Post #291: The 6/3/2019 Town Council Meeting

To cut to the chase:   Nothing happened.  I’ve put my copy of the audio from the Town’s video streaming up at this Google Drive link, along with my usual Excel “index” to the file showing time offsets for particular items.  Download the two files starting “2019-06-03 …”.

For either MAC project that was discussed — 380 Maple West or Sunrise Assisted Living — if you want to submit written comments to the Town Council, you may do so by June 10, 2019.

380 Maple West

The Town Council finished a third session of the public hearing on 380 Maple West (37 condos plus retail, corner of Wade Hampton and Maple), then closed the public hearing.  For public comment, it seemed like everything of substance, directly on point, had already been said by this time.  There were a handful of speakers, but not much was said that was interesting — to me, at least.  Three or four bloviators talking in generalities, some vague threats of ruin if this wasn’t passed, some specific discontent with the size of the building and the use of the road, and that was about it.

The comment I found most interesting was strong support for this building from the head of the condo association that owns the buildings next door.  That was new.  My guess is, they are the condo owners whom the 380 developer mentioned in a much earlier meeting as being in the initial stages of redevelopment themselves.  So they presumably don’t want this building to fail.  But with that strong endorsement, they have no recourse if they do redevelop and finally take a hard look at the 380 plans.  The 380 building has already “claimed” the lot line that they share.   They won’t be able to fit a building this big on their lot unless they are OK with with creating a narrow alleyway between the buildings for the depth of the lot.

The only interesting development, to me, is that the Town officially revealed that there was an ongoing attempt at mediation between the developer and a handful of neighbors.  The mediator stood up and gave a brief summary, with no detail to speak of.  The Town will, apparently, hold off on voting until they see the results of that mediation, so they expect to vote on this at the June 17 meeting.  (To me, all that reveals is that they expect mediation to result in no material changes in the building, because if the building did change materially — how could they vote on it?)

The developers “proffers” continued to evolve, right on up to the time of the meeting.  Town staff pointed out on the fly some of the items in the proffers that should not be there.  But other members of Town staff disagreed.  Various Town staff disagreed on whether (e.g.) a proffered height limit of 54′ was or was not a legitimate proffer.

Several of the proffer changes addressed points I raised in my just-prior post.  The proffers now plainly state that there will be no more than 37 condo units.  Just prior to this, the proffers said 40 units, three rooms were labeled as storage, and the developer said there would be 37 condo units.  So that’s clarified and the proffers are now consistent with the plans.

The developer proffered almost $80K for safety improvements on Wade Hampton.  The developer laid out the plans for building a sidewalk connecting the existing Roland and Wade Hampton sidewalks.   But discussion did not quite clarify what the Town could and could not do with the resulting proffered money.

In a prior meeting, I distinctly recall the developer offering to build sidewalks elsewhere, instead of behind the building on Glen Ave.  But Town staff kind-of-sort-of made it sound as if any offer of sidewalks had to be in addition to the one directly behind the building on Glen Ave.  That piece of sidewalk was mandatory unless the Town chose to “waive” it.   Who would “waive” it, and under what circumstances, was not stated.

It’s hard to know whether or not this was just more smoke-and-mirrors from Town staff.  I.e., hard to say whether such a “waiver” would be nearly automatic or not.  But for now, it looks like the builder’s proffer of $80,000 or so to build a piece of sidewalk on Wade Hampton is in addition to the piece of sidewalk on Glen.  But if the “waiver” is at the discretion of Town staff, you won’t know one way or the other until the building is built.

A Wade Hampton sidewalk would likely involve seizing land from the military family that is most directly adversely affected by 380 Maple West (Post #287).  When asked how the money could be used, I am pretty sure that the Town lawyer said, per the proffer, any traffic safety improvement on Wade Hampton or Roland.  Full stop.  Accordingly, Councilman Noble asked that Glen Avenue be added to that part of the proffer.  If the proffer is so changed, then you won’t be able to say, definitively, that the proffer is for that particular sidewalk that the builder plotted out in the submitted packet.  Plausible, the money could be used to build a “sidewalk to nowhere” on Glen, instead of being used to connect the Roland sidewalk to the existing Wade Hampton sidewalk.

To me, that was all nice wordsmithing, and it was technically correct that the use of the money was not yet determined.  But I don’t think any of that fuzzying-up materially changes the content of my Post #287.   Practically speaking, acceptance of that proffer more-or-less commits the Town to seizing that land and building that sidewalk.  Why?  Because there’s very little else of value the Town could do in that area, as a capital improvement, with that amount of money.

So, instead of turning a blind eye to that with some vague notion that “we could choose from a variety of traffic safety improvements in that area”, or “we’ll let the Transportation Safety Commission decide”, or adding “Glen Avenue” to the list, or any of that, the Town should accept this proffer or not with its eyes wide open.  Instead of using the various figleaves as a way of dodging responsibility for its actions, the Town should face the fact that acceptance of the proffer is, in all likelihood, commitment to seizing a piece of land from the military family that is already bearing the most negative impact of this new building.

