Tysons Corner, VA

Vienna residents will have the opportunity to share their input on the Vienna Town Council possibly extending the moratorium on new development applications for Maple Avenue.

The Vienna Town Council requested Monday night (Sept. 16) that staff schedule a public hearing on Nov. 4 to discuss extending the suspension of the Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) Zone from Nov. 15 to June 2020.

The Town Council first put the moratorium in place last September to allow the town staff time to redesign the town’s guidelines. So far, the Vienna Town Council has approved four MAC projects and rejected one.

The Planning Commission will also hold a public hearing.

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The owner of a mixed-use development told the Vienna Town Council that selling the project to an assisted living facility could address neighbors’ lingering concerns.

Dennis Rice, the owner of J.D.A. Custom Homes, told the Vienna Town Council at a work session last Monday (Sept. 9) that assisted living facilities are interested in buying his mixed-use development at 380 Maple Avenue.

“I think the town needs an assisted living facility, and it’s a good location for it,” Rice said.

Rice said that he has talked with interested assisted living facilities about plans to address lingering concerns from neighbors about the project by:

  • moving back the fourth floor by 15 feet so that it isn’t as close to nearby properties
  • reducing the number of entrances on Wade Hampton Road
  • adding a walking entrance to Maple Avenue
  • removing the balconies
  • keeping the width of Wade Hampton Road to 36 feet
  • including a cafe for visitors, residents and the public in the retail space

“I don’t want to name any particular companies,” Rice said. “We tried to come up with an outline that would address as many of the issues as we could.”

Rice also said that if the development houses seniors instead of families, it would eliminate concerns about the number of new students going to local schools. He added that traffic turning left out of the project could be controlled more if the drivers are employees of the facility instead of residents.

“We could approach six of seven major concerns,” he said, adding that he thinks the assisted living option for the development would be the “least onerous one to the neighbors.”

Rice reassured the Town Council that the building height would stay at 54 feet.

“Is this something worth allowing an assisted living company to pursue?” Rice asked the Town Council.

Councilmember Nisha Patel advised Rice to reach out to neighbors to get input on whether or not they have a preference for the building to become an assisted living facility or not.

“Obviously the property owner can sell to whoever they want to,” Mayor Laurie DiRocco said at the work session.

The interest in turning the approved development into an assisted living facility comes on the heels of the Town Council killing a proposed Sunrise Senior Living Facility at the corner of Maple Avenue and Center Street. (Sunrise is currently suing the Town Council for allegedly discriminating against seniors and people with disabilities.)

The rejected Sunrise project came up several times during the councilmembers’ discussions about issues they would want to avoid — parking being the main one — if an assisted living facility buys 380 Maple Avenue.

DiRocco said that if Rice does sell the property to an assisted living facility, “I do think having a type of additional parking would be key.”

Rice said that the development has “more than ample parking” and that the companies he spoke to said that they have a no-driving policy. “I think by reducing the number of entrances, we pick up more parking on Wade Hampton,” Rice said.

If Rice sells the development to an assisted living facility, the new owner would need to bring changes to the Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals and Town Council for approval.

“I see the advantages of having an assisted living. I think that would be great,” Councilmember Linda Colbert said, adding that the Town Council would to “be smart about parking.”

“I think some of the changes to the building would be nice,” Colbert said.

Photo via Town of Vienna Planning and Zoning

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Falls Church and Vienna residents are concerned that proposed changes to urbanize Fairview Park will worsen traffic and put on a strain on overcrowded schools.

Fairfax County is currently considering altering the Merrifield Suburban Center to turn an office park engulfed by I-495, Lee Hwy and Route 50 into a mixed-use development with more office space, multi-family homes, a hotel, retail and recreational uses.

Fairview Park is currently home to offices — including the four-story-tall HIIT Contracting building — and residential communities by a lake.

County staff said in a report that mixed-use developments are more attractive to employees than single-use office parks. Additionally, the plan amendment would encourage developers to include affordable housing dwelling units or workforce dwelling units, along with senior living and student housing options.

Elizabeth Baker, a senior land use planner for Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh, told the Planning Commission that the fact that three of the eight previously planned office buildings have been built points to office parks being out an outdated concept. The offices at Fairview Park had a 29% vacancy rate last year, she said.

At the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s public hearing last night (Wednesday), residents urged the commissioners to scale back the number of housing units proposed for the area and speed up pedestrian and biking improvements, like a pedestrian bridge over Route 50 (Arlington Blvd).

