Newsletter

Vienna’s lone drive-through COVID-19 testing site is officially no more, but the town is moving to make it easier to establish similar facilities in the future.

The Vienna Planning Commission unanimously approved an amendment to the zoning ordinance on Feb. 9 that would allow for temporary medical testing sites during public health emergencies. Such facilities are currently prohibited by the town.

The proposed amendment was brought up by Councilmember Chuck Anderson at the Vienna Town Council’s Jan. 24 meeting.

“This all sort of has evolved out of Covid and the like, where there were a lot of emergency provisions that had to be put in place,” Anderson said.

Vienna allowed the provider Personic Health Care to set up a drive-through testing site in the Emmaus United Church of Christ parking lot at 900 Maple Avenue in early 2021 under an emergency ordinance that waived zoning regulations for certain outdoor, commercial activities.

However, the ordinance could only stay in effect for up to six months after the end of Virginia’s statewide emergency declaration for the pandemic, which was allowed to expire on June 30, 2021.

The Personic site was scheduled to shutter at the end of last year, but with COVID-19 cases surging in Fairfax County at the time, Town Manager Mercury Payton authorized a “wind-down” period on Dec. 31 that kept the facility open through the end of January.

While cases have declined in recent weeks, community transmission of Covid remains high in Fairfax County. The proposed amendment would allow testing facilities in the town during any future surges in this pandemic or other health crises.

“A lot of this has to do with public confidence, because we’ve had a lot of criticisms about this,” Anderson said during the Jan. 24 meeting. “I want to provide the public with the confidence that we’re aware of this and we’re doing something about it.”

If approved by the Vienna Town Council, the amendment would give authority to the town manager to approve licensed temporary medical testing sites when a public health emergency has been declared by local, state, or federal government agencies.

An operator would have to file a conditional use permit application with the town and approved by the town manager before the site can go online. The town manager would also set operational conditions for these facilities, including dates, hours of operation, and how to set appointments.

Appointments came into consideration after issues arose at the Personic testing site this past winter. According to town planner Michael D’Orazio, demand for testing was so high that the lines blocked traffic on Maple Avenue.

Under the amendment, sites where temporary medical testing sites would be permitted include churches and other places of worship, along with public schools and colleges.

Private schools are not included, since Vienna would be required to get permission to use those sites for testing.

The amendment will now head to the Vienna Town Council for its approval. A public hearing is expected to be held on the matter when the council meets on Feb. 28.

0 Comments

The Town of Vienna is laying some ground rules for residents eager to get busy with their birds and bees.

The keeping of chickens, honey bees, and domestic animals is among the many activities that the town is considering adding to its zoning code, which is undergoing its first major update since 1969.

Other proposed new uses range from community gardens and shared kitchens to electric vehicle chargers and independent living facilities, according to a draft that the Vienna Town Council will discuss in a conference session tonight (Wednesday).

Many of these activities can already be found in Vienna, but explicitly putting them in the zoning code will enable the town to impose regulations, including on where they can be located.

“New uses were based mostly on market demand and uses that are not currently clearly stated in our code and require standards, such as keeping of chickens, honey bees and domestic animals,” Michael D’Orazio, the town’s acting planning and zoning director, and acting deputy director Kelly O’Brien said by email.

Working with consultant ZoneCo, which was hired to assist with the Code Create Vienna project in the summer of 2020, town staff also looked at nearby jurisdictions to see what new uses should be added.

Public hearings on the revised zoning code are expected to start this fall, but town staff say they have been discussing a proposed update to the timeline with the town council.

Here are some of the major changes proposed in the latest draft, which was released in November:

Exterior Lighting

Vienna’s zoning ordinance currently doesn’t address outdoor lighting in residential neighborhoods and has few rules for lighting in commercial areas, according to town staff.

Newly proposed residential standards require controlled beams for exterior lights used to illuminate signs, flags, statues, and other objects as well as architecture or landscaping, so drivers and pedestrians are shielded from the glare.

Outdoor search lights, lasers, and strobe lights will be prohibited.

