Tysons Corner, VA

After a moratorium on new applications and a long series of discussions, the Town of Vienna is ready for the public debut of the new Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zoning changes at two workshops next week.

The community workshops will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, March 29, and from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday, March 30 at the Vienna Community Center (120 Cherry Street SE).

The workshops will demonstrate how the community feedback has been translated into changes in the design guidelines, according to the Town of Vienna newsletter.

Some of the first changes proposed addressed the scaling of buildings, one of the biggest topics of controversy in last year’s MAC debates. Further changes have been added over the last month of workshops between the Town Council, Planning Commission and Board of Architectural Review.

The workshops are scheduled to be “open house” style, meaning residents can drop in and leave at any point. No formal presentations are planned.

Image via Town of Vienna

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South American chicken chain Pollos Keiko has opened its first American location — “Keiko Charcoal Chicken” — this week at 235 Maple Ave E. in Vienna.

The restaurant offers a variety of chicken options, from quarter-portions for $5.49 to whole chickens and three sides for $24.99, as well as salads, sandwiches, and sides like rice and plantains.

Nelson Barrios, one of the partners opening the restaurant, repeated the old real estate axiom for opening in Vienna: “location, location, location.” Barrios said he didn’t see anything quite like Keiko available in Vienna. (Don Pollo, a Peruvian chicken chain that opened a few blocks south in January, said the same thing).

Barrios said, for the most part, it was easy to get started in Vienna, though some of the administrative issues along the way were stressful.

“But once that’s done, you get to the fun part,” Barrios said. “It’s the reason someone wants to open a restaurant in the first place.”

Barrios encouraged Vienna residents to come in and try the chicken. Among the sides, Barrios said one of the more unique was “Tallarin Saltado” — a Peruvian stir fry noodle dish with green peppers and onions.

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Five months after it was destroyed in a fire, the ruined husk of the Marco Polo restaurant building in Vienna has finally been completely demolished.

It’s unclear when demolition began, but by March 19 most of the rubble had been removed from the site.

The restaurant was originally built in 1954. In 2015, local developer Doug D’Alexander applied to have the lot redeveloped as Vienna Market, but the application failed. A more scaled-down version was presented in 2017 and was approved.

The development plans were complicated an alleged intentionally-set fire that gutted the building. Two teenagers were later arrested and charged with setting the fire as part of a vandalism spree.

The charred remains were left as a visible blight along Maple Avenue, though Vienna staff said plans for development are still in the works.

In January, Cindy Petkac, director of planning and zoning for the Town of Vienna, said the building was expected to be demolished within the month.

Vienna residents remembered the building, a longtime local prom-date spot, fondly.

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At least according to one real estate broker, realtors looking to expand outside Tysons, Reston or Arlington County should be looking into commercial redevelopment in Vienna.

In an article published by the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, Frank Dillow, a senior commercial broker in Long & Foster’s Commercial Division, pointed to 2014’s approval of Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zoning as a step towards flexible zoning to attract new developments.

“Vienna’s interest in rethinking its downtown comes as suburban communities throughout Northern Virginia react to residents and developers seeking to transform existing retail outlets into more modern lifestyle community centers featuring restaurants and entertainment,” Dillow said.

The approval of MAC zoning regulations are part of an effort by the Town of Vienna to combat rampant vacancies throughout the town. The new regulations allow buildings up to four stories tall and greater density than usual to be considered for Maple Avenue, a primary thoroughfare in Vienna.

But the MAC zoning has also come under fire, from the public and members of the Town Council, for what is seen as too quickly and too radically altering the character of downtown Vienna. Controversy over MAC zoning led to a moratorium on new proposed developments until a review process for the ordinance can be completed. That review is currently ongoing.

But Dillow said in his article that local residents are increasingly understanding the necessity of added density.

“Increasingly, people understand that to achieve their community goals and create a vibrant place to live, the community needs different types of development — different types of density,” Dillow said. “As Northern Virginia continues its rapid commercial transformation, realtors should be looking beyond the current well-publicized developments in Tysons, Reston or Arlington County, to expanded opportunities in the commercial redevelopment occurring in older, more established communities such as Vienna.”

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A combination of a bubble tea shop and electronic dance music lounge is set to arrive soon along Maple Avenue.

Currently in Falls Church at the Eden Center, TeaDM Lounge plans to open a new location at 142 Maple Ave W. — the former spot of E.G. Comics.

A TeaDM Lounge employee told Tysons Reporter that a grand opening is expected near the end of April.

Locals who don’t want to wait the month can head to 6765 Wilson Blvd for a taste of the bubble tea, flavored tea, coffee and smoothies paired with electric beats.

Photo via Facebook 

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(Updated 8:30) — A new exhibit in Vienna’s Freeman Store & Museum showing the town’s expansion in the 1950s is scheduled for a grand opening Sunday (March 10).

The museum’s website says the new exhibit will feature stories of how the town grew in the ’50s through the twin lenses of the opportunities and challenges of the decade.