While several residents who testified said they don’t want to see a new building along the man-made peninsula, county staff said that they have language in the plan amendment that would discourage that. If a developer decided to build there, they would be prevented from creating a mixed-use development.

Charlie Hall, who was the task force that helped evaluate the proposed changes, told the commissioners that schools, park and transportation in the area “are under strain.”

While Hall noted that the Planning Commission is probably eager to repeat the “spectacular” Mosaic District, they are “in danger of choking on its success.”

Hall — and several other people — pointed to New Providence and Yancey drives at Fairview Park Drive as a “unique situation” that would require road work to make it safer — especially if thousands of more people eventually come to the area.

The plan currently proposes up to 1,060 dwelling units. Several of the residents who testified said that they prefer scaling back the number of units to 840.

Hall said that he thinks 840 housing units are “economically viable and will create an attractive community.”

Baker, the land use planner, argued that the extra units could help the housing shortage in the area. “We really do feel the need for the 1,060 [units],” she said.

Several residents also raised concerns about the anticipated 119 students the changes could add to the area, saying that nearby schools — like Falls Church High School — are over capacity.

Magaret Irish, representing the homeowners’ association for Carr at New Providence, said that plan amendment would be “the end of quiet evenings in our neighborhood,” in addition to threatening wildlife and trees in the area.

“When does more become enough?” she asked the commissioners. “We need less traffic. We need better infrastructure… We need schools, not wide roads.”

Kevin Warhurst, a McLean resident and member of the Greater Merrifield Business Association said that — while he is sympathetic to residents’ concerns — the changes “will allow [Fairview Park] to grow and thrive.”

“Having a mixed-use is important,” he said.

Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner, the commissioner for the Providence District, asked the commission to delay the vote on the plan amendment until next Thursday (Sept. 19) to give the Planning Commission time to review the public comments.

The proposal is set to head to the Board of Supervisors for a hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 24.

Images via Fairfax County 

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Chick-fil-A is now looking to hire workers as the restaurant chain prepares to open in the Town of Vienna.

The restaurant will be on the ground floor of an enormous castle-looking building that will also house a Flagship Carwash on the second floor at 540 W. Maple Avenue.

Franchise owner Jeff Hubley is looking to hire up to 100 people for full- and part-time positions, including leadership development, hospitality and training, according to a press release. Employees can expect to have Sundays off and scholarship opportunities for continuing education.

Construction is still in progress on the project, which was one of several new projects approved under the town’s contentious Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zoning process.

The site has faced a series of delays and public backlash.

No word yet on when the Chick-fil-A or the carwash will open.

Last image via Town of Vienna Planning and Zoning 

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As Merrifield and Falls Church continue to urbanize, an office park east of I-495 may get transformed into a mixed-use development.

Last July, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors OK’d considering changes to parts of the Merrifield Suburban Center, which aims for two high-density, “core areas” located between I-66 and Woodburn Road.

Merrifield has already seen some major transformations — from developments like Halstead Square and Avenir Place to the new commercial area known as the Mosaic District.

Now, a proposed change to the plan would have an area surrounded by I-495, Lee Hwy and Route 50 become “an amenity-rich office park and mixed-use neighborhood.”

Directly to the east of I-495, Fairview Park currently has offices — including the four-story-tall HIIT Contracting building — by a lake and residential communities. A tributary of Holmes Run runs along the southern edge of the area.

Northrop Grumman Federal Credit Union and the 2941 restaurant are nearby.

The proposed plan amendment wants infill development to add more office space, multi-family homes, a hotel, retail and recreational uses to Fairview Park.

“The justification for the nomination states that the existing single-use office park model that was successful in the 1980s is no longer competitive with mixed-use work environments that provide retail and service amenities, as well as the opportunity to live near work,” according to a staff report on the proposed amendment.

More from the staff report:

The most intense activity area would be located just north of Route 50 and would include an outdoor plaza, and residential uses with first floor retail uses. At either end of the plaza, the concept would provide for social and cultural amenities such as waterfront recreation, an amphitheater, free-standing retail pavilions, and an indoor community space. Midrise residential buildings with first floor retail uses would frame the plaza and infill elsewhere in the sub-unit.

An enhanced network of sidewalks and trails with a more suburban, naturalistic streetscape appearance would link the existing and new development and the natural areas of the office park, including the Holmes Run tributary and the shore of Fairview Lake.

On the east side of Fairview Park Drive, the nomination proposed to develop a residential building on a man-made peninsula in order to capitalize on the natural setting and the proximity of the lake.

The staff report notes that demand for office space has declined as options like teleworking become more popular and that workers want access to public transit and shopping and dining options.

