Post #262, just a series of questions

Posted on May 3, 2019

This post is my further reaction to the 5/1/2019 joint work session (Post #261).   It is the first of three posts I plan to write on this topic.  This one will just state a few questions, all motivated by what I heard from that meeting.  You may want to read my just-prior post to make sense of some of the questions.

There’s no particular order here.  And there’s no guarantee that these are the right questions.  It’s just a set of issues that I woke up today shaking my head over, trying to figure out what the Town thinks it’s doing.  I’ll probably add more questions later today as I think of them.

In hindsight, I think I get confused because I listen to every word that is said, at every meeting. And — key point — I write it down.  I tape the meeting, and create a detailed index of who said what, when.  This forces me to pay attention to everything that everyone in a position of authority says.

Trust me on this, if you did that, you’d be as confused as I am.  I don’t think anyone else in Vienna does this, except possibly the Town staffer who drafts up the meeting minutes.

What I mean is, I’m not confused because I’m stupid.  I’m confused because I’m paying attention to what they’re saying.

Questions follow:

Questions, batch 1:

Can the Town say no, or not?  If the Town cannot turn down a MAC proposal where the builder has “checked all the boxes” (i.e., complies fully with MAC statute), how did the Town turn down the first Marco Polo proposal?  What did the builders propose, that was so illegal, that the Town had legal justification for turning it down?

Three stories #1:  If three-story mixed use cannot be built profitably on Maple, as we have been told repeatedly in order to justify the size of buildings under MAC, then why has town staff now decided that it would be OK to have a three-story MAC limit on some parts of Maple?

Three stories #2:  If we can have a three-story limit on some parts of Maple, why can’t we have it on all of Maple?

Regarding the bait-and-switch at Marco Polo: If a call from our lawyer to the builder can get the builder to produce the quaint “Georgetown” building (as shown to the Board of Architectural Review), and effectively override the plain-brown-brick building that Town Council actually passed — what’s the point of having Town Council vote on these things?  (I’m not sure I heard that right last night, but I’m pretty sure the Town lawyer said he had fixed things up.)

Why not copy Falls Church?  It came out in this last meeting that Falls Church uses a completely different approach to allowing large mixed-use buildings in their City.  And I have to say, they appear to have their act together a lot more than we do.  So, if Falls Church has done reasonably well at creating large mixed-use buildings, using a legal/zoning approach that is completely different from MAC — then why on earth did we not simply do what they did, and instead, choose to throw open all of Maple Avenue for redevelopment under this MAC rezoning free-for-all?

Who in their right mind allows property owners to write the law affecting the value of their property?  Oddly enough, this is completely legal in the Commonwealth.  At most, the property owners should have publicly stated that they would act in the public interest, and not in their own self-interest.  So this isn’t a question of legality.  It’s a question of common sense.  (And if you don’t grasp the relationship between this question and the one just above, I have failed to communicate well.)

The useless preamble to MAC #1.  If, as we now explicitly know, the “statement of purpose and intent” or “preamble” in the MAC zoning law is unenforceable and has no impact on what can and cannot be built, then a) why did it take this long to make that clear, and b) why is it still in the law?

The useless preamble to MAC #2. Does the Town have even one other law where they chose to camouflage the actual effect of the law with an unenforceable but pleasant-sounding “statement of purpose and intent”.  Did the people who drafted that statement know, at the time, that it was just so much verbiage, or did they actually misunderstand the legal status of that language and actually believe that they could legally enforce (e.g.) a “small town” standard on MAC buildings?

Affordable housing, green space, and blah blah blah. Where is the detailed plan for actually doing any of this?  These words keep coming up, and then … nothing happens.  And I don’t mean, they don’t manage to get anything into the law.  I mean, they don’t take the first step toward figuring out how to put something into the law.  (I.e., earth to Town Council — get a clue that Town staff is going to do exactly zip to make this happen.)

The hundred-day rule. Ah, just read Post 247.  We can see that nearby towns don’t have any such rule.  Far as I can tell, the only jurisdiction in Virginia with that rule is Vienna.  Far as I can tell, there isn’t even a fixed definition of it — it appears to have changed recently.  The question is, is the purpose of the 100-day rule solely to force Town Council to act hastily, or is there some actual positive purpose to it?  It is there just to tip the scales in favor of the developers, or does it serve some purpose/provide some benefit to the citizens of Vienna?