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Vienna Zoning Code Update Sparks Increased Density Concerns

Vienna is working on updating its 50-year-old zoning code, but at last night’s Vienna Town Council meeting, the prospect of the code overhaul raised concerns that updating those ordinances could open a new path for a higher density Vienna.

The Town Council voted in favor of a resolution requesting funds from Fairfax County’s Economic Development Support Fund to update Vienna’s zoning and subdivision ordinances.

While new urban areas with comparatively lax zoning codes have sprung up in Tysons and Merrifield, Vienna is still working with ordinances put together in 1969, and many of those relics of earlier zoning codes written in the 1950s. Staff joked that some zoning ordinances are kept in notebooks in a management office.

Councilmember Carey Sienicki, who announced earlier that meeting that she would not be running for reelection later this year, compared the code to an old station wagon.

“We keep replacing parts and fixing the station wagon from the 1960s, but in reality, there’s a lot of cars out there that work without all of the little patches. We have to take a holistic approach to this and I think this is going to be a benefit to the town in the long run.”

But while the majority of the Council approved exploring new zoning codes, Councilmembers Pasha Majdi and Howard Springsteen, who have both frequently opposed higher density developments, voted against the request.

“When we say we’re not changing the zoning, that’s missing the issue,” said Majdi. “We have ordinances that are woefully out of date. OK, but what is the effect of bringing them up to date? Bringing them up to date means a potential developer has the ability to develop on that land financially viable project.”

Majdi said that rather than being a detriment, the town’s arcane zoning ordinances are a source of strength, forcing developers to work closely with Vienna staff if they want to get a development approved.

“I would bet my entire salary, $10,000, that the recommendation is going to result in higher density, which I oppose,” said Majdi. “When you update the code, you get higher density. If you want higher density, you got Tysons. This is a niche market for homebuyers with a niche appeal. It’s brought a lot of success to our town. We don’t have to be everything to everybody.”

But other members of the Council called Majdi’s bet. Councilmember Douglas Noble said he’d match Majdi’s $10,000 that updating zoning codes wouldn’t automatically result in higher levels of density unless that was something specifically sought out by the Town Council.

“We’re not going to be Tysons,” said Mayor Laurie DiRocco. “We’re not going to be Arlington. We’re going to update the code in a way that’s more understandable to residents, developers and everyone… so it’s all written down and not just in a booklet in a manager’s office.”

Majdi and Springsteen voted against the request, but the resolution was approved on a 5-2 vote.

File photo

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