The proposed amendment to the Merrifield Suburban Center plan would also alter an area catty-corner to Fairview Park near the Inova Fairfax Hospital.

Both areas would incorporate residential uses. The staff report recommends that the plans for those areas include affordable dwelling units or workforce dwelling units to add to the county’s Housing Trust Fund and “create an inclusive community”, along with senior living options and housing for college students.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed changes today (Sept. 11) before they head to the Board of Supervisors for a hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 24.

Image via Fairfax County 

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The Vienna Town Council is set to tackle proposed zoning amendments, as the moratorium deadline nears for new Maple Avenue projects.

The moratorium is scheduled to expire in November. The Vienna Town Council voted May 13 to extend the temporary suspension of the Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zone to November 15 — more than a year after it first went into effect.

So far, the Vienna Town Council has approved four MAC projects:

  • a combination Chick-fil-A and Flagship Carwash Center at 540 W. Maple Avenue that has received public backlash
  • townhouse-style condominiums with retail at the northeast corner of W. Maple Avenue and Pleasant Street NW
  • a much-debated redevelopment that would add ground-floor retail and more than three dozen multi-family residential condominium units to 380 Maple Avenue
  • a controversial redevelopment of 430, 440 and 444 W. Maple Avenue into a four-story mixed-use development

The Town Council has also killed a MAC project — a proposed Sunrise Senior Living Facility at the corner of Maple Avenue and Center Street. Sunrise is suing the Town Council for allegedly discriminating against seniors and people with disabilities.

The work session is set to start at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall (127 S. Center Street).

In addition to the proposed zoning amendments, the Town Council is set to discuss alternative uses to the 380 Maple project tonight.

Final design guidelines and amendments are anticipated to be done this month.

Map via Town of Vienna

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Falls Church city officials have mixed reactions to a proposal that would allow for more downtown development in exchange for protection of certain properties.

City staffers have identified a lack of park and open space, financial pressures to redevelop historic structures and a need for flood prevention as some of the challenges the city faces it pursues its 2024 vision. To address those issues, staffers want the City Council to consider a new program.

The Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program would let development rights get shifted from one area to another in the city. It consists of three components:

  • sending zones: certain areas the community wants to protect
  • receiving zones: areas designated as places for additional development
  • bank: sells available development rights

City staffers have suggested that existing parks and open space, the floodplain and parcels with historic structures become sending zones, while multiple parcels along Broad and Washington streets become receiving zones.

According to the draft proposal:

A Transfer for Development Rights (TDR) program is one possible tool to preserve and increase green space, protect sensitive areas such as floodplains, and preserve historic structures. TDR can also help to diversify the City’s housing stock by creating a tool to facilitate the provision of missing middle housing which is critical to supporting a growing community.

As for the receiving zone, developers would be able to build townhomes or small condo buildings, based on a variety of factors, according to the proposal.

Currently, the city has a special exception process for mixed-use development. Staff said that they envision TDR complementing the special exception process, by allowing infill development on small sites.

The program received mixed reviews from councilmembers during a work session on Tuesday (Sept. 3).

Councilmember Ross Litkenhous noted that if owners of properties along the floodplain sell off the development rights, they would be selling off the value of the future property — possibly leading to home deterioration.

City staff said that the city would purchase — possibly granting a life estate to the current owners — floodplain properties and then tear down homes on those properties once the residents move out.

Councilmember Dan Snyder requested more information from staff about where similar programs have been implemented, downsides, possible public reaction and cost.

“I want to know what are we going to face if we go forward,” he said. “I’m not negative toward the concept, but I’m trying to get a fuller understanding.”

While Snyder said he wants to be supportive of the proposal, he said he doesn’t think the proposal should be on “a fast track right now.” “Are we simply transferring dense development from one place to another?” he questioned.

Meanwhile, Mayor David Tarter took the strongest stance against the proposal.

“I hate to say this, but I have some serious reservations about this plan and I think it has limited applicability,” Tarter said.

Tarter said that if the program is by-right — meaning it wouldn’t go through the special exception process — “unintended consequences” could result.

Tarter pointed to Arlington County, saying that TDRs have to go through the special exception process and that the county retains control of the receiving and sending sites.

“As it’s proposed tonight, as I understand it, there would be limited supervision of the transfer [by the city],” Tarter said, adding that he’s confused about how the transfers would work.

Tarter added that he does want to see the city find cost-efficient ways to buy up floodplain property.

The proposal heads to the work session for the city’s Economic Development Authority on Oct. 1.