The store and museum is managed by Historic Vienna Inc., a local non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting local history.

According to the Historic Vienna Inc. newsletter:

Remember hula hoops, Barbie dolls, play doh, and matchbox cars? Remember Patsy Cline, Elvis, Little Richard, and the Kingston Trio? How about Leave It to Beaver, Gunsmoke, I Love Lucy, and The Ed Sullivan Show? The Korean War? segregation? Vienna experienced the 50s in all its good, bad, and ugly. Come to the Freeman Store to experience Vienna in the 50s through an exciting multimedia exhibit.

In the early part of the decade, Vienna’s Maple Avenue was still a street that ran mostly through fields with sporadic residences along the roadside, but over time the next few decades, the town would gradually become more and more developed.

According to the Town of Vienna website:

In 1940, Vienna was still a small, quiet, rural town with a population of 1,237 and remained virtually untouched by the metropolitan character of the nation’s capital. The town began to take on a new look in the 1950s when many businesses started to move from the old commercial section on Church Street to Maple Avenue. The post-World War II rush to the suburbs brought a burgeoning of population to Northern Virginia, almost 10,000 new residents to Vienna alone, their new houses blending with those of an earlier era.

In 1954, the first of Vienna’s modern shopping centers was opened. More shopping centers followed in quick succession along a widened Maple Avenue in an attempt to keep up with the influx of newcomers who bought homes in the town’s new subdivisions. Older residents recall with nostalgia the Victorian homes and the maple trees that lined Maple Avenue before it was widened in 1958.

The other current exhibit in the museum is dedicated to the Women’s Suffrage Movement, highlighting the 100th anniversary of the League of Women Voters.

Photo via Town of Vienna

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The Vienna Town Council will review two projects along Maple Avenue in a work session tonight (Monday), after indicating concerns that developers are trying to skirt zoning regulations by pushing their proposed heights a bit higher than current limits might allow.

The 380 Maple development is a proposed mixed-use building with 7,500 square feet of ground floor retail and 40 residential condominiums on three floors. The building includes one floor of underground parking and two floors of structure above-ground parking, but staff noted that the applications calls for an extra half-floor added to the mix, beyond current limits in the area.

“Staff notes that the applicant is proposing a half-floor of parking between the first story and second story of the building, beyond the four stories allowed per code,” staff said in a project overview. “The applicant is applying for a modification of requirement for the additional half-story.”

While approving of greater levels of parking available at the site, Councilmember Douglas Noble said at a meeting last week that he was concerned the additional half-story would still be contrary to the Maple Avenue zoning code’s five-story limit.

Meanwhile, the Sunrise Assisted Living project, a four-story building with 85 assisted living units and 7,700 square feet of first-floor commercial space, is also requesting a “half-story” space.

“Staff notes that the applicant is proposing a half-story space to include additional lobby and common spaces for the assisted living facility between the first story and second story of the building, beyond the four stories allowed per Code,” staff said in the project overview. “The applicant is applying for a modification of requirement for the additional half-story.”

An additional item listed as “limiting discussion with developers” was also added to the agenda at the request of Councilmembers Pasha Majdi and Howard Springsteen, two of the leading opponents to the controversial Maple Avenue Commercial developments last year.

Image via Town of Vienna Planning and Zoning

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(Updated 3:15 p.m.) — For 17 years, Natalya Anderson worked cutting hair in Tysons with one goal: opening her own salon. The recently opened Alya Salon and Spa, located at 139 Park St. in Vienna, represents the realization of that dream.

“I always wanted to own my own salon,” said Anderson. “I wanted to have a great team and create a good family.”

The salon opened on Feb. 1, and Anderson said business has been good so far, with a very friendly customer base in Vienna. The store is one block south of Maple Avenue behind the Whole Foods.

For Anderson, people working in hair design are artists, and one of her goals was to have a place in Vienna where she could bring great artists under one roof.

The salon deals mainly with hair, including coloring, cuts and extensions. Anderson said she’s currently looking for someone to help the salon expand to offer spa and facial care services.

Haircuts at the salon are $75, with the salon specializing in curly hair and health-focused haircare. Anderson said the salon has vegan, gluten-free, and paraben-free hair products.

“We’re working on being a ‘green salon’ in the near future,” said Anderson.

Anderson said the green salon status involves entirely eliminating product waste and reducing energy use. Gustavo LLC, where Anderson says she gets her cosmetic products, is also cruelty-free and organic.

But it isn’t all checkups and dye jobs at Alya Salon. Anderson said the company also handles weddings and some fashion shoots.

They recently helped Fairfax Woman Magazine with the cosmetic work for their March/April magazine. Anderson’s also interested in helping out more with charity events around town to help give back to the community that’s welcomed her.

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Two developments planned for Maple Avenue are facing some backlash from the Vienna Town Council for trying to slip an extra floor or two into their projects.

At last night’s (Monday) Vienna Town Council meeting, Councilmember Douglas Noble said he had concerns about the mixed-use development at 380 Maple Street and the 80-unit Sunrise Assisted Living facility proposed at the corner of Maple Avenue and Center Street.