Or, I guess, Town Council can cheerfully say “we fully intend to build a sidewalk to nowhere on Glen”, and run with that.  However you slice it, pretending that they are not doing this — setting it up so that that the affected family loses a slice of their front yard — that’s just cowardly.  If you going to do it, then at least own up to it.

By the way, Town of Vienna, I can tell you the first safety improvement you can make on Glen:  TRIM YOUR BRUSH.  There’s a blind hairpin turn on Glen because there’s a scraggly old tree right on the corner that blocks the line of sight.  When I asked the land owner about cutting that back, she said the Town of Vienna owns that and forbade her from touching it.  You want to make Glen materially safer?  Get rid of that tree, or trim it to a single trunk up 6′, so we can see the oncoming traffic.  Clear the brush out from the end of the un-mown right-of-way.  Maybe — ah, I don’t know, this is getting a little crazy now — patch the potholes on the inside edge of the curve so that we don’t have to drive in the middle of the road to avoid losing a hubcap.

Looking northwest on Glen, blind corner:


Looking northeast on Glen, same corner:

It’s a continual irritant to me to have the Town now proclaim its interest in road safety in this area, when the Town is the biggest contributor to the current unsafe conditions through simple neglect.  Do some routine maintenance in the Town-owned areas before figuring out how to spend this proffer money.

One odd thing happened after several people criticized the proffer to underground the lines between the two poles in front of this property.  There’s an odd proffer that says the developer will coordinate with the Town on that.  I’m not sure I heard it right, but the Mayor seemed to let slip that yet another MAC development was in the works between 444 Maple West and 380 Maple West.  In which case, they’d coordinate taking down more of the utility lines across those three projects.  Not clear what I heard, exactly.  She might have been referring to 444 Maple West in isolation, but what she said did not exactly make sense in that context.

Finally, hilariously, one Town Council member asked the developer how much the units would sell for, and the developer swore he had no idea.  And they took him at his word!  As if he’s … building this thing on a roll of the dice?  And hopes that somehow the selling price might possibly cover his costs, with some profit?  If he’s lucky?

As an economist, looking at a successful developer, I seriously doubt that “que sera sera” has has been his long-standing economic model.  But give that answer, the Town Council would be far better served hiring a Realtor to do comps and give an unbiased estimate than trying to get a straight answer out of the developer on that.

The upshot of all this is that not a lot changed.  The Town had to hold that third session of the public hearing because they had not properly notified Fairfax County about this building.  Somehow, doing that before the public hearing was closed supposedly remedied that.  Presumably the Town will pass the 380 proposal at the June 17th Town Council hearing.

Sunrise Assisted Living (100+ beds, Maple and Center)

Again, not much happened here.  Sunrise presented their revised proposal, the one that removes most of the retail, removes the “mezzanine” 5th floor, and generally rationalizes the plan and operation of the building.  (See Post 254 for the rationale behind making this change.)

Local business owners and some Town Council members are still vaguely unhappy about the level of parking being provided.  Currently, the parking for the assisted living portion lies in the mid-range of parking levels required by local jurisdictions.  (Although, humorously, at this meeting we found out that the Town Staff’s table of parking levels for assisted living includes Herndon, which does not in fact have an assisted living facility.)

I’ve already had my say on that in Post #289 and earlier posts:  Just get rid of the retail entirely, and add municipal parking.  Bu that seems to be a non-starter.  Apparently, getting rid of the last of the retail is simply not under consideration.   And in fact, some Town Council members brought up the lack of retail as a negative for the building — despite the fact that this building, being classified as a commercial enterprise under Fairfax County zoning, is not required to have any retail space at all.

A handful of citizens and Town Council members brought up the notion that this is a poor location for an assisted living facility.  An assisted living facility is not part of the “vibrant” town center that was somehow envisioned in MAC.  And it’s a shallow lot, with a lot of problems, subject to flooding, located directly in the middle of Vienna.  None of that seemed to gain traction generally.

Town Staff presented one of their sporadic financial analyses.  (E.g., there was no such analysis for 380 Maple West).  Unsurprisingly, given that the buildings are now vacant, comparing tax revenues from Sunrise to tax revenues from the vacant buildings made Sunrise look pretty good.  (Also unsurprising because the Town Staff presented it.  If these analyses are not mandatory, we’ll only see them when it reinforces staff’s point of view.)

I don’t like the way that analysis was done, I don’t like the lack of transparency, and I really don’t like the fact that the Town Staff picks and chooses which of these to show, and which not to show.  And on and on.  I have laid out in detail what I would do in Post #275.  Doesn’t look as if anything like that is in the works.  Barring that, can we at least have a consistent policy that these either are done routinely (for each project), or not at all?

At the end, Councilman Springsteen asked that the final vote on this be held on July 1, but Councilwoman Colbert would not have that.  She immediately offered a motion to have the vote (?), postpone the vote to (?), maybe have the vote at the June 17, 2019 meeting.

So that appeared to be the gist of that.  They’ll look at this again at their July 17 meeting, and may (or may not) vote on it at that meeting.