Mill Street garage appears dead for now, confirmed 1/28/2019

Posted on January 20, 2019

Last year, the Town cut what appeared to be a hastily-arranged deal to fund the construction of a big garage on Mill Street.  You can see my writeup of it here.  It would have looked like this, more or less, and have been located on Mill, just off Church Street.

While not a MAC project, it shared many of the same features:  Tall building, filling the lot, taking up every legally allowed cubic foot of space, required to have retail-type space but no particular known purpose for that space, and so on.  To get some notion of the scale, squint at the picture above to see that the little vertical smudges at the base of the building are people, drawn to scale.

Rumors of difficulty with the project have been circulating for a while.  And now the rumor is, the project has fallen apart and the Town has reclaimed the funds it had placed in escrow for this purpose.  Edit:  The rumors are verified, here.

Edit:  We have to wait for the Town to announce it, in order to know for sure.  So we may be waiting for quite a while.  But, provisionally, this project appears dead.

I don’t for a moment think that this has permanently killed this idea.  (And the news coverage above reinforces that.)  Not with our current pro-growth Town government.  Or that the Town won’t now choose to resurrect the idea of three-story municipal parking garage directly on Maple, connected to the Patrick Henry Library.  (I am told that Patrick Henry has serious problems with lack of parking whenever events are held there.)

There were numerous things about this project that seemed off, to me.  I explained these on the page written some months ago.  Most of these points had already been raised with Town Council by the Mill Dominion Residents’ Association (whose website has gone dark, or I would link to that prior work here.)

  1. It was not merely more expensive, but once you capitalized the condo fee, vastly more expensive than the Patrick Henry Library alternative.
  2. It was located far from the Church Street shops it was supposed to serve.  For evening and weekend parking, the Town already had numerous free public lots that were no further from Church Street shopping.
  3. It had a truly vast amount of parking.  In addition to the 120 spots the Town was paying for, it had a further 120 on the ground floor, plus parking to support retail.  It had something like 250 brand-new parking places.  I mean, sure, parking is tight on Church street, but by eye, that more than doubles the total amount of parking available.  It appeared wildly disproportionate to current demand, particularly given how far people would have to walk to park there.
  4. The Town convinced the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) to pay for half the up-front cost of the Town’s floor of parking.

That last point is really key, as far as I’m concerned.  You can read full detail in my original writeup.  NVTA had no business paying for Vienna merchants’ parking.  So the Town made up an absurd story about how this garage, two blocks off the middle of Maple Avenue, was somehow going to reduce rush-hour congestion.  They just made that up.  And it was absurd on the face of it.  And that whole transaction reveals a couple of things.

First, Town staff are perfectly comfortable stretching the truth and making up stuff to further their pro-development agenda.  So that whole episode, to me, is completely of-a-piece with a Town Council that characterizes football-field-sized, 60′ tall 444 Maple West as a preserving small-town Vienna.

Second, and worse, the fact that the NVTA bought that absurd story about the Mill Street Garage meant one of three things, in my view.  Either this was some type of sweetheart insider deal where somebody in Vienna knew somebody inside the NVTA.  Or the NVTA and its algorithms for choosing projects really are that dumb that they’ll fund a project like this.  Or that the NVTA is one of those government organizations with more money than sense.

I understand that I can’t trust my Town to tell me a straight story.  E.g., there’s a moratorium on new MAC development, except if the developers of a future MAC project want a public alley, in which case, there isn’t a moratorium.  E.g., 60+’ tall buildings are routinely described as 54′ tall (see middle of page).  E.g., MAC limits buildings to four floors, except when five floors are OK.  Or that MAC will bring beautiful new public open spaces, except that by design, it does not, or bring in affordable housing, which it actually prevents.

But before this episode, I was not aware that the NVTA was the type of organization that didn’t mind throwing money away.   Even a small amount of money, like a couple of million to fund merchant parking in Vienna.  I’ll keep that in mind, now, as I come across other projects that they fund.