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Vienna Council Race Turns On Prospects for Growth

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2007

It is an article of civic faith in Vienna that the central Fairfax community of 14,500 has retained an old-fashioned, small-town charm.

That faith will be put to the test over the next few years.

To the northeast looms Tysons Corner, the suburban colossus poised to add high-rise offices and apartments that will spawn more traffic moving through Vienna's main street, Maple Avenue (Route 123). To the southeast is Merrifield-Dunn Loring, a once sleepy area now booming with new condos and retail. To the southwest is the planned Metro West development, where 2,250 homes are expected to take root around the Vienna Metro stop that, while not in the town, bears its name.

Retaining the charm against those pressures is the central issue in the May 1 Town Council race. Members of the six-member council serve staggered two-year terms, with nonpartisan elections annually.

This year, all three incumbents -- Dan M. Dellinger, Maud F. Robinson and George E. Lovelace -- are defending their at-large seats against two challengers, Susan Yancey Stich and Deborah Brehony. It customarily doesn't take many votes to win: Just 23 percent of the town's 10,385 registered voters went to the polls last year.

Brehony, 50, who runs a custom home building business with her husband, is a first-time candidate who says the town must take an aggressive approach to retain its identity as "a magical place." That means relaxing the 35-foot height restriction in the town's commercial center, which she and her husband have fought and which she regards as shabby and tired. They were active in a protest against the county's enforcement of a height restriction that threatened one of the homes they had built.

"We need to make proactive changes so that we don't get completely bowled over by Tysons and Merrifield," said Brehony, a member of the Vienna Chamber of Commerce. She said the current council has been too passive on development issues: "They have talked the talk, but not walked the walk." Brehony also supports term limits on the council.

Stich, 44, a stay-at-home mother with a master's in psychology, finished fourth in last year's race for three council seats. She agrees that zoning along Maple Avenue needs to change so new multiuse development can revitalize the area. "There have been studies, studies and studies," she said, asserting that it is time to act.

Stich is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the town, brought by homeowners who want their property excluded from the Windover Heights Historic District. The dispute has spawned a political blog, http://HistoricVienna.com, which has been scathing in its criticism of the two longtime council incumbents, Robinson and Lovelace. Stich's husband, ophthalmologist Matthew Stich, contributes photos to the blog.

She said that neither the lawsuit nor her husband's connection to the blog is relevant, and that they are being raised as issues by opponents "to discredit me and to put a wedge between me and Vienna's citizens."

Robinson, 80, was appointed to the council in 2000, after the death of her husband, Charles Robinson, Vienna's mayor for 24 years. She said that she, too, is committed to preserving Vienna's essential character, but she took issue with Brehony. She said there is nothing wrong with the Maple Avenue corridor.

"I think her mindset is a bit different than most of those in town," Robinson said. She added that the only sentiment for big changes on Maple Avenue "has come from those in the building and development communities." Sidewalks and better traffic management are her priorities.

"I don't want to see Vienna turned into a mini-Reston or Ballston," she said.

Dan M. Dellinger, 57, project manager for a Falls Church construction company, said Maple Avenue could stand some improvement, but he wants to see it done cautiously and with careful planning.

Dellinger, facing his first election after an appointment to fill an unexpired term last year, also promotes better traffic management and more sidewalks.

Asked why he was in the race, he said: "Love of Vienna and the fact that I can make a difference. I can utilize my experience in fiscal management and decisionmaking."

Lovelace, 70, ran unsuccessfully last year against Mayor Jane Seeman. He served on the council from 1982 to 1996 before moving to the General Assembly. He came back to the council in 2003.

He did not respond to interview requests by press time.

Despite his long tenure on the council, he said in an interview during last year's campaign that the town needed new leadership to confront development pressures, including tear-downs of older homes.

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