Post #367: The Patrick Henry Library/parking garage

At the 8/19/2019 Town Council meeting, consultants presented some drawings and other information for a replacement for the Patrick Henry Library.  You can find the meeting materials at this link, including the consultant’s initial report at this link (.pdf).   All drawings and analysis presented below are taken or summarized from the consultant’s report, architectural firm Grimm and Parker (G&P).

Patrick Henry Library has 61 parking places (G&P, page 6).  More-or-less everyone I have talked to says that’s inadequate, and that parking is a problem at peak periods or when the library holds some sort of event.  The library system would like to see 125 spaces at the new library.

There are currently three options on the table, labeled A, B1, and B2 in the report.  All include a new library that is about 50% larger than the current building, by floor area (21,000 square feet, compared to the current ~14,000 square feet).  The only functional difference among the options is the parking, which then drives the overall size of the entire structure.

Here’s an abbreviated version of the table showing proposed parking, for the three alternatives (A, B1, B2). (G&P, page 6):

Option A:  A narrow two-story building with surface parking

Option A would replace the current library with a two-story building on a smaller footprint.  You would end up with a narrower, two-story building.  This frees up enough ground space to expand surface parking to 90 slots.  The architects envision a “modern” building (G&P, page 11), but that’s just their stylistic choice.  You could as easily have a more traditional-looking building.  The only functional requirement is that it be a two-story building having roughly that footprint.

That picture doesn’t really provide the right perspective to see this building, relative to the existing library building.  Where the existing library ends about halfway across the lot, the new one would end about a third of the way across the lot.

Options B1 and B2:  One story-library building with parking garage on top.

Options B1 and B2 would replace the current library with a larger one-story building, then build a parking garage on top of that.  In both cases, the entire structure would more-or-less cover the lot.  The library itself would stretch about halfway across the current lot.  The rest of the lot would be some surface parking and access to the parking garage above.  B1 would add one floor of parking, B2 would add two floors of parking.  The B2 option would require a zoning variance to be allowed to exceed the 35′ height restriction for C2 zoning.

Here are the pictures, (G&P, page 13, G&P, page 14):

The look of the building is again merely the architect’s choice, and is not a necessary part of the design.  The library itself is made to look like a bunch of shops, and the building has the pseudo-many-separate-buildings facade that seems mandatory for MAC mixed-use construction.

Discussion

First, I have copied the Town’s recording of the discussion of this item and have posted that to Youtube.  You can access it below.

A few opinions:

Option A is probably dead in the water from the lack of parking, relative to the projected need for parking.  Fairfax could build that if they wished, without Town of Vienna participation.  Some Fairfax libraries have more parking per square foot than the 90 slots projected under Option A.  Some have less.  But given that Fairfax County’s own projected need is ~125 slots, my guess is, Option A, as described, is unlikely to be built.

Putting aside the looks of the buildings, I thought a few things were missing from the consultant’s discussion of options B1 and B2.

Underground parking is a way to reduce the impact of this new structure.  Absolutely every mixed-use MAC building proposed so far has underground parking.  My understanding is that this is modestly more expensive than above-ground parking.  But when you see every for-profit entity opting for that, you have to ask why that was not considered here.  You could have (e.g.) a two-story building with as much parking as option B2 if you put one floor underground.  You could have adequate total parking under option A by burying another level of parking under the surface parking.

Underground parking tends to be … well, creepy.  But above-ground parking garages are typically ugly.  In this case, we’d be erecting a parking garage, on the main street, in the center of Town.  A large municipal parking garage directly on the main street does not say “small town” to me.  So all other things equal, I’d work to minimize the impact of that.

Limited vertical clearance is another way to shrink the parking structure.  Some Fairfax County library parking garages were built with parking with limited vertical clearances.  For example, the City of Fairfax regional library has a 6’8″ limit on vehicle height in the parking garage.   I assume that was to allow the building to blend in with its surroundings and not dominate them.   So you might be able to have a lower three-story building with that option.

What parking need is there within a quarter-mile radius?  City planners often use a quarter-mile as the longest walk that customers are typically willing to make to get from parking to a store.  Below is the quarter-mile radius around the Patrick Henry library, from Calcmaps.com.  By eye, in terms of areas with scant parking, this would provide parking for a) the entire Church Street commercial district, b) the under-parked shopping center at Maple and Center (former Starbucks), and the under-parked shopping center at Maple and Park (Chipotle).

So I’d start with that an estimate of projected need.  And I’d also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of, in effect, bailing out those under-parked properties at taxpayer expense.

Is this part of a larger picture, or is it here solely to serve local-area parking needs?  For example, does the Town anticipate running a “circulator bus” out of this parking garage (See Post #362).  Could this be a “transit hub” for individuals transferring from cars to public transit during the AM and PM rush hours?  This would have to be added to the estimated local parking demand.

It would probably be quieter, possibly be nicer, and might be cheaper to put the library on top of the parking.  You probably lose some parking this way, but my experience is that vehicle noise transmits right through the arched pre-stressed concrete floors of parking garages.  (Thump-thump).  I note that the City of Fairfax library has the library on top, but that building is built into a hillside.   And with that design, only two floors would need to be built heavily enough to withstand the weight of the cars.

In this regard, I wonder about the extent to which the proposed designs for B1 and B2 are left-overs from when this was going to be built under MAC zoning.  I.e., is the library is at the bottom, disguised as shops, mostly to blend in with the rest of MAC mixed-use development?  If that’s the case, then it would be a shame to lock in this garage-over-library design without at least considering the alternative.  It would also be a shame to do it without finding some real-world examples of this construction (library under parking garage) and asking how that worked out.