It was a full house at last night’s Vienna Town Council meeting, and there was little mistaking the mood of the audience.
The main item on the agenda was the redevelopment of 430, 440 and 444 Maple Ave. W. into a four-story mixed-use development. While there was no public discussion on the topic at the meeting, the audience largely ignored pleas for silence from the Vienna Town Council as they cheered Councilmembers opposing the project and booed at those supporting it.
The outcry, though vocal, was insufficient to keep the development from being passed on a 5-2 vote.
“This is probably the most divisive project to hit the town in the last 20 years,” said Councilmember Howard Springsteen. “I know development is going to happen there, but this is not my idea of what Maple Avenue Commercial should be. Look at the turnout tonight and the signs around town. People are not happy, so I’m not going to vote in favor of this.”
Springsteen was joined in his criticism of the project by Councilmember Pasha Majdi.
“The question is simple,” said Majdi. “Do you support 150 unit apartment buildings on Maple Avenue? For me, the answer is no.”
But the majority of the Council saw the development as a necessary part of revitalizing Maple Avenue, which has faced a slew of commercial vacancies recently, despite local objections.
Councilmember Linda Colbert said the Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) process existed to give residents a voice, which they had throughout the process. But Colbert still said that she felt that it was a good project that would make substantial improvements to the area.
“When I looked at final renderings, I smiled,” said Colbert. “I imagined a place where people can gather, play, walk and eat outdoors… We need Maple Avenue to be a vital part of the community. When I drive down it now, there are places where it’s not so vibrant.”
Colbert referred back to the development of Church Street, which had been controversial in its time but had paved the way to substantial revitalization.
“It’s a lovely little place and it’s got a three-story building on it,” said Colbert. “So if you just go over one block to Maple Avenue, going up one story won’t be a bad thing.”
Even among those that supported the motion, there was still recognition that the decision was going to prove as controversial as the development.
“In my 15 years of serving in Vienna, this is one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve personally had to make,” said Councilmember Carey Sienicki.