For 380 Maple Street, Noble said he was happy to see new parking recently added to the project but was concerned that the building’s height exceeds four-story limits established in the zoning code.

“The applicant has come in with a proposal that has an extra floor… for parking,” said Noble. “It’s a creative solution to add parking. [They] also asked for a site plan modification to add a half-story. I have strong concerns that this is contrary to the intent of Maple Avenue [zoning]. It’s five stories.”

Meanwhile, Noble also said the Sunrise Assisted Living Facility had recently proposed a mezzanine that doesn’t actually fit the town’s definition of one.

“My reading of MAC code and my understanding of how we wrote it was that a mezzanine does not occupy more than 50 percent of the area of the floor below. In our current definition, it says it’s partially open to that floor below. I do not believe plans at Sunrise meet either criterion. I have concerns that these plans are not compliant.”

Town staff said both projects will be discussed in a work session with the Town Council next Monday (March 4).

Photo via Town of Vienna Planning and Zoning

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Business is hurting in Vienna. The Maple Avenue Market closed last week, as did the GameStop, with an employee there citing increasing rents as the leading cause.

As store after store shuts its doors, there are questions swirling around town about whether local businesses can stay competitive with new developments surrounding Vienna — and if so, how?

At a town council meeting in January, town business liaison Friderike Butler said businesses on side streets were being hit particularly hard.

“If they’re not on the main street, they’re struggling a lot more,” said Butler. “Even on Church Street, it’s not easy. The economy is doing well overall, and if we have small businesses struggling as the economy is doing well, what is going to happen if there is a recession? It’s something to really think about and make sure our business community is strengthened and supported.”

Peggy James, executive director of the Vienna Business Association, told Tysons Reporter that two big challenges are facing local stores.

“It’s very expensive and we’re pretty tight on parking,” said James.

What’s driving up the rent? It’s an old maxim anyone in real estate will be familiar with.

“Location, location, location,” said James. “It’s always been an expensive place. With Mosaic District just two miles away and Tysons building up like crazy, the competition for brick and mortar is tough.”

Over the years, James said the Saturday morning shopping at mom-and-pop stores that had turned Vienna into a local destination disappeared as sales went to big box stores and Amazon.

“The challenge in this age of Amazon is double,” Frank Shafroth, director of the Center for State and Local Leadership at George Mason University, wrote in an email. “You don’t even have to leave your home or apartment to purchase, and Amazon has such size and distribution that it can undercut in price on almost anything one would purchase at a small business.”

But all three experts noted that there are ways to help local businesses survive.

From a policy standpoint, Butler said the Town of Vienna can help make parking more accessible.

“We need a comprehensive parking map,” said Butler. “Culpepper has a beautiful parking map distributed everywhere in stores and people know where to park. For visitors who have never been in Vienna, it’s very confusing where to park. A comprehensive map would be helpful.”

Town Councilmember Howard Springsteen also recommended the Town Council consider hiring a full-time economic development specialist, an idea that’s been tossed around the council for two years.

“There’s a limit to how much we can rely on volunteers,” said Springsteen. “We just really need to bite the bullet and do it.”

For businesses, Shafroth said survival hinges on finding a niche that can’t be as easily replicated by bigger stores or by Amazon.

“Retailers have to carve out a niche that makes them indispensable: whether shopping for a stroller, car seat, crib or mattress,” said Shafroth. “For instance, new parents want to walk into a physical store and speak with a retailer who can field multiple questions and direct them to the products that best suit their needs — even if those products are available through a different vendor.”

As part of that, Shafroth also said smaller stores should capitalize on the advantages physically touching merchandise offers.

“It’s hard to be certain–especially if you are shopping for a small child, for instance — what will work,” said Shafroth. “A parent wants to feel and touch something: is it baby soft? If it’s a toy, is the mechanism simple enough and safe enough for a tot?”

He continued: “According to Forrester, 43 percent of millennials respond they would rather shop at small local stores, as opposed to big national chains. According to Cassandra, a trend forecasting, research and brand strategy firm, 78 percent of parents in the U.S. would rather shop in stores than online. And, according to the National Retail Federation, today’s young parents spend as much as $1 trillion on items for kids — and this generation values good service more than convenience: they want to be certain that what they purchase will be appropriate — and safe.”

And at the individual level, there’s an obvious answer for how locals can help small stores survive.

“The best thing people can do is give local businesses the first shot at a sale,” said James. “I had a lot of loyal customers at Artful Gift Shop. They’d come to us first. You don’t have to find what you want, but give us a shot.”

James also noted that it can be too easy for locals to blame new developments, like those coming in with the Maple Avenue Commercial zoning changes, for the hardships local stores are facing.

“We can’t stay small and survive,” said James. “We can’t stay as small shops if we can’t keep customers. New spaces [are being developed] on Maple Avenue. Citizens don’t like it and I can understand it, but it kind of has to happen.”

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