Vienna Town Council Starts First Zoning Overhaul in 50 Years

The last time the Town of Vienna made sweeping changes to the zoning code, astronauts were taking their first steps on the Moon.

At a joint work session with the Planning Commission tonight (Wednesday), the Vienna Town Council is looking at completely overhauling the town’s zoning code that has largely remained intact for half a century.

“The vast majority of provisions in the Zoning Code were initially adopted in 1956 and then carried forward as part of the 1969 code with piecemeal updates to address certain changing conditions over time,” staff said in a report. “A complete overhaul of the Zoning Code has not been undertaken or completed to date. Efforts to shoehorn design-based zoning districts in commercial corridors, specifically the Maple Avenue Corridor, have been repealed.”

The upcoming overhaul will start with an assessment of what’s outdated and what still works. While the zoning code has gotten high marks for keeping the single-family residential character intact, that inflexibility has led to some challenges as well. One of the areas identified in the study of the zoning code as being the most challenging is providing housing suitable for all age groups, with narrow zoning definitions for housing have made difficult.

According to the report:

The Zoning Code scores the lowest relative to Land Use Goal #2 — ‘Encourage Housing for Residents of All Age Groups.’ The negative scores under Land Use Goal #2 are attributable to an over-emphasis on retaining single-family detached housing as the predominant housing-type in the Town, and the lack of regulations that permit diverse housing types in the Town’s transitional, multi-family, and townhome districts. Overall, Zoning Code largely does not consider the Land Use Goals and could be doing much more to advance them. This is not surprising recognizing that much of the Zoning Code was adopted in the late 1960s with a number of piecemeal updates over the subsequent decades well before the Land Use Goals were established. The regulations that are advancing the Land Use Goals should be reviewed to ensure that they are most effectively doing so and work well in conjunction with the new provisions.

The report suggested the introduction of alternative housing types.

“The only forms of residential development permitted in the RTH are cluster townhome developments and group townhome developments,” the report said. “An updated RTH should also incorporate single-family detached housing as well as appropriately-scaled, garden-style, and ‘missing-middle’ scale multi-family housing as permitted principal uses.”

With the repeal of the Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) regulations, the report noted that assisted living is no longer a permitted use in any zoning district. The report said this use should be added back in.

Another piece from the MAC regulations resurfacing are areas focused around consolidating zoning restrictions on commercial developments.

“It is our assessment that the component parts of the now-repealed MAC regulations are a positive starting point for developing more streamlined and effective regulations to govern the [Commercial Business District] (CBD),” the report said. “With this in mind, we also understand that these regulations must be carefully calibrated to address concerns related to transforming the CBD into Tyson’s Corner and other high-intensity commercial and mixed-use districts throughout the region. Vienna is not a one-size-fits-all community and its zoning should not reflect the approaches of other communities that have evolved into large-scale mixed-use centers of activity.”

The report also found that the existing zoning code hinders the town’s walkability goals with outdated street standards. Recommendations in the report include requiring more sidewalk construction, including for developers of single-family homes, to help improve the walkability around Vienna.

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