22 Aug 2014
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Town Council Votes to Adjust Height Ordinance

Residents speak against increasing height limits for parking garages at public hearing

Town Council Votes to Adjust Height Ordinance

After a public hearing in which residents worried an increase in the height ordinance for municipal garages would only encourage more structures along Church Street and Maple Avenue to build higher, the Vienna Town Council voted Monday night in favor of a more detailed version of a height adjustment than the Planning Commission recommended.

"Once you start going higher ... there's just a lot of pressure to continue, and I think it would really change the character of the town," said Marda Mayo, a Council Drive resident who also questioned the financial hit restaurants would take because funding for the garage would come from the meals and lodging tax.

Omeed Sima, a Heritage Lane resident who was born and raised in Vienna, said a height increase concerns him because it is an unnecessary change that has the potential to alter the aesthetics of his hometown. 

"I don't think the garage is needed. I don't have problems parking there. ... " he said. "For so many years there's been this ordinance, why change it? ... I like the feel of [Vienna]. I don't want more traffic."

The town began revisiting the height ordinance last spring after the opportunity to build a public parking garage presented itself with the town's first proposal under the .

In March, Town Council accepted a proposal for . Town officials believe a parking garage will to help relieve traffic on Church, as such a structure was recommended in the Planning Commission's 2008 traffic study of the area.

The proposal for the mixed-use building and parking garage is not yet approved.

Council hosted two public hearings, on April 16 and May 21, during which residents expressed concern about the height limits altering the character of the town and the impact the two new buildings could have on Church Street traffic. 

The proposal was sent back to the Department of Planning and Zoning, who then pushed forward two ordinance drafts for Council to consider, both of which would increase the height limit for municipal garages to 50 feet instead of 35 feet. The more detailed ordinance draft also specifies 1) garages may not exceed a maximum of four levels and 2) total height with functional or decorative elements should not be more than 115 percent of the 50-foot limit, nor "exceed 10 percent of the area of the parking structure footprint."

Planning and Zoning Director Greg Hembree recommended the Council adopt the simpler version of the ordinance change. The Council voted 6-1 in favor of the more complex version, with Council Michael Polychrones casting the dissenting vote.

Councilwoman Laurie Cole said she wanted to ensure residents she put much thought into voting to change the height ordinance, but said she believes the adjustment is necessary to properly manage the development of Vienna.

"I believe that we need to be realistic about what Vienna is. Vienna is a very nice suburban community. It is a suburban community at the edge of a huge office complex, one of the largest off-density concentrations on the East Coast. It is also located in a huge suburban county. We are a car-dependent county no matter what we do," Councilwoman Laurie Cole said. "... And so for the continued viability for our business district, I think we need to offer options for people to get to our business district in all possible ways."

Councilwoman Edythe Kelleher echoed Cole's sentiments, saying she supported the ordinance adjustment because she wants Vienna to be in charge of how it adjusts to the growth of Tysons Corner and Fairfax County as a whole.

"The change is coming, and if we don't manage the change, the change is going to manage us," she said. "And we need to do things in keeping with the character and expectations of this community, promote the growth. We just can't stay stagnant."

The project for a mixed-use building and parking garage from Arrington Properties LLC would cost between $5.8 million and $6.6 million, the plan said. The private building would be developed and funded by Arrington. Land for the parking structure would be sold to Vienna for $1 and construction, estimated to cost between $2.8 million and $3.3 million, would be financed by the town. 

Monday's public hearing and vote followed three communities last week on the topic. Click here for related stories on the topic. 

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