Wawa wall, 2/21/2019

Wawa is going to occupy the vacated Coldwell Banker building at Maple and Nutley.     That is going to be discussed by the Town of Vienna Board of Architectural Review at 8 PM tonight 2/21/2109), and they are accepting comments from the public at this meeting.  You can find the most recent plans by going to this page, then clicking the link for Wawa.

While I feel sorry for the folks living behind that, mainly I’m relieved that this isn’t going to be another large MAC building.  As it stands, the Wawa will have more publicly accessible green space, more trees, and vastly more visual “open space” than 380 Maple West.  Despite having more or less the same size and shape of lot.

The wall at the back of that lot has come up as a fairly important issue.  Or, really, the lack of a wall at the back of that lot.

If this were new construction, under our commercial zoning, they would be required to put a 6′ masonry wall between the commercial property and any adjoining residential neighborhoods.   You can read the zoning law yourself (see Section 18-172 here).  The fact that there is a disused 15′ “alley” between the properties seems immaterial.  And the only exception to this requirement for a wall is if the Town Council specifically judges that the existing private wooden fence and shrubbery are adequate.

I don’t know Town rules about major refurbishment of existing construction.  The handful of times that I have been in that situation, I was told that the property had to meeting current construction code and zoning rules.  But perhaps in the Town of Vienna, buildings are grandfathered.  Maybe, if the Coldwell Banker building was built prior to the wall requirement, then forever after, no wall is legally required.

So I can’t say whether it’s legally required or not. The only fact I know is that no wall is on the current site plans.

I can tell you from my experience, I think the neighbors need a wall there.  I live on Glen Avenue, and the masonry wall along Glen blocks the noise from Maple Avenue and blocks the sound of cars entering and leaving the commercial properties along Maple.  It is a real asset, and I believe walls like that are necessary to keep Vienna neighborhoods adjacent to busy properties reasonably pleasant and livable.  In this particular case, that building is going from a quiet little office building with minimal nighttime activity to (what Wawa hopes will be) a busy convenience store open until late at  night.

Assuming it’s not required, what would it cost Wawa to build that wall?  I worked through a few on-line cost estimators, and the 200′ of 6′ concrete block typically is estimate to cost about $15K in materials and $15K in labor, or about $30K total.

So, in one sense, if the zoning rules do not require it, we are asking Wawa to spend $30K to make one neighboring family happier.

But in another sense, we’re all in the same boat — all of us living in the neighborhoods adjacent to Maple.  At some point, we realize that what is happening to that family could easily happen to us.  And, on a personal note, even though I’m pretty much a loner, I once worked side-by-side with the owner of that house adjacent to Wawa, building props for Madison High School Color Guard.  My point being, if a hermit like me has met them, it’s a good bet that those folks are well-known and well-liked.

So, sure, narrowly it’s a big expense to benefit a single family.  But more broadly, putting in that wall is a show of commitment to being a good neighbor.  Both to that one family, and to everything that family represents, all up and down Maple Avenue.  And be assured, if Wawa decides it can’t justify the $30K expense, and the Town puts no pressure on Wawa to put up a wall, those of us paying attention will remember that.  For my part, if they can’t be bothered to build a wall, I surely won’t bother to shop there.

Wawa’s corporate website says ” … being a good neighbor is the most important part of who we are.”  Maybe that needs to start here, with this wall.

Even though the BAR is only concerned with how buildings look, not how they function, they have dealt with walls like this before.  For the proposed 380 Maple West, it was their suggestion that first got the 6′ masonry wall scrapped.  And then, with input from the neighbors, they recommended putting it back into the plans.  In theory, the presence or absence of a Wawa wall is not technically in their area.  That said, if you have time, you might want to take one minute, at tonight’s (2/21/2019) BAR meeting, and offer your voice in support putting in a wall at the back of the Wawa lot.