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Vienna Town Council clings to hope for office development, rejects townhouse alternative

Map of 901 Follin Lane, where EYA proposed a townhouse development (image via EYA)

Developer EYA came to the Vienna Town Council with a plan to turn a long-vacant commercial into a new set of townhomes, but the Town Council warned that it isn’t willing to give up on office and commercial development just yet.

Tysons Edge, an office building at 901 Follin Lane, has gone through attempts to lease since 2013 and has been vacant since 2015. The 97,000 square foot office building has had $2 million worth of renovations poured into the building with little progress in attracting a new occupant.

The proposal from EYA tearing down the building and converting the property into a 115-unit townhome development — scaled down from 165 originally planned for the site.

The project would come with some added amenities, like a new small park attached to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

But when the project came forward for discussion at a Vienna Town Council meeting on Oct. 17, the Council was decidedly mixed on the prospect of replacing the office building an entirely new use.

Council member Howard Springsteen said the financial benefits of the project promised by EYA amount to roughly the cost of one police office — a “drop in the bucket” — and said the change required to allow the development was tantamount to spot zoning.

“I don’t think we have a responsibility to bail out a landowner who is losing money,” Springsteen said. “I’m sympathetic to demographics changing and maybe we revisit this, but right now it’s a bad idea and I can’t support this… We’ll have to do all this for a zoning change because your owner can’t make money.”

Council member Ray Brill expressed concerns about building a housing development with only one exit lane, saying it wasn’t a proper spot for a housing development.

A recurring argument from the council was that the change would essentially signal the town giving up on the idea of office development. Despite the dramatic downturn in the office market caused by the pandemic, the Vienna Town Council said they’re not ready to recognize defeat.

The Town Council wasn’t unanimous in their disapproval of the project, however. Council member Chuck Anderson said the Town will have to be more open to making zoning more flexible.

“I understand the argument for diversity [of use], but if diversity means hanging on to a rapidly depreciating suburban commercial property that has no use and that the market has not really grasped a use for, I think we need to relook at that and see if we need to, not do spot zoning, but move the boundaries,” Anderson said.

Mayor Linda Colbert ultimately told EYA that the Town Council — in the politest possible terms — was not particularly interested in approving the project.

“At this time, thank you, and I think in the future perhaps,” Colbert said, “but I think right now we’re not moving that forward.”

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