Community engagement plan, 2/26/2019

Posted on February 26, 2019

I’m going to have to rely on my neighbors to tell me what happened at last night’s (2/25/2019) “community engagement” meeting regarding the proposed 40 condo building at 380 Maple West.

I lasted about 60 seconds before I had heard enough and walked out.  And this is from a guy who has spent a big chunk of the past few months sitting in on public meetings, hearing stuff I didn’t want to hear.   As you can tell from the contents of this website.  And, as it turns out, I wasn’t the only one to walk out.  I was merely the first.

Rather than dwell on exactly why I walked out of that meeting, let me take this opportunity to talk about the bigger picture: 

  • What is a community engagement plan,
  • Why does the Town want to require it for MAC developers, and
  • Why is it a fundamentally crazy idea in the context of 380 Maple Avenue, and by extension, for these MAC buildings in general.

What is a community engagement plan? It’s not exactly clear, but this is what the Town means when it asks developers to contact people in the community (i.e., the neighbors) and talk to them.  What, exactly, the Town expects to happen next is unclear.  But by “community engagement”, the Town means having the builders talk to the citizens, presumably, mainly to the citizens in the adjacent neighborhood.

Why does the Town want to require it for MAC developers? In theory, I guess the Town thinks that there will be some exchange of information, and that somehow these MAC buildings will be improved by that.  Or the peasantry citizens will be mollified by what is said.  Or some combination of those things.  In practice, that’s nonsense.  Near as I can tell, these builders have changed not one iota in response to comments from the community directly to developers.  And that’s not really making people happier.

What “community engagement” actually boils down to is that the citizens can vent their frustration on the developers, instead of on Town Council.  I would guess that the pro-MAC members of the Town Council see that as a plus.

But that anger is completely misplaced.  The problem isn’t the developers.  The developers are simply doing what the new zoning law allows, what the Department of Planning and Zoning clearly wants them to do, and what the majority of Town Council members want them to do:  They are building the biggest buildings that they can squeeze onto these lots.  The problem is the law that more-or-less forces them to do that.  And the people who passed and continue to defend that law.

So “community engagement” is a fine diversionary tactic, and forces us to waste our time and energy focusing our anger on the developers, rather than on the politicians — where it belongs.

Why is it a fundamentally crazy idea in the context of 380 Maple Avenue, and by extension, for these MAC buildings in general?  That’s easy:  Builders aren’t going to make any material changes merely in response to what the neighbors want.   Builders build to the zoning laws, not to the whims of the neighborhood.  Certainly not in a Town where majority of Town Council and the Town Planning and Zoning department are rooting for the developers.

So, other than as propaganda, this is a total waste of time.  We, the neighbors, aren’t going to be able to change a thing via this “community engagement” exercise.  I can’t speak for others, but I don’t feel one bit better, having spoken to the builder, knowing that it’s all just so much hot air.   And judging from last night’s meeting, I’d have to guess the builders are none too happy about being in these meetings either.

So, Memo to Pro-MAC Vienna Town Council Members: All you are doing with these meetings is increasing the hostility level in an already hostile environment. If we want to get up to speed on what the next gigantic MAC building will look like, we can download the plans from the Town’s website and have a look ourselves.  We don’t need to take a bunch of crap from the developer, nor does he need to take a bunch of crap from us.  My suggestion is, let’s just cut the crap and drop this “community engagement”.  Whatever you thought it was going to do, it ain’t doing it.