Has the Town misjudged Citizen sentiment?

Posted on July 24, 2018

In 2016 and 2017, the Town of Vienna surveyed  citizens and businesses regarding many aspects of living and working in Vienna.  As part of those surveys, the Town asked about proposed Maple Avenue development.

In both cases, the Town received quite favorable responses to general questions directly or indirectly related to Maple Avenue development.  For citizens, 89 percent said it was important or extremely important to”Adopt economic development strategies to sustain/enhance downtown retail/commercial areas”, and 86 percent said the same for “Encourage residential/commercial & other mixed-use projects along Maple Avenue.”  For businesses, about 89 percent answered yes to the question:  “Do you support mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly redevelopment along Maple Avenue?”

This should be contrasted with the July 9 Town Council meeting, with an overflow crowd and 53 citizen speakers uniformly against 444 Maple West.  Although an angry crowd is not the same as a survey, it suggests that town residents’ actual feelings toward Maple Avenue redevelopment are not as nice as the surveys suggest.

You can look at that disparity one of two ways.

On the one hand, maybe citizens really did not understand the basic concepts of mixed use development.  Or were fundamentally against any changes in the downtown area.

On the other hand, maybe it was just the “motherhood and apple pie” nature of the questions that got such positive survey responses.  It’s tough to be against having a vital downtown.  The objection starts when people realize that “vital downtown” in this case means creating something akin to the Falls Church central business district.

In any case, the Town Council may have been genuinely caught off-guard by the turnout for the last Town Council meeting.  As far as they could tell from their surveys, the citizens and businesses of Vienna were firmly behind the concept.  The citizenry only got upset when faced with the reality of what MAC will bring to Maple Avenue.

This suggests the need for a realist survey of Town residents.  I put some first thoughts about such a survey on this page.