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Zoning code overhaul, tree canopy among Vienna Town Council’s top priorities for 2023

Trees by the Glyndon Park pickleball courts (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Vienna Town Council is in agreement that it must finish rewriting the town’s zoning code by the end of 2023, but that’s where any unanimity on priorities for the coming year ends.

At its first regular meeting of the year on Monday (Jan. 9), the council voted 4-3 to set four top priorities for 2023: complete Code Create Vienna, develop a parks master plan, review the town’s noise ordinance, and explore ways to improve the local tree canopy.

While everyone agreed those initiatives are important, the town’s first zoning overhaul in 50 years is the only one that all members felt should be at the top of their to-do list.

“I agree with this in concept, but when I look at this list, I do question whether this is representing what the people in town would want as their top four priorities,” Councilmember Nisha Patel said of the proposal from her colleague, Ray Brill.

She called prioritizing Code Create “a no-brainer” but wasn’t sold on tree preservation as a top issue compared to traffic or vehicle break-ins, which get more resident complaints.

A report presented in October found that Vienna has lost approximately 163 acres of tree coverage since 2011.

The council discussed potential priorities for the next year at an almost four-hour-long conference session on Dec. 12, but the need to finish the zoning overhaul after more than two years of work was the only suggestion to get unanimous support, according to Mayor Linda Colbert.

The parks master plan will include a decision on long-term uses for the former Faith Baptist Church property that the town bought in September 2020. The site is temporarily housing the police department, which hasn’t moved into its new station months after the ribbon-cutting.

The town’s noise ordinance was opened up for review in July after years of resident complaints about violations from business and construction activities.

Colbert and Councilmember Ed Somers joined Patel in her wariness of designating top priorities without seeking public input on what exactly they should be.

“I know probably a lot of us support each other’s [suggestions] certainly, even if we didn’t rank them in the top four,” Colbert said. “I don’t think it would be responsible for us to vote on four priorities when we didn’t have that discussion in an open meeting.”

Attempts to postpone a vote until after a public hearing or to only approve Code Create as the council’s top priority failed, as other members countered that setting clear priorities would make the town government more efficient.

Councilmember Steve Potter said that a lack of focus has been a recurring issue for the council since he was first elected in 2019.

“We have public hearings, we have the ability of people to send in their concerns, and that can’t be ignored,” he said. “If we continue down this path, we are going to have the same problem that we’ve had before. We start something and it gets interrupted, we lose it, we go back to it later, and that is no way to run a business or an organization of any kind.”

Brill’s approved motion stressed that the designated quartet of priorities won’t preclude the council from addressing other issues or interfere with time-sensitive business, such as the annual budget cycle.

“We become more efficient rather than sort of kicking the can down the road on some issues that we’ve been dealing with for years,” Brill said. “When we focus, we can get them done, and we open up opportunities to get more done. This is a benefit to the town, to the residents, and we can do things in some ways like we’ve never done before.”

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