“The residential standards are in response to concerns from some residents about a lack of lighting standards as well as to addresses potential safety issues such as preventing glare for pedestrians and motorists,” staff said. Read More

0 Comments
An orange line shows the proposed route of the new Washington Gas line (via Google Maps)

Opposition to a natural gas pipeline planned for Pimmit Hills resurfaced yesterday (Wednesday), as residents voiced concerns about safety and other issues at a Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals public hearing.

Washington Gas has sought to upgrade its infrastructure in the area since 2012, but citizen appeals have stalled the project, which will turn a 3-mile line along Route 7 into a 5-mile route circling around Tysons.

In video testimonies submitted to the zoning appeals board, Pimmit Hills residents expressed fears of gas ruptures and a potential explosion affecting homes where the new pipeline could be built.

The appeals board postponed a decision on the matter to Feb. 2 due to a lack of time. Video testimony is scheduled to be heard at that time along with additional questioning, staff comments and rebuttals.

Dubbed the Tysons Strip One Project, the proposed pipeline would replace a nearly 70-year-old, 14-inch-wide line with a new, higher pressure one that’s 2 feet in width.

While it will distribute gas to homes, the new pipeline won’t directly hook up to residences, according to a lawyer representing Washington Gas.

The case before the appeals board was initiated by four homeowners who objected to the county’s finding from July 23, 2021 that the project doesn’t need special exception approval. A staff report agreed with zoning administrator Leslie Johnson, saying the residents’ appeal lacked merit.

Residents Christina Chen Zinner, Kurt Iselt, Sarah Ellis, and Lillian Whitesell argue that there should be more oversight of the utility work.

“The [Fairfax County Board of Supervisors] is not even being allowed…to exercise its discretion and protect its…constituents,” Evan Johns, an attorney for the group, said.

Light or Heavy Utility Facility?

The case before the zoning appeals board hinges on a disagreement over whether the pipeline should be considered a light or heavy utility facility.

The residents’ attorneys argue that it’s a heavy utility facility, which isn’t permitted by Pimmit Hills’ residential district.

County staff see the pipeline as a light utility facility, which is exempt from zoning regulations when in a Virginia Department of Transportation right-of-way and intended for consumer distribution.

“A heavy utility use is a major component of an infrastructure system,” Johnson said. “I think it’s clear that it’s not a heavy utility facility.” Read More

0 Comments

Vienna restaurants that have set up outdoor dining spaces will be allowed to keep them for the next six months.

After formally extending an emergency ordinance to its last possible end date of Dec. 30, the Vienna Town Council unanimously approved an amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance on Monday (Dec. 6) that enables businesses with temporary outdoor dining permits to continue those operations until June 30, 2022.

Councilmembers said they will use the extra six months to develop rules for permanently easing regulations around outdoor dining that balance the interests of businesses with potential concerns from neighbors, particularly related to noise and parking.

“This is a temporary measure while COVID is still a reality to help these businesses and help the residents a little bit,” Councilmember Ed Somers said. “But we would charge ourselves and the staff to work on these complicated and important issues. We’re not going to wait until June to restart this conversation.”

Applicable to any business that has obtained a permit by Dec. 31, the measure adds some conditions to the outdoor dining activities that have been allowed on an expanded basis since June 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the revised ordinance, restaurants can continue to serve diners on an outdoor patio or in off-street parking spaces if they comply with the following rules:

  • Use no more than eight seats per parking space
  • For businesses with outdoor dining facilities within 60 feet of a residential property, limit occupancy to 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m-9 p.m. on Sundays, and 9 am-9:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays

Those conditions are intended to address noise complaints raised at a public hearing on Nov. 15 by residents who live behind the Church Street restaurants Bazin’s and Blend 111.

Town staff initially presented a draft that applied the time limits to restaurants in 50 feet of a residential property line and allowed them to operate until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, but the council questioned whether that would be sufficient.

“I’m trying to give a little reprieve for the neighbors there,” Councilmember Nisha Patel said. “…Even after people vacate the patio, there is going to be wait staff out there. They’re going to have to clean up. They’re still going to be making noise. So, keeping it to 10 is really saying we’re going to let noise until 10:30.”

