The July 15 Vienna Town Hall meeting was anything but business as usual, not only because of a single issue which packed the hall beyond capacity, but because it did not end until 2 AM.
The agenda item of interest was a motion to rescind the approval, granted on June 17, to redevelop the property known as 380 Maple Avenue W. The motion was originated by Councilmen Pasha Majdi (above) and Howard Springsteen, who were concerned by a high number of protests from nearby residents who felt that their concerns had not been properly taken into account.
The redevelopment project by local builder Dennis Rice (above) had been in the works for nearly two years, and had met all requirements by the Vienna Planning and Zoning Department. However, Mr. Majdi noted that the approval had to include public scrutiny through a published hearing, which had not been done. Newly elected Councilman Steve Potter, who assumed duties on July 1, supported the effort to backtrack on the final approval.
The Council agreed to hold a public hearing, and to share the podium with the entire Planning Commission, chaired by Michael Gelb. After introductory remarks, approximately forty speakers were heard on the question of rescind, or not. The arguments presented were pointed and direct, but the process was orderly and efficient. The two sides were split approximately half and half.
Those speaking against rescinding generally expressed a fear that such a move would be seen as unprofessional and capricious, and hurt the Town’s chances of attracting future developers.
Those speaking in favor of rescinding were concerned by potential traffic problems, and in particular by the narrowing of Wade Hampton Drive from its present 36 foot width to 32 feet. This narrowing was part of the developer’s compliance with enhancing the walkability requirements of the Maple Avenue Corridor zoning rules, under which the project was subject. The four feet was to be converted into wider sidewalks and outdoor seating for restaurants expected to lease space on the street level.
After the public had its say, the meeting was turned over to the Planning Commission which, in response to citizen’s concerns, clarified many of the proposed building’s design features. At midnight, the Commission took a vote as to their position on the rescinding question: Seven out of the eight members recommended rejection of rescinding the approval.
At that point, the Town Council spent about two hours discussing the issue. It was pretty interesting stuff, really, and much of the audience stuck around. Finally, newly elected Councilmember Dr. Nisha Patel deftly outlined a way forward, noting that the street width was the primary issue. She asked the developer if he would be willing to sacrifice the wide sidewalk along Wade Hampton. He said he would.
With that agreement, the impasse was over, and the meeting was adjourned.