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Vienna Moves to Put 50-Year-Old Zoning Code Out to Pasture

The Town of Vienna’s last major zoning code changes occurred in 1969, the year man first walked on the moon and the Beatles released “Abbey Road.”

Now, 50 years later, Vienna is gearing up for another zoning change. At the Vienna Town Council meeting on Monday, Jan. 7, the council is scheduled to vote on a $120,000 funding request to the Fairfax County’s Economic Development Support Fund to support updates to Vienna’s zoning and subdivision ordinances.

According to the staff report, one of the largest benefits of updating the zoning code would be a “reduction in the amount of time and money required by the private sector to gather information about development rights and zoning regulations.”

“By more closely aligning the zoning and subdivision ordinances to the comprehensive plan, the town will be more likely to attract the type of development so desired here,” according to the staff report, “i.e., more mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented development, rather than automobile-oriented, strip-mall development that currently dominates the Maple Avenue corridor.”

The funding is half the total cost, $240,000, of retaining a planning consultant. The remaining $120,000 would be paid by the Town of Vienna in the FY 2019 and FY 2020 budget.

There have been zoning changes for specific areas of the town, like the Church Street Commercial Zone in 1999 and the Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) Zone in 2014, but according to the staff report much of the town’s zoning code outside of those streets is “outdated and cumbersome.”

Those zoning changes haven’t occurred without significant pushback, however. A controversial four-story development was approved in October amid outcry from nearby citizens that the building was too big for Maple Avenue. Some of the side-streets off Maple Avenue still feature green yard signs opposing the scale of the new development.

“This results in uncertainty for citizens, elected officials and the development community,” according to the staff report. “The current zoning and subdivision ordinances need to be comprehensively updated so the regulations are logically organized and easier to understand and navigate through the use of clear language, charts, tables and illustrations.”

There is also a legal component for the push, as the staff report notes that parts of the zoning code are inconsistent with state law and recent Supreme Court decisions with regards to sign regulations, changes that recently forced Fairfax to adjust its sign ordinance.

“An updated zoning code would incorporate contemporary zoning and best practices, providing more opportunity for redevelopment,” the report said.

Changes to the Vienna zoning code were first broached in 2015 as part of a recommendation to update the town’s comprehensive plan. An update to the town’s zoning code is estimated to take between one and two years.

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