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As More Concerns Arise, Residents Remain Divided on Maple Avenue Project

Vienna residents had mixed reactions to the proposed redevelopment of 380 Maple Avenue at last night’s public hearing.

While some people said the mixed-use, four-floor building, which would include ground floor retail and 39 multi-family residential condominium units, could revitalize the downtown area, others argued that traffic, safety and scale issues warrant the Vienna Town Council delaying or rejecting the proposal.

Dennis Rice, the owner of J.D.A. Custom Homes, told the Town Council that the proposed project has gone from being called “the gold standard for what the MAC should look like” last fall to receiving a mix of feedback that has elicited many changes.

“We’ve had seven more work sessions and public hearings,” Rice said. “It’s been a very long and arduous process. We made more than 75 changes.”

Some of those changes included removing the fifth floor and green wall in the back, adding more trees to provide extra screening for the nearby neighbors, reducing the number of residential units and changing the color scheme from brighter to softer colors. “We were referred to as the Lego building,” he said.

Testimony during the more than three-hour-long public hearing on the proposed rezoning ranged from residents who said the redevelopment will help Vienna’s ghost town appearance to arguments that the plan’s flaws outweigh the need to replace the site’s unattractive three-story office building that was built in 1970.

“I think this is a good change,” Tammy Moore, a resident, said. “It’s something different.” Moore said, adding that the units may attract both younger people and also older residents looking to downsize.

The proposal’s retail space received some support from residents who said the spots are an opportunity to attract local businesses instead of big box chains dotting Maple Avenue’s strip malls.

“To pass up a chance like this would seem to me to be a serious mistake by the town,” Nat White, a resident, told the council.

Some residents, like Anna Benson, took issue with the project’s scale.

“This project is a great idea, but it’s too big,” Benson said, adding that she asked a fifth grader to build the Town of Vienna as the developer envisions it with Legos.

“He said to me, ‘It’s going to be too big. We can’t fit everybody,'” she said. “My question to you is, ‘Are we smarter than a fifth grader?'”

Resident John Pott said the closeness of the development to people’s homes and nearly three dozen windows lead will invade current residents’ privacy. “It’s right in our face — a massive, balconied structure,” he said.

While a Transportation Impact Analysis found that the development will cause minimal traffic in the area and that the intersection does not need a traffic signal, several residents said the development will add to already bad traffic congestion in the area. Opponents also said that the placement of the loading dock access from Wade Hampton Drive could lead to safety issues for pedestrians and drivers.

“This is not only a public safety issue, it makes no logical sense,” Steve Potter, a resident, said, urging for relocation of the loading dock. “Loading docks do not belong on public streets or next to public sidewalks or access ways for handicap people. It’s an accident waiting to happen.”

Residents in support of the project said minor tweaks could address the issues raised and shouldn’t stop the Town Council from approving the rezoning proposal.

“[The developers] are really trying and I think this is one of projects where we have to support the developers and the good-heartedness of it and their wanting to make the town a better town,” Friderike Butler, a resident, said. “380 looks really beautiful and I know there are still kinks that need to get worked out – security hazards, safety hazards are uncertainly of concern and need to be addressed, but they don’t sound like would they be reason enough to vote this project down.”

The Vienna Town Council decided to leave the public hearing open until May 13 and directed the staff and applicant to provide responses to questions brought up and also possible solutions to the council.

“I just think in the interest of open government and to try to be as fair as possible by leaving the public hearing open, it shows we’ve gone the extra half mile,” Councilmember Howard Springsteen said.

Photo via Town of Vienna Planning and Zoning

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