Councilmember Steve Potter pushed for a provision requiring restaurants by residential properties to submit a noise abatement plan as part of the permitting process, but others said it would be too complicated to decide how to identify and enforce noise violations with a measure that will only last six months.

“The six months was to look at, ‘Do these two things help?'” Mayor Linda Colbert said. “I think a noise mitigation plan would be very good, but I don’t know how that would be judged, and I don’t think we have those answers tonight.”

The council ultimately settled for a clause requiring acknowledgment of Vienna’s existing noise ordinance, including a prohibition on live entertainment without a conditional use permit.

Town staff proposed an ordinance in October that would permanently allow outdoor dining with administrative approval, streamlining a permitting process that typically requires public hearings and a $1,500 fee.

The draft gained the support of Vienna’s Planning Commission, but at last month’s public hearing, the town council decided it needed to take more time to work out details, such as criteria for when a permit should be approved and an appeals process.

Vienna has issued 22 temporary outdoor commercial activity permits while its emergency ordinance has been in effect, according to town staff.

0 Comments
The Ashby at McLean (via Google Maps)

After lying dormant for more than half a decade, a plan to convert retail space in a McLean apartment building into more residences has gained new life.

Located at 1350 Beverly Road, The Ashby at McLean sits in the heart of the Community Business Center (CBC), and like the downtown area as a whole, it has been struggling to attract viable commercial tenants, property owner WashREIT says in a statement of justification submitted to Fairfax County in June.

As a result, WashREIT is now looking to rezone the property so that it can convert the majority of its commercial space — 23,855 out of 28,067 square feet — into 18 new, multifamily residential units.

“These applications request a simple conversion of underperforming commercial space to usable residential units, revitalizing this property without any significant impacts to the area,” WashREIT said in the statement.

Constructed in 1982, The Ashby is 12 stories tall and has 256 residential units. It also has retail and office space on its first and second floors, including The UPS Store, a beauty salon, and two computer consulting stores.

Those tenants all appear to be located on the building’s first floor. The conversion will involve “significantly underperforming commercial space” on the second floor, the application says.

WashREIT, which acquired the apartment building in 1996, first proposed converting the office space to residences on Oct. 5, 2012, according to Fairfax County’s zoning records.

However, the rezoning request languished in the county’s zoning process, and on Aug. 29, 2019, the Department of Planning and Development notified McGuireWoods — the law firm representing WashREIT — that staff intended to dismiss the application because it had been inactive since Sept. 18, 2014.

McGuireWoods Senior Land Use Planner Lori Greenlief responded in October 2019 with a request that the county keep the application active, as the property owner was awaiting the outcome of the then-ongoing McLean CBC Study.

“Washington REIT has been following the study closely and, in fact, has two representatives on the task force,” Greenlief wrote.

Now that the county’s plan to revitalize downtown McLean has been approved, WashREIT has evidently decided that it’s time to revive its plan for The Ashby.

McGuireWoods requested that the rezoning application be reactivated and submitted revised materials on June 23 — one day after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to adopt the comprehensive plan amendment that came out of the CBC study.

While no physical changes to the site are being proposed, the reduction in retail will shift all but 19 of the building’s 331 parking spaces to residential uses, which will go from 210 spaces for 256 units to 312 spaces for 274 units, improving existing conditions, according to WashREIT.

A parking reduction study by the consulting firm Gorove Slade found that the existing parking supply exceeds demand, and nearby Metro and Fairfax Connector bus stops justify continuing to provide fewer spaces than what the county’s zoning ordinance requires.

“A parking reduction would not adversely affect the surrounding areas,” the study said.

WashREIT’s proposal is scheduled to go before the Fairfax County Planning Commission on Jan. 26, followed by a Board of Supervisors public hearing on Feb. 8.

Photo via Google Maps

0 Comments
Vienna restaurant Blend 111 converted part of its parking lot into a back patio to continue serving patrons during the pandemic (courtesy Blend 111)

Theresa Ayotte likes outdoor dining as a general concept, but her support wavers when those diners sound like they’re hanging out in her backyard.

