Post #251: Tonight’s Planning Commission meeting

Posted on April 24, 2019

Tonight at 8 PM in Town Hall, the Planning Commission will hold public hearings on extending the moratorium on new MAC applications through October, and on a proposed Sunrise Assisted Living facility at Maple and Center.

I have decided that I don’t have anything worth saying.  So I will watch this this one at home.  You can see the broadcast live on Cox channel 27 on Cox or Verizon FIOS channel 38, or over the internet at this link (which only works for me with Chrome, but YMMV).

The extension of the moratorium is, I think, strictly pro-forma. Note that this not about what the Town should be doing, about MAC zoning, while the moratorium is in place.  This is just about whether or not to extend the moratorium.  As far as I can tell, this is merely the Town going through the legal motions required to extent the moratorium.  My only comment would be yes, please extend it.  Nobody needs to hear that.

On the Sunrise facility, I thought that the key issue was the 5th floor, and Town staff have pre-emptively made the mezzanine 5th floor legal in this case. Per the staff, it’s OK to separate the mezzanine from the floor below, with a wall, as long as the wall has some windows in it.  And I don’t mean “windows” as in openings, I’m pretty sure I mean “windows” as in “panes of glass set into the wall”.  And so, in Vienna, that constitutes “being open to the floor below”.

In the earlier drawings you could clearly count the five floors, but Sunrise went out of its way partially to disguise that in later drawings.  And they are asking for an extra-tall fence so you largely won’t be able to see the five-floor exteriors of the building.  So … not much value in complaining to the Planning Commission about that, either.  Can’t see it from home.

It’s a fair bet that, by allowing that here, this model will be copied in future buildings.  So builders will be able to use the mezzanine 5th floor for additional dwellings, and this precedent ups the density of future MAC buildings.  Not much point in saying that, though, because Town staff have already declared it to be legal.  Near as I can tell, they can’t un-declare it in this case.  And for the future, they can claim that each future case will have to be decided on its merits.  I don’t need to go there to hear that.

It looks like this facility is going to require deliver trucks to maneuver in the middle of Center street, and to back across the sidewalk into the loading dock. But the Planning Commission gave the OK to 380 Maple West, which has the same middle-of-the-street truck maneuvering.  So what am I supposed to say?  I still wish they wouldn’t do that?  This facility likely will have much more truck traffic than 380 Maple West (as all food/drugs/supplies for 100 residents will arrive by truck), and Center is a much busier street.  I doubt that either argument will much matter.  At least the surrounding street corners here are modern “radius” corners, and so the roadway is set up to deal with delivery trucks.

This one requires putting a gigantic detour into one of the main sewer lines in Town.  As a person who lives uphill of that point, I find that kind of worrying, but I’m not even sure that line serves my neighborhood.  (And, to put it bluntly, everyone who lives downhill of me will serve as a pressure relief valve in case that sewer main fails.)  I’ve never heard of that being done  — putting a big, flat bend in a sewer main … but I guess it’s doable or we wouldn’t be talking about it.  I certainly have no data-based way to question it.  If it worries me enough, I’ll take out the sewer backup rider on my homeowner’s insurance policy. I don’t see the value of taking up the Planning Commission’s time with a comment.

Something non-standard is going to happen to the bus stop that is there. But as far as I can tell, I’m almost the only person involved in any of this that has ever ridden the Maple Avenue Connector bus (Post 225).   FWIW, I liked the bus so much that I routinely take it now to get up and down Maple.  But I realize that, despite all the talk about “multi-modal” transport, nobody involved in this really cares about the bus service.

Otherwise, it’s a standard MAC building, in that it occupies more-or-less every cubic foot allowable under MAC. There’s a “pocket park” on the side, but that’s only there because the sewer right-of-way that has to be maintained so that the Town can drive trucks up to the sewer clean-out.  The back actually sits a few feet further from the lot line than is legally required.

I guess the deciding factors for me are that a) this is squarely in the commercial district and does not adjoin residential property and b) from what I hear about a similarly-situated building in Falls Church, an assisted-living facility really doesn’t much burden the surrounding area. In so many words, it’s a fairly low-key use of the property.  I don’t like the height, I don’t like the size, I don’t like five floors, I don’t think this will fit into the Town of Vienna at all.  But given that big lot-filling buildings are what the current Town Council wants, and has made legal via MAC, given the caveats above, this one is about as un-objectionable as it gets.

Otherwise, ignore all the blather about what a boon this is for the Town.  It’s really just another business.  The Town’s tax take from this facility will be small, in large part because it provides is services and there’s no sales tax on services.  (Falls Church lists assisted living as among the least beneficial land uses from the standpoint of generating additional tax revenues.)  And we have many assisted living options nearby, and more are being built ( post #205).

Best guess, based on the total elderly population of Vienna, at national average use rates, Vienna needs about 40 assisted living beds to serve our entire population.  (We might actually need more because we are much wealthier than average, but I could not find data from which to make a reasoned judgment about how many more we would need.)  And the average tenure in an assisted living facility is well under two years.  So this may be a convenient option, but this one building is hardly make-or-break for quality of life for elderly residents of Vienna.  It is a normal and seemingly reasonable modest addition to our local health-care infrastructure.