Image via City of Falls Church 

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New proposals to address transportation issues in the Town of Vienna will be unveiled and up for community discussion at a meeting next week.

The town commissioned the Maple Avenue Corridor Multimodal Transportation & Land Use Study to look at transportation needs and impacts from development. Kimley-Horn, a consulting firm that focuses on transportation, planning and engineering, started the study in the spring.

The study area spanned Maple Avenue from James Madison Drive to Follin Lane and also along Church Street from Lawyers Road to East Street, as well as Courthouse Road and Locust Street.

The $80,000 study was funded through capital improvement bond funds, according to a press release.

The study was broken into three phases:

  • looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the current transportation conditions
  • estimating the impact of future development
  • brainstorming and evaluating possible strategies

Project Manager David Samba said in a press release that Maple Avenue’s dual functionality as a local street and a regional road in one of the challenges noted in the study.

“When you look at Maple Avenue, the first thing people tell you is that there’s too much traffic,” Samba said. “So some of our recommendations are geared toward finding ways to alleviate traffic congestion and bottlenecks.”

Kimley-Horn will present recommendations from the study at a meeting next Wednesday (Sept. 4).

“Transportation recommendations could include changes to vehicular access, geometric and operational modifications to specific intersections or locations, transit service improvements, enhancements to bicycle and pedestrian networks, and transportation demand management policies and strategies,” according to the Town of Vienna.

Ultimately, the town is looking to implement near- and mid-term solutions for transportation woes — like safety and accessibility — along the corridor.

“The firm received more than 150 responses to a community survey and obtained feedback and insights at two previously held community meetings,” according to the press release.

The community meeting will take place at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall Council Chambers (127 S. Center Street).

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Anyone interested in the status of developments around the Town of Vienna is in luck — the town recently created an online development activity map.

The map groups planning and zoning applications by whether they are under review, approved or under construction/completed.

Here’s a breakdown of what those categories mean, according to the town’s website:

Under Review — Staff has received an application for rezoning, conditional use permit, site plan modification, subdivision, etc. and is reviewing for compliance with the Town Code, Comprehensive Plan, and State Code. Depending on the application type, the project also may  be subject to review by one or more of the following: Board of Architectural Review, Board of Zoning Appeals, Planning Commission, Town Council.

Approved — Application has received final approval from staff or the appropriate board or commission.

Under Construction/Completed — Approved application is under construction or recently completed.

People can access the map by clicking on “Development Activity” on the town website’s homepage.

The tool lets people find projects by clicking geographic markers on the map or by selecting a project image icon. The map also includes information about upcoming board and commission meetings and links to documents.

Image via Town of Vienna

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Community leaders and city officials celebrated the start of an infrastructure project located in the heart of an upcoming mixed-use development in the City of Falls Church.

During a keynote address for the groundbreaking today (Monday) ceremony at George Mason High School, Councilmember David Snyder said that this $15.7 million dollar project will create a safer and more economically successful community around the West Falls Church Metro.

The new improvements, according to the City of Falls Church, include:

  • synchronization of four new traffic signals
  • a high-intensity, pedestrian-activated crosswalk on Haycock Road
  • pedestrian access improvements, such as widening sidewalks
  • bus stop enhancements
  • bicycle access improvements, including near the newly installed Capital Bikeshare stations near the high school campus
  • utility undergrounding and relocation

The money for the project was acquired through the Northern Virginia Department of Transporation.

Infrastructure issues that have been building up over many decades will finally be addressed with this project, Snyder said.

“Twenty years ago this project would not have occurred,” Snyder said. “This is a classic example of the system working.”

The project is still in the “beginning stages,” according to the City of Falls Church website, adding:

The timing of project design and construction will be coordinated with the new High School construction and future Little City Commons development. City staff expects that design, engineering, and environmental work would begin in Fiscal Year 2021, with construction beginning in Fiscal Year 2022.

Lindy Hockenberry, who taught at George Mason High School for 30 years, served for eight years on the Falls Church City Council and spent another 11 years on the city’s Planning Commission before retiring, attended the groundbreaking to show support for the project.

“Its been my life dream to replace George Mason,” she said adding that the school has serious infrastructure problems, like leaky ceilings.

The new high school campus is already under construction and is slated to be completed by early 2021.

Until then, the students will remain in the same building, which will eventually be demolished for a new commercial center, similar to the Mosaic District, Hockenberry said.

“This will be truly multi-modal,” Snyder said, adding that this these updates will allow people easier access to the Metro.

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