Ayotte’s house sits behind the complex at 111 Church Street that contains Blend 111 and Bazin’s on Church, two of the 22 restaurants that have taken advantage of Vienna’s temporarily relaxed rules for outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She and her husband Howard Uman were among several Wilmar Place NW residents who urged the Vienna Town Council to limit outdoor dining for restaurants next to residential properties at a public hearing on Monday (Nov. 15) about making the simpler permitting process permanent.

“The noise from dining is intrusively loud and constant,” Ayotte told the town council. “…We have tolerated it for the past 18 months as our way of supporting the community during the pandemic, but we are totally opposed to it becoming a permanent fixture in our neighborhood.”

The town council agreed to postpone a vote on outdoor dining until its next meeting on Dec. 6 so they can discuss lingering questions about the zoning ordinance amendments, including how to address potential conflicts over issues like noise and parking.

“I have no issue at all with outdoor dining when backed up against commercial,” Councilmember Nisha Patel said. “I think when you’re backed up against residential, we do need to listen to the residents, but we also do need to support our businesses, and I do think there’s room for compromise.”

Prior to the pandemic, the Town of Vienna required a conditional use permit for outdoor commercial activities like food service, a roughly three-month-long process involving a $1,500 fee and reviews by both the planning commission and board of zoning appeals.

First proposed on Oct. 11 and supported by the planning commission earlier this month, the new ordinance would let restaurants use a patio, roof garden, or off-street parking spaces for outdoor dining with just a review by a zoning administrator.

The outdoor dining spaces would still need to meet certain conditions, primarily related to maintaining accessibility for pedestrians and people with disabilities, and all furniture and tents must be approved by the Vienna Board of Architectural Review.

Dining areas in parking lots have to be set up so that they could easily be converted back into parking, and restaurants would be limited to 20% of their required spaces, though businesses on Church Street could utilize more spaces with the town council’s approval.

“Some of the restaurants within the Church Street Vision buildings, they have a different parking standard, so 20% of their required parking is, in some cases, one parking space,” Vienna Planning and Zoning Deputy Director Michael D’Orazio explained. “You’re not able to utilize that very well.”

While much of Monday’s nearly two-hour public hearing focused on the Wilmar Place residents’ noise concerns, council members, restaurant owners, and even some of those residents expressed appreciation for the expanded availability of outdoor dining during the pandemic. Read More

0 Comments
The building layout for The Meridian Group’s planned extension of The Boro (via Fairfax County)

(Updated at 1 p.m. on 11/11/2021) The Boro can officially venture west of Westpark Drive.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday (Tuesday) to approve a pair of rezoning applications that will expand the Tysons mixed-use community with 1.1 million square feet of housing, retail, and other amenities.

The new development will be concentrated on a 9.37-acre site previously occupied by the former National Automobile Dealers Association headquarters. Demolition work on the existing building began at the end of August.

While three of the four buildings proposed by developer The Meridian Group still need to get approved individually, the overall project will benefit the community by adding housing, including affordable and workforce units, as well as recreational facilities and pedestrian improvements, according to Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik.

“While there is quite a bit of work ahead as we look at the [final development plans] for the remaining buildings, I do find that it’s an important asset to walkability, to the amenities, to a possibly new type of housing stock in this area,” Palchik said.

Major elements of The Boro expansion include:

  • Block J: Silverstone Senior Living’s 210-bed, 198-unit continuing-care facility, expected to finish construction in 2023
  • Blocks I and K: residential buildings with 122 and 421 units, respectively, and approximately 34,000 square feet of retail, joined by a glass bridge over Boro Place
  • Block L: a 145,000 square-foot health club or 42 townhouses with a central green space
  • A new grid of streets, including an extension of Boro Place and construction of the new Clover and Broad streets
  • A rapid-flashing pedestrian beacon on Westpark Drive at Boro Place
  • Tysons Community Circuit: the first three blocks of a 10-foot-wide recreational trail that will eventually loop through Tysons
  • 1.49 or 1.59 acres of publicly accessible parks and recreational facilities

Prior to the board’s vote, Walsh Colucci land-use planner Elizabeth Baker, who represents Meridian, reported that the developer has made progress toward resolving a conflict with the neighboring Greensboro Square Condominiums regarding the size of retaining walls along their property line.

