Board of Architectural Review Meeting 1/17/2019, 380 Maple West (Wade Hampton Office Building)

Posted on January 15, 2019

Courtesy of Vienna Citizens for Responsible Development (VCRD), I found out today (1/15/2019) that the Vienna Board of Architectural Review (BAR) will discuss 380 Maple West in their 8 PM meeting 1/17/2019 at Vienna Town Hall.  You can download the agenda from this page, and see that 380 Maple West is the last item for the evening.  Although the agenda does not note it, VCRD’s email says that the public will be allowed to speak at this meeting.

For those who have not been following this, a brief write up of the proposed 40-condo building for 380 West is the second item on this page, and a separate, brief description is given on this pageThis will replace the small office building that currently stands at Wade Hampton and Maple (directly across from the Amphora.)  And, to be clear, this proposed 40-condo building is not to be confused with the apartment block that the Town has already approved just up the street at 444 Maple West.

As with all these MAC buildings, you almost don’t have to read the description to know how it will look.  It will more-or-less fill the lot and take up every cubic foot of space allowed under law, standing somewhere between 50′ and 60′ tall.  It will have the required fake-olde-tyme patchwork facade that the Town requires.  It will have glass-front high-ceiling retail space on the first floor, with no clear plan how to fill that space (because MAC targets high-end “destination” retail, not the “community” retail currently profitable in the Maple Avenue retail market.)  It will have broad sidewalks adjacent to Maple, under the bizarre assumption that people will choose to have a leisurely dinner shouting at each other 15′ from a 33,000-car-per day arterial highway.   This one checks all those boxes.

Please attend if possible.  I believe these BAR meetings are neither broadcast nor taped, so the only way to know what happens in one is to attend, or to read the notes of someone who attended.   And … per VCRD … if you have something to say about 380 Maple West, say it now.

You should probably get some perspective on what BAR does, and how it fits into the overall process for approving a MAC building.  BAR is mostly concerned with how things look, and its primary function is to ” …  ensure that new construction is not bizarre or garish and is harmonious and compatible with existing buildings.The board is concerned primarily with appearance and aesthetic features in commercial construction ...”

To paraphrase it, their main mission is to judge whether or not a building like the proposed 380 Maple West will look OK if built in the Town of Vienna.  That said, they comment on many aspects of the construction and how it will or will not fit into the community.  For example, I believe that it was an earlier BAR suggestion that removed the masonry wall from the back of the property in the proposal — and so set it up to allow more noise from this property to flow into directly adjacent neighborhoods.

So the BAR has already demonstrated that they can act to make things worse for the adjacent neighborhood.  It’s possible they might even act to make things better.    We won’t know unless we try, I guess.

There is a lot worth discussing about the 380 Maple West proposal, but three things stand out.

First, apparently this is your one and only chance to speak in front of the BAR regarding this project.  How on earth you are supposed to know that, I have no clue.  So, once again, when the Town talks about how receptive it is to public input, try to remember this.  The Town can blather about that all it wants to, but in my experience, it does what is legally required and not one thing more, to keep citizens informed of what it is doing under MAC zoning.

Second, this is a five-story building.  The bulk of the building has five above-ground floors.  I believe that the Town was in the process of fudging up the law to allow this when the MAC moratorium went into place.  At that point, they decided to postpone further changes to MAC. You can see my full writeup of that issue here.  The upshot is, the law says four floors.

Do you see four floors in the picture below?  Then you should consider running for Town Council, because you’ll fit right in.

So, after quashing dissent by characterizing MAC buildings as “only” four floors (and so, somehow, appropriate for “small town” Vienna), and criticizing those who pointed out that the allowable height under MAC was equivalent to a standard five- or six-story building, the Town is now in the process of approving … a five story MAC building.

Third, the proposed 380 Maple West proposal has just about the same density (persons per acre) as 444 Maple West (Tequila Grande).  If these proposed 40-ish condos average two residents per condo, that will be just under 100 persons per acre.  So if one of the main objections to 444 Maple West was the density, that objection ought to hold for 380 Maple West as well.

The only other oddity here is that this building illustrates how long these changes have been in the works.  The existing building (374 Maple West) was bought by a local developer just about a year before MAC was finalized.  It’s a pretty good guess this was bought in anticipation of MAC (the developer is not in the business of running an office building, and the office market in Vienna is terrible).  So this one has been on the “town insider” track for better than half a decade.  The likelihood that the Town won’t approve it — five stories and all — is, in my opinion, pretty much zero.

Makes me wonder how many more there are out there, just like this one.