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Vienna Courts duplexes split planning commission but ultimately advance

Duplexes are proposed to replace the Vienna Courts office condos (via Town of Vienna)

The Vienna Planning Commission made clear Wednesday (Sept. 28) that in concept, it’s in favor of redeveloping the Vienna Courts offices as duplex housing, but the lack of open space remains a sticking point.

After getting unanimous support for its proposed rezoning, developer BFR Construction Company merely eked out a win from the commission when it came to requested site modifications that it argued are necessary to build the planned residences.

The commission voted 4-3 to recommend that the Vienna Town Council approve reduced front and back yard setbacks, a lot area of 72,167 square feet, and an allowance for the development to cover 68% of the lot — slightly below the 70% that BFR is seeking.

“I don’t know if it’s this trade-off between additional parking and green space, but that’s where I would say I have remained a bit concerned,” Commissioner Jessica Ramakis said. “But again overall, [I] really appreciate all of the care in the proposal and that it would meet a need for having more units of this nature in the town.”

Initially envisioned as 30 residential units in 15 buildings, the Vienna Courts development was already tweaked to instead fit 28 units in 14 two-story buildings at 127-133 Park Street NE. The units will be 1,200 to about 1,900 square feet in size.

Developer BFR Construction has proposed building 14 duplexes with two units of housing each (via Town of Vienna)

The developer heard a desire for multi-family units in a variety of sizes “loud and clear”  from potential residents, BFR President Steve Bukont said after a public hearing where three Vienna residents voiced support for the project.

“I live in a fairly large, single-family home by myself now, unfortunately, and I’ve been looking for a place like this,” said Linda Wayne, who’s lived in the town for five years. “I’d like to continue to be in Vienna within walking distance of shopping, just all the amenities that Vienna offers.”

Wayne said the one-floor duplexes are preferable to a multi-story townhouse.

A 48-year resident of the Vienna area who lives alone after the death of her husband said the project “would be a very, very nice addition to our lovely town,” especially with its proximity to the Town Green and restaurants on Church Street.

The only neighbor to the property who appeared at the meeting was Stephen Cook, who confirmed that he will rebuild and live in his grandfather’s historic house at 135 Park Street. The 122-year-old home of local photographer T.R. Cook burned down in April.

Per Fairfax County property records, T.R. Cook sold the house to his grandson for $900,500 in December.

“I’m just happy to see that there’s generational ownership in town,” Commission Vice Chair David Miller said after Stephen Cook shared his plan.

The commissioners agreed the project would fulfill the town’s goals of providing more housing options and allowing multi-family homes as a buffer between commercial and single-family residential neighborhoods.

However, the requested lot coverage still gave multiple commissioners “the willies,” as Miller put it. Chair Stephen Kenney suggested taking out the proposed Building 14 to turn landscaping along Church Street into a full green space.

“I know that doesn’t save a lot of lot coverage in and of itself, but that would be a contiguous green space all the way to the property line,” he said. “That’s my feeling. I just feel like additional green space there would be helpful.”

Under BFR’s site plan, buildings 12, 13 and 14 would be smaller but cheaper than the other units. Without building 14, they would need the same infrastructure, including an elevator and garage parking, to justify the building costs, Bukont said.

Miller raised the idea of eliminating some of the 19 parking spaces planned for guests, but said any overflow parking on already-busy Church Street would be “untenable.”

“Ideally, I would like to see more green space, but I think I’ve been convinced by the discussion here that the trade-offs make it either unfeasible from the development point of view, or undesirable from parking and other points of view,” Commissioner Matthew Glassman said.

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