Ongoing negotiations over that issue were one factor in the board’s decision to defer voting on the development after holding a public hearing on Oct. 19.

Baker told the board yesterday that Meridian has come to a verbal agreement with the condo association for an off-site grading easement that will enable the developer to reduce the height of the retaining wall.

Palchik questioned Baker about The Boro’s attention to accessibility, citing a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post by a resident who took issue with the lack of streetlights, passenger loading areas, and parking spaces reserved for people with disabilities.

Accessibility concerns also came up when the Fairfax County Planning Commission approved the planned senior living facility — now named The Trillium — on Oct. 13.

Baker says Meridian believes it is in compliance with accessibility guidelines and took “great pains” to consider those issues when working with Silverstone on its plans for the 16-story building, noting that the developer had an accessibility consultant.

“We will also do the same for [future development plans] to ensure that we are meeting the standards for both handicapped parking and accessibility,” Baker said. “We understand it’s an issue, and we take it seriously. We will be working on it diligently.”

Overall, the development will have approximately 40,000 square feet of retail and over 800 residential units, depending on whether Block L ends up being townhomes or a health club.

The proposed townhomes would be triplexes that meet Fairfax County’s affordable and workforce housing policies for Tysons, Baker says. If the developer opts for a health club, it has committed to giving the county $3 per square foot of non-residential space to fund housing elsewhere in Tysons.

A final plan for Blocks I and K remains under review by county planning staff. If approved, those buildings could be delivered in 2024.

0 Comments
Foster’s Grille has an outdoor dining area in the Vienna Shopping Center parking lot

The Town of Vienna has moved one step closer to permanently implementing the outdoor dining rules for restaurants that have been lessened temporarily due to the pandemic.

During the COVID-19 era, nearly two dozen businesses in the town have expanded their outdoor dining capacities by using parking spots, thanks to the relaxed rules.

Last Wednesday (Nov. 3), the town’s Planning Commission held a public hearing and recommended streamlining the permitting process for outdoor dining. Instead of getting Board of Zoning Appeals approval and paying a $1,500 fee, a restaurant would get yearly permits through an administrative review (subject to the Board of Architectural Review) and a $100 application fee.

No one from the public commented aside from the town’s economic development manager, Natalie Monkou, who expressed her support for the change.

“We did as a town pull together all of our resources to be able to support our businesses…but it allowed businesses to survive in a safe way,” she said of the emergency policy changes amid the pandemic. “I also think we have to consider the future of outdoor dining and outdoor spaces.”

Monkou suggested the town help restaurants know whether they could winterize outdoor spaces with appropriate furniture, heating, and other investments.

How the Parking Formula Would Work

The changes to the town’s code would mean a typical business could go through the administrative process and use up to 20% of its minimum parking spots needed for dining.

So, if a business needed to have 10 parking spots, it could use two spots for a dining area. If a property had extra spots beyond that minimum, that parking could also be used for dining, too.

For businesses along Church Street, which are covered by a distinct zoning ordinance known as the Church Street Vision, use of parking spaces would be approved by Town Council. For all areas, the outdoor dining spaces would still have to be able to be removed easily.

Previously, the town approved the emergency, temporary relief on June 1, 2020 and has extended the measure repeatedly. The ordinance is slated to expire Dec. 7, 2021 but can be extended up to Dec. 31.

Planning Commission Chair Stephen Kenney directed staff to continue surveying businesses about whether a 20% threshold was being used still. He suggested while that amount was necessary at the start of the pandemic, it might be more than what’s needed at this point.

The commission’s vice chair, David Miller, suggested the ordinance last for a limited time frame each year, such as from April 1 to Oct. 1 or Nov. 1, noting how snow and other weather can limit patrons’ enjoyment outside.

The town council will hold a public hearing on the matter on Monday (Nov. 15).

