Vienna Vision Well-Attended, Well-Received

Originally published 8/19/14

Last night it was standing room only as the Town Council heard from the public their opinions on the Maple Avenue Corridor initiative. MAC is a framework of zoning refinements, recommendations, and other incentives which will encourage compact, pedestrian-oriented development, consistent with preserving Vienna’s unique small-town identity.

The MAC program was overwhelmingly popular with the more than two dozen citizens who chose to speak. Among them were Vienna merchants, leaders in a variety of commercial and citizen advocacy groups and associations, and a cross section of citizens who simply live and shop in town.

Laine High noted that “the general success of the Church Street Vision Project is the single largest argument for planning with a structured vision.”

“Long overdue …. embrace the changes with a proactive stance,” was how Dennis Couture put it. “It is an econmic incentive, turning a travel route into a destination…. a Win-Win.”

Carol Wolfand, owner of Vienna Paints, echoed these thoughts. “Sometimes, the challenges that are given to us when we are creating something for the future are difficult,” she said. But “it’s time for Vienna to step in to the future.”

Mike Gelb said it would “… make a good place even better.”

Not all speakers were so positive. Roger Maamary was the least optimistic, saying that the duty of the Town’s elected leadership is to keep things exactly as they are. “We have a perfect melting pot right now,” he said.

Among those who were favorably impressed with, but not 100% sold on the MAC, spoke to a number of possible drawbacks. One recurring issue was traffic, and the fact that as Vienna becomes more attractive to development, the attendant congestion and parking problems will get worse.

The basic features of the MAC program were outlined by (above, L to R) Urban Consultant Elisabeth Lardner, Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning Matt Flis, and Chairman of the MAC Steering Committee, Doug Noble. Explanations of the program elements and their relationship to the overall goals was made clear by graphical information on the Town Hall’s new big screen monitors.

The vision is not new. The groundwork goes back decades and has been methodically refined by many group efforts over the years.

At present, development along Maple Avenue is controlled by strip mall zoning dating to the 1950’s, and the Council and the citizens have had very little say about the details of what was built or redeveloped. The MAC Zoning Option is designed to achieve through architectual and citizen review, redevelopment to maintain the uniqueness of Vienna.

One of the elements of the MAC initiative is the raising of the height limit for new buildings from 3 stories to 4. The advisability of this change was the subject of reticence of several speakers to fully endorse the plan.

Vienna already does have a few buildings exceeding three stories which were erected by successful zoning appeals. By comparison, Herndon, Falls Church, Leesburg, and Fairfax City all allow buildings taller than our proposed four stories. Even with 4 stories, we will still be the short guy in the region.

The MAC framework is carefully considering perspective and human scale. Tall buildings are not going to rise from the sidewalk, they will be set back appropriately.

Public hearings are still open, and will reconvene on September 8. Meanwhile, you may write or email your opinion to the Council. Please look over the whole plan, which can be found HERE.