8 MPH, and setting an 8 MPH speed limit around schools, parks, and rec centers (per Councilman Noble).  So the upshot is that if a rental company wants to offer them, we’ll have rental electric scooters in Vienna next year.  They can ride on the sidewalks or roads, preferable roads.  Speed limit is 20 MPH except as noted above.

Councilman Majdi’s attempt to get some systematic policy in place toward Town right-of-way was widely derided, then tabled.

For a Town Council that always seemed to make nice-nice a point of honor, they sure didn’t seem to have any trouble being less than delicate here.  I think Councilman Noble literally used the phrase “a waste of time”.  But in the end, the decision was made to table this until they could see what the Town Manager could come up with first.  You can hear that section starting around 2:49:00 into into my recording of the meeting, available at this Google Drive link as an MP3 file.


Other items that I happened to note.

The (up to) $35M 2020 bond issue was approved, but see my after-the-fact calculation in Post #488.  I’m pretty sure that, based on the Town’s assumptions, they can’t borrow the full $35M and maintain adequate reserves in the capital fund.

The vote on the Town’s proposed contract to Rinker Design, to figure out the logistics and cost of burying the power lines on Maple, was deferred.   Councilman Noble wanted Town Staff to get information on whether or not the chosen consultant had enough talent available in non-engineering areas (such as legal issues and economic issues).

The “consent agenda” worked flawlessly, and Town Council disposed of half-a-dozen minor items in less than a minute.

The purchase of the Robinson’s former home was approved, with the intention to turn that into a park, at 124 Courthouse.

I left early, and I didn’t get to hear the outcome of the last two items.


 

Post #458: The 11/13/2019 Planning Commission work session on Sunrise at 380 Maple West

380 Maple Ave W - Sunrise view of four sides

Source:  Plans posted by the Town of Vienna for the 11/8/2019 meeting of the Vienna BAR (.pdf), by Rust | Orling Architecture, Alexandria VA.

There is no doubt in my mind that when it comes time to vote, the Planning Commission will approve this building.

All the rest is commentary.  What follows is a handful of items that I thought might be worth noting. Continue reading Post #458: The 11/13/2019 Planning Commission work session on Sunrise at 380 Maple West

Post #445: The 11/4/2019 Town Council meeting

I didn’t attend.  I caught most of it via streaming, but this review is based on the Town’s video recording, which is already posted at this link.  I think that sets a new record for timeliness.  (FYI, I need to use Chrome to watch those Town recordings, YMMV.)

Times listed below are offsets within the Town recording linked above.

My summary report, below, is not an exhaustive list, just the items I thought were most relevant to me, and things that I post here.  You can find the agenda for the meeting at this link (.pdf) or shown in the box below:

Town Council 2019-11-05 agenda

 

Continue reading Post #445: The 11/4/2019 Town Council meeting

Post #429: The 10/22/2019 Town Council work session on MAC and commercial zoning

I attended last night’s Town Council work session on revising the commercial zoning codes along Maple.  You may download my audio recording at this Google Drive link, and my Excel workbook “index” file (as to what was said, when) at this Google Drive link.  The Town will probably post its own (and much better) audio recording in the “archives” section of this Town web page.  They started their recording at a different time from when I started mine, so the times in my “index” file will be close to, but not exactly right, for the Town’s recording.

I’m going to think about this another day before I post any analysis of what went on.  I’m just going to offer a broad outline here.

Town Council members were given a list of six broad topic areas that need to be addressed for any rewrite of MAC.  That was given to them, on a white board, by Town staff, and was in theory a summary of the seven lists that Town Council members had provided (available here).  That list of six broad topic areas is equivalent to the first column in my summary of Town Council’s comments, found in Post #427.  I had a slightly different list, and I annotated who said what.

After a lot of discussion, it turned out that the core task for the evening was to come up with questions to be used in surveying Vienna citizens to see what they want on Maple Avenue.  But, at the end of the more than 2.5 hour meeting, that task of drafting survey questions was turned over to the Department of Planning and Zoning.  Which, as I have said as emphatically as I can say, is, in my opinion, a classic blunder (Post #415).  That’s also what prompted my just-prior post.

In the course of that, Councilman Potter repeatedly pointed out that we already have considerable information about what people want, from various prior surveys.  It’s mostly a question of using it.   And there seemed to be general agreement on Town Council that the Town Council itself did not want any more buildings like 444 Maple West.   But the idea here appears to be to survey Town of Vienna citizens on the fine details of things like allowable building heights.

I found that Councilwoman Colbert made the single most cogent point of the entire evening.  And was … not quite ignored, really, but nobody quite knew what to do about it.  Her point is that you need to show people realistic choices, in the sense that you can’t promise small buildings and lots of benefits for the Town.  There simply would not be the economic surplus/profit from small buildings to allow the Town to ask for much in the way of proffers from builders.  Her point is that you need to know what’s economically feasible, as a whole, before having a survey.  She suggested getting some builders to provide cost estimates of what would and wouldn’t be profitable on Maple.

But beyond that lack of any idea whatsoever of the underlying economics of what the Town is doing, asking separate survey questions on different aspects of MAC completely guts the point she was trying to make.  If you want to see why, look at the two two questions on burying the power lines in my brief parody survey, Post #428 As it turns out, the Town had already asked about burying the power lines, in its own survey, and found that Town residents overwhelmingly favored burying the power lines.  Something line 91% agreed that would be a good thing to do.  But the question they asked was like my first power line question.  In effect, if it were costless to bury the power lines, would you do that?  Unsurprisingly, many said yes.  The Town did not ask my second, far more economically realistic question, which included the cost of doing so.