0 Comments
A rendering of the proposed residential-retail expansion of The Boro (courtesy The Meridian Group)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors expressed enthusiasm for plans to expand The Boro to the north side of Westpark Drive in Tysons at a public hearing last Tuesday (Oct. 19).

However, the scope of the project and lingering concerns from neighbors led the board to defer its vote on two rezoning applications submitted by developer The Meridian Group to Nov. 9.

Calling this “the largest case” she has worked on since taking office, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik praised the developer, county staff, and residents who will be affected by the project for working to reconcile their differences.

“I believe we have a much improved and very high-quality project to look at now, thanks to your dedication and work on this,” Palchik said. “…We have something that can work, and my only hope is that a few more weeks can give a little additional time for those final improvements.”

The Boro extension will bring 1.1 million square feet of development to the 9.37-acre site occupied by the former National Automobile Dealers Association headquarters building, which is now being demolished.

The building layout for The Meridian Group’s planned extension of The Boro (via Fairfax County)

After securing the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s support for the senior living facility proposed for Block J on Oct. 13, the developer is asking the county to rezone the NADA site at 8400 Westpark Drive as well as the adjacent Westpark Corporate Center lot.

No new development is planned for the corporate center, which has two office buildings, but that rezoning is needed for construction of Broad Street and three blocks of the Tysons Community Circuit, a recreational trail that will eventually loop around Tysons.

Meridian will also modify an existing private alley, county planning staff coordinator Katie Quinn told the Board of Supervisors.

Walsh Colucci land-use lawyer Elizabeth Baker, who represents Meridian, acknowledged that neighbors, particularly residents in The Rotunda Condominiums, raised concerns about the development’s accessibility, traffic, and construction activities.

She says the developer reached an agreement with the Rotunda after making revisions along Greensboro Drive, putting construction management commitments in its proffers, and obtaining approval from the Virginia Department of Transportation for a rapid-flashing beacon on Westpark Drive. Read More

0 Comments
The office building at 1750 Old Meadow Road in Tysons, which could be replaced by a mixed-use development (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) A developer wants to bring hundreds of workforce housing units to Tysons East with a proposal that would replace an aging, vacant office building near the McLean Metro station with a residential complex.

Under the name Somos at Tysons LLC, SCG Development plans to build a mixed-use building at 1750 Old Meadow Road with 460 residential units and approximately 5,000 square feet of ground-level commercial space.

At least 300 of the residences would be made affordable to households that earn up to 60% of the area’s median income (AMI), according to a rezoning application submitted to Fairfax County on Oct. 1.

That commitment would easily exceed the workforce dwelling unit (WDU) requirements that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted for the Tysons Urban Center on Feb. 23, giving developers the option to provide 10% WDUs at 60% AMI or 13% WDUs with a greater mix of income levels.

According to a statement of justification written by John McGranahan Jr., a land-use attorney representing the developer, SCG’s proposal comes in part to satisfy proffer requirements that the property must meet due to its proximity to the nearby Capital One Center and Scotts Run developments.

“The vision of Tysons as an urban center where people live, work and play must include a diversity of housing opportunities at price points across the income spectrum,” McGranahan wrote. “This application will deliver a greater number of affordable units at the 60% of AMI level much sooner than would be achieved with existing proffers and Tysons Plan policies, all within a convenient 1/3 mile walk to the McLean Metro Station.”

The proposed 1750 Meadow Road development site is in Tysons East, near the McLean Metro station and Scott’s Run Park (via Fairfax County)

To make way for the new development, SCG says it will raze the seven-story office building that currently occupies 1750 Old Meadow Road, but an existing three-level parking garage behind the building will be left intact.

Constructed in 1985 and occupied for more than 36 years, the 142,000 square-foot office building was sold by owner Matan Companies in 2018. It’s in the former West*Gate office park, a portion of which is being transformed into the Highland District.

SCG’s plans call for a mixed-use building with a maximum height of eight floors or 85 feet and 440,605 square feet of gross floor area, which would increase to 470,453 square feet with the bonus density granted by the workforce housing commitment. Read More

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list