Post #252: 4/24/2019 Planning Commission meeting

Posted on April 25, 2019

See just-prior post for background. For this meeting, I stayed home and watched it via streaming.  My “pirated” copy of the Town’s video is available in this Google Docs directory.  (I recorded it as I streamed it.  The file is about 1.5 gbytes, “2019-04-24 Planning Commission …”)

I’m going to note some times at which various events take place in that recording, in lieu of my usual “index” file for the video recording.

The motion is for extending the MAC moratorium to November 15th.  I had incorrectly said October in my prior posting.

The motion for extending the MAC moratorium passed with little discussion.  For the Sunrise Assisted Living facility, the Planning Commission voted to keep the public hearing open, so that members of the public will have a chance to speak on this topic again at the May 8 2019 meeting of the Planning Commission.  Presumably, the Planning Commission will vote on the Sunrise facility at that time.

Detail follows.

Public comment on the moratorium took up almost the first half-hour of the meeting.  Citizen commenters consisted of Vienna Citizens for Responsible Development (VCRD) and more-or-less nobody else.  Most of the comment was, I would say, directed at what the Town should be doing during this moratorium.

Approving the extension of the MAC moratorium was straightforward.  After a small amount of discussion, the the Planning Commission closed the public hearing around discussion of this issue started around 32 minutes into the meeting, and commenced discussion of the motion to extent the MAC moratorium.   The unanimous vote to recommend extending the moratorium took place five minutes later, at about 37 minutes into the meeting.

The public hearing on the Sunrise Assisted Living facility at Maple and Center began at that point, about 38 minutes into the meeting.  Staff presentation took about 20 minutes.  If you have been following this issue, there were few surprises.  (And if you haven’t, then that overview will get you caught up.)

I learned a few new things (so this next bit is NOT the important points, it’s only the new things I learned.  If you want to see all the important points, view the Town staff presentation.)

They are planning to move the bus shelter just a few dozen yards down the block.  I think that makes sense, and I appreciate the fact that they are retaining one of the Town’s unique bus shelters.

They are going to skimp on bike parking relative to the (IMHO ludicrous) couple-of-dozen bike rack spaces that had been planned.  Again, this seemed perfectly sensible to me.  They are planning for seven bike rack spaces.  I believe the most bikes I have ever seen parked at a retail establishment in Vienna, at one time, was three, at Whole Foods.  And any bike rack at all is an improvement over the situation at most places one shops in Vienna.

The Public Works director did address the question of the sewer main re-alignment, and said it was not an issue.  Apparently we have sewer mains that make turns like that all over town.

At about 1 hour 15 minutes into the meeting, Commissioner McCullough highlighted the retail parking situation.  There are going to be 11 ground-level, non-handicapped full-size parking spaces to serve the (now) 5,700-square-foot retail space.  The rest of the retail parking is underground.

Not said at the meeting, but certainly on my mind:  The bulk of the retail parking is underground? Who’s going to want to navigate into a small, tight underground garage just to use those retail establishments?  And aren’t some, possibly most of the ground-level spaces going to get taken up by people visiting their relatives in the assisted living facility?

Just as a point of comparison, the small shopping center across the street (with Starbucks) is about 6600 square feet, has 20 non-handicapped surface spots, and I would say that, by eye, parking there is barely adequate.  I would say inadequate, at peak periods.  If the retail space below the Sunrise is successful, and attracts a traditional auto-based Vienna clientele, I think the presence of just 11 surface spots is going to be a handicap.

To me, it’s almost as if the retail would do better if there were less retail space and more surface parking.  But that’s the old, obsolete car-based Vienna talking, not the new forward-looking car-averse multi-modal Vienna.  And it’s a brutal tradeoff, as adding a mere five standard parking places would reduce the retail space by at least 15 percent.

My takeaway is that the retail here is an afterthought, and is treated as such, with no strong expectation of/plan for successful retail business at this location. And I don’t blame them.  Sunrise operates hundreds of facilities in North America, and exactly one of them will have retail space — ours.  If you look at the similar Kensington Assisted Living facility in Falls Church, half the retail space was devoted to a public art gallery, half to a coffee shop.  I think the whole “vibrant downtown” thing is pretty much a lost cause on this one.

The developer’s presentation began about 1 hour 19 minutes into the meeting.  Questions and discussion by Commissioners started about 1 hour 29 minutes into the meeting.  Although there was a wide range of questions, I’d say that questions about adequacy of parking dominated the discussion.

Just after two hours into the meeting, public comment began on the proposed Sunrise facility.   Public comment took about 15 minutes.

Planning Commission final discussion commenced at about 2 hours 25 minutes into the meeting.  They first voted to keep the public hearing open, so that members of the public will have a chance to speak on this topic at the May 8 2019 meeting of the Planning Commission.  Further discussion by Commissioners took up the rest of the meeting, which ended at just under three hours into the recording.