But the Town has a long-standing history of asking mom-and-apple pie questions, when soliciting citizen opinion about Maple Avenue.  And the answers to those questions, asked that way, are more or less meaningless.  And damned if it doesn’t look like the Town is going to do that yet again.

Separately, just for the record, Councilman Noble again came out strongly in favor of a random-sample survey.  I could not possibly agree with him more on this point.  In fact, he asked for a stratified random sample — one that attempted to get a survey sample that was a match for the demographic mis of the Town’s residents.  (And, I infer, would have used the response rate from the Town’s prior survey, by age category, to set up different sampling rates by age, so as to get responses that reflected the actual cross-section of Vienna residents.)  I’m just making the point that one Town Council member was absolutely clear that this should be a requirement for the survey.  What I did not hear was any general agreement, and in particular, I did not hear the Mayor second that idea.  So we’ll see what the Town actually gets.

I only have one more thing to note here, which is that Maple Avenue traffic was a major topic in my summary of Town Council commentsBut that somehow didn’t make the cut when Town Staff put together a list.  And the first (and only) brief mention of traffic, in the entire 2.5 hour meeting, occurred at 2:15.  (That’s the image at the top of the page — that’s a snapshot of my Excel “index” file for the meeting.)  It was mentioned, once, incidental to a discussion about parking.  Make of that what you will.

Oh, and the third map was still missing.  And yet, still very much talked about, in some form or another, by both Councilman Noble and Councilman Majdi.  If I have to draw it, it has no standing.  Town staff have to draw that third map, the one that shows the potential downtown “core” area.  Coucilman Noble described it (Lawyer’s to Park, Maple and Church), but there needs to be a picture and it needs to be given some official status.

 

Post #386, the 9/16/2019 Town Council meeting

I attended the work session, but not the meeting.  I recorded the webcast from the Town, but it froze periodically, so information was limited.  (Others report the same, so the issue was with the Town’s source, not my own computer.)  My wife attended the after-meeting continuation of the work session.  Among those three pieces of information, let me see if I can at least summarize what the conclusions for some items were.

The Town needed to start the process for extending the MAC moratorium.  It did so, getting the process started to extend the moratorium to June 30 2020.  The date was Councilman Noble’s suggestion, from an earlier meeting, to provide adequate time for revising the zoning laws.  As it stands, we appear to be right at the deadline for getting all this done, and they have to start advertising these public hearings immediately.

The Town Council had to approve the schedule for the coming year, and that turned out to be a surprisingly difficult item.  They also considered starting both meetings and work sessions earlier.  Discussion went on for half an hour, and, at the end, and I heard at least one “nay” vote in there somewhere.

On the $8M in public works spending (last agenda item), turns out, that was in fact a done deal.  These are grant applications for which Town staff have already put together all the paperwork for applying for grants from VDOT and other entities.  All that Town staff wanted was the pro-forma Town Council resolution approving the projects, to be included with the grant applications.   Then, at some later date, they will see how many of the grants were approved by VDOT.  Anyway, it appears that the entire package passed with minimal discussion.

The work session had a few more-or-less low key items, including the process for getting items on the agenda, a discussion of the Town code of conduct, and some discussion of whether Town Council members should take a three-hour seminar in parliamentary procedure.

But the Town put off the one contentious issue in the work session until after the end of the Town Council meeting.  The issue was more-or-less that there was an objection to Councilman Majdi’s recent article in the Vienna Voice, and more specifically to his discussion of MAC zoning.  At issue was whether or not there needed to be rules (set down by Staff, or by Town Council) as to what was an was not an acceptable topic for a Vienna Voice article by Town Councilmembers.  

I think Councilman Potter summed it up best for me, by referring to an earlier article in the Vienna Voice that, in my view, more-or-less said that people who disagreed with Town Council about MAC were liars.  While saccharine-coated, this was the core message of the “Miss Information” article published in the Vienna Voice.  The argument was that if you wanted to know the Truth about MAC, the only entity that could be trusted was the sitting government.  Potter’s point was that if that was acceptable, then there’s no way that Majdi’s article could be deemed unacceptable.

In the end, I think that viewpoint won out, and as my wife reports it, there will be no restrictions on those articles for the time being.

Separately, in my opinion, the Vienna Voice already shades into being more cheerleader than information source in many areas.  It appear to take on the job of selling what Town staff want to see sold to the public, rather than merely informing.  Take a look at the writeup of the Town’s multimodal transportation study, per the September Vienna Voice, and contrast that with (say) my assessment here.  To read about it in the Vienna Voice, you’d think the consultants had actually identified significant ways to address Maple Avenue traffic.  But as far as I can tell, they did not even come close to doing that.

 

Post #378: Town Council work session 9/9/2019, Part 1

My wife and I attended last night’s Town Council work session, along with about (best guess) 40 other audience members.  I’m going to break my review of that into two separate posts:  This post will be a timely overview.  Other posts may go into more detail.

It’s almost not worth posting my audio file, because microphone discipline was poor.  FWIW:  Download the audio (.mp3) at this Google Drive link, and download the corresponding .xls index file (my notes at to what was said when) at this Google Drive link.

The work session covered four topics.  You can find the meeting materials at this location.  Click links below to get to a brief writeup of the four topics.

I didn’t stay for the last one, so I have little to say for that one until I listen to the Town’s audio recording.  An overview of the others follows.


Continue reading Post #378: Town Council work session 9/9/2019, Part 1