Four Vienna Town Council candidates served up credentials and policy proposals – but no virtual haymakers – during a forum hosted by the North East Vienna Citizens Association (NEVCA) and Vienna Business Association.
Incumbent Council members Steve Potter, Nisha Patel and Howard Springsteen and challenger David Patariu are competing for three Council seats in the May 4 election. They discussed their views in a forum recorded April 5 and moderated by NEVCA vice president Doug Francis.
Potter, a 17-year Vienna resident, is making a bid for a second two-year term.
“I’m running again because I believe continuity and experience are the most important elements in ensuring that we achieve the results we all want as a community,” said Potter, a U.S. Navy veteran and retired business executive.
Potter said he first ran for Council to send the town’s former Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zoning ordinance back to the drawing board, which the Council subsequently did. The town now is undertaking a comprehensive update of its zoning code, he said.
During the pandemic, Potter said he has pressed to eliminate non-essential expenses while not harming vital services and help town businesses with grants, loosened rules regarding outdoor dining and an economic-development strategy.
Springsteen, first elected in 2009, is a 24-year Vienna resident, retired Fairfax County employee and former Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia. He has been associated for decades with the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department.
“I am proud of my reputation for being responsive to citizen concerns, getting things done and looking out for the best interests of Vienna and its citizens,” Springsteen said, adding, “I have a demonstrated history of involvement, service and leadership in a wide range of community organizations . . . I offer proven leadership, continuity and experience to address the ongoing emergency and help Vienna get back on track.”
Patariu, an attorney, youth-football coach and Vienna Planning Commission member, made an unsuccessful bid for Council last year as part of a four-candidate slate.
“Residents asked me to run this year because they felt their voices were not being heard by Vienna’s Town Council, because they know I deeply care about issues that impact every resident,” Patariu said.
Patariu pledged to provide pandemic relief for residents and small businesses, build parks and sidewalks, prevent harm to neighborhoods from cut-through traffic, provide relief from water-bill increases during the pandemic and ensure the zoning-code rewrite does not harm what makes Vienna special.
Patel, an ophthalmologist and mother of three who first was elected to the Council in 2019, said she has helped adjust the town’s budget during the pandemic, advocated for the zoning-code update, initiated a survey of residents’ views, backed the completion of a sidewalk gap on Church Street and supported efforts to have public-school children return to in-person learning.
“I want to help rejuvenate our local business district and protect our personal-property rights,” she added. “We can all benefit from progress and new businesses, but not at the cost of gridlocked traffic, overcrowded schools and decreased walkability.”
Queried whether they would support removal of the town’s Beulah Road mulching facility within the next two years, Patel acknowledged neighbors’ concerns about the site. She is waiting to see a consultant’s report about the site and would favor removing the facility if it is not cost-effective.
Patariu said the facility should have been removed last year during the pandemic and that he had worked with the town to reduce the site’s operating hours. “It’s not time to punt on this, it’s time to take decisive action,” he said.
The Council will discuss the mulching facility at an April 19 work session, said Springsteen, who vowed to closely scrutinize options that might increase costs to the town.
Vienna has offered leaf mulching for decades, but the facility’s grinder is old and failing and the disposal site that accepts the mulch no longer is free, Potter said. The town must come up with a solution that’s economically and ecologically sound.
Regarding the possible provision of “compact” spaces to increase parking near restaurants and other businesses, Patariu favored waiting until the pandemic abates, then doing a parking-needs analysis.
Springsteen opposed compact spaces and said the town already has two parking studies in hand and should not stall and do nothing.
Parking will make or break the town’s ability to grow, said Potter, adding that compact spaces might lead drivers to circle around to find larger spots.
Patel favored encouraging businesses to share parking during non-peak hours and making the town more attractive to cyclists and pedestrians to reduce the need for more parking.
On the issue of potentially allowing greater lot coverage, Springsteen said he was reserving judgment until after the town held public hearings.
Potter said the town should protect its low lot-coverage limit to avoid larger houses and stormwater-management problems.
Patel said residents want greater flexibility regarding outdoor living spaces, such as patios, and that she wanted them to be able to enjoy their homes more, especially in the pandemic.
A town survey on lot coverage has not been random or unbiased, said Patariu, who worried that changes could result in 20-percent-larger houses.
Asked about their highest-priority capital projects, the Council incumbents favored improvements to the town’s water-and-sewer system. Patariu wanted a hydrology report for the new Vienna Police Headquarters project to avoid problems with underground water.
To view the debate, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=uV2-grqitmQ.