We need a real survey.

Posted on September 26, 2018

This is a placeholder as I develop the surveys that should be done instead of the planned “visual preference survey”.  I only want to make three points.

1)    We should learn what we can from Falls Church.

Falls Church has already gone through this process.  It has been a great financial success for Falls Church government (pdf) .  But I have heard from two different sources that Falls Church residents are not at all happy with their big new mixed-used buildings, and refer to their central business district as “the canyon” or “the cavern”, depending on whom you talk to.

Why not ask the citizens of Falls Church what they think, what they would avoid if they could, and in general, what they would do differently?  Why not learn from the mistakes, if any, that Falls Church City government made, from their citizens’ perspective?

2)  We need to have a realistic survey of Town of Vienna residents.

Based on public participation, 444 Maple West and MAC in general are both hugely unpopular.  By contrast, while there was some grumbling about Church Street, there was never the sort of uprising we are seeing for MAC and Maple Avenue.  Does that public participation really match the sentiment of the average resident or voter in Vienna?

The Town has done surveys before, but they presented MAC and the surrounding issues in a “motherhood and apple pie” way.   Given how they presented the issue, it’s unsurprising that they got the positive responses that they did.

Given the Town Council’s reluctance to make structural changes to MAC, the question that probably most needs to be asked is:  Will you vote people off the Town Council if they pass more of these big MAC buildings?  To date, the five pro-MAC town council members (all EXCEPT Majdi and Springsteen) appear unswayed by 1000 signatures on an anti-MAC petition and more than 100 anti-MAC citizen speakers at various meetings.   Maybe if they see a survey of probable voters they’ll take notice.

3)  The Town’s planned visual preference survey and resulting “guidelines”, by themselves, will be useless for constraining the size of MAC buildings.

How can I be sure of that?  How can I be sure that “guidelines” showing modest-sized buildings will have no impact?  Because that’s what we already have.  If that worked, we wouldn’t be here now.

Click here to see the web page where I copied out every illustration in the MAC statute.  Every illustration that the Town used as part of MAC law was of nice little modest buildings.   Let me just toss in a few right here — these are right out of the MAC statute.  If MAC buildings actually looked like this, citizens would not be up in arms about it. 

So:  We already have visual guidelines written into the law, and they did exactly squat to constrain the size of MAC buildings.  Why would any rational person think that more of such guidelines would somehow be effective?  If the law explicitly says buildings can be 62′ tall (115% of 54′), but you also have some pictures of buildings that are less than that, which do you think will have force of law?

In short, the survey-centered plan that the Town has revealed so far ain’t gonna cut it, in terms of fixing the law.  If it results in changes to the actual requirements in the MAC statute, then it might have an effect.  But that’s just an “if” at this point.  Pictures by themselves have already been proven ineffective in constraining the size of the buildings.  And in addition, visual guidelines can’t address other items such as the completely ineffective open-space provision, or the impossibility of doing affordable housing under MAC as written.