The schedule for revising the MAC statute, 2/10/2019

Posted on February 10, 2019

The Town has released a schedule for revising the MAC statute (.pdf, at this link.)  And all the changes will be wrapped up and approved just before the new Town Council members are seated July 1 2019.

Then the MAC moratorium ends, and it’s back to business-as-usual approving more new big MAC buildings.

I’m just going to point out a few things.

First, when the Mayor announced this 270-day moratorium, that certainly seemed to be an odd number.  Until you did the math, and realized that the oddly-chosen 270 days pushed the moratorium to just past the May 2019 Town Council election.  So, I plainly stated, last year, that the timing of this appeared to be all about the Town elections, and was not driven by the realities of revising the law.

Second, when the moratorium was announced, the plan was to develop the Visual Guidelines, and then, based on that, discuss changes in MAC zoning law.  You can read exchanges, to that effect, in the minutes of that meeting as posted by the Town of Vienna (.pdf document).   In fact, Council members called for more than that, and the Mayor was simply silent.  You can read my write up of the Town Council meeting here.  So as of the last public discussion of this by Town council, the plan was to develop the Design Guidelines, discuss them, then change the law.  But now?  That all happens at once.  Design guidelines and changes in MAC statute are being discussed simultaneously.  

Third, this suddenly accelerated schedule may explain the scheduling foul-up that happened last Friday.  The Town’s change in schedule was so abrupt that a) they didn’t even bother to change their meeting calendar and b) they managed to fake out the local press.  You can read about that here.

Fourth, just how accelerated is this schedule?  In theory, the Visual Preference Survey would lead to the development of the Design Guidelines.  And then after studying and agreeing on the new Design Guidelines, the agreed-upon Design Guidelines would lead to change in the actual MAC law.

So, how much time will elapse between the first public discussion of the Design Guidelines, and the first public discussion of the actual changes to MAC statute?  Looks like — five days.  The Board of Architectural Review will first discuss the Visual Design Guidelines on 2/15/2019.  And the Planning Commission will then take up the actual changes to the law on 2/20/2019.

Five days.  Just take that at face value and ask:  Does this sound like a plan for actual, reasoned debate?  Or does this sound like Town Staff have the go-ahead to push this through any way they can?  I’m betting the latter.

Fourth, what is driving what appears to be this sudden rush?  The Town had months to put together its visual preference survey, and then post the ratings of the pictures.  But the .pdf document with this new schedule appears to have been created last Thursday, 2/7/2019. 

I will also note that when the Town Council suspended MAC for 270 days, they made it clear that they could suspend for a longer (or shorter) period of time.  As late as April of this year, they would have adequate time to legally announce that the suspension would run past 270 days.

My guess is, the Mayor doesn’t want to take a chance on having new anti-MAC Town Council members.  There are seven announced candidates (so far) for three seats in the May 7 2019 Town Council election.  Looks like the majority of them don’t much like what MAC zoning is doing to Vienna.   So now the 270 suspension is a hard number, and there’s an all-out push to get all this done in June, because the new Town Council members are seated July 1.

As I noted at the time, the original choice of 270 days seemed carefully crafted to push the re-opening of MAC past the May 7 2019 election.   That seemed like an attempt to pacify the public.  But it doesn’t look like Vienna citizens have forgotten about this.  Maybe it’s that we get a constant reminder of the size of these buildings by the ever-growing Chick-fil-A building.  Maybe it’s because people overwhelmingly (by my survey) did not want a building the size of 444 Maple West on Maple.  Who can say.

All I know is, the timing of this whole exercise, from the very start, appeared motivated by the May 7 2019 election.  I said so at the time, noted above.  And the new hurry-up offense for voting on the changes appears to be part and parcel of that.