Post #375: Did I say condos? Just kidding. I meant assisted living.

Posted on September 6, 2019

Sometimes the goings-on in Vienna are just stranger than you can imagine.  So I don’t quite know what to call this one.  Musical chairs?  Bait and switch, the sequel?

Recall that the Town approved a building with 37 condos plus retail at 380 Maple West (corner of Wade Hampton and Maple).

Well, guess again.  Looks like the 380 Maple West developer may just flip the property, and hand it off to become an assisted living facility.  And as part of that, they’ll partially re-open the MAC zoning that had been approved, to allow the builder to “amend the proffers”.

I can’t make up stuff like that.  You can see the (somewhat cryptic) meeting materials here on the Town’s website, and you can see a more detailed writeup on Vienna Citizens for Responsible Development Facebook site.

This possibility isn’t even part of Town of Vienna code.  The Town had to cite a section of  Commonwealth of Virginia statute to justify it.

Say what?

I can only speculate as to what this is about.

Sunrise?  Plausibly, if the assisted living provider is Sunrise, this is Vienna’s way of getting rid of the lawsuit that Sunrise filed against it (Post #342).  As of yesterday, Sunrise’s lawyers may have been unaware of this development, so it is far from clear that Sunrise is, in fact, involved.

Edit:  In addition, this possibility was raised by the developer, to some of the neighbors, well before Sunrise was turned down.  Given Sunrise’s investment in its own proposal at Maple and Center, it seems unlikely that they would be hedging their bets.  Particularly as this property is almost directly across the street from  …

Kensington?  Alternatively, Kensington Assisted Living might be involved here.  Kensington was well underway in developing a proposal for an assisted living facility at the empty BB&T bank building property.  That is virtually across the street from 380 Maple West.  Because I have never seen two competing assisted living facilities across the street from one another, I believe that converting 380 Maple West to assisted living effectively bars Kensington from developing the BB&T bank property.

So … it’s hard to say.  If the assisted living provider in question is Sunrise, then this quashes the Sunrise lawsuit.  But that also materially harms Sunrise’s most direct local competitor, and the owner of the BB&T property.

On the other hand, if the assisted living provider is Kensington, then the Town should, at least in theory, have to explain why it allowed one competitor but denied another, as part of the Sunrise lawsuit.  (Or, possibly, the Town would use this in its defense.   They could claim that approval of this assisted living proves that they were not biased against having old people in the heart of the MAC zone.  So, possibly, this now becomes part of their lawsuit defense?)

On yet a third hand, dissing Sunrise might be intentional.  As an extra bonus for the Town, they effectively get to thumb their noses at Sunrise, as a punishment for Sunrise daring to sue.  And use the fact that they are allowing their competitors into Vienna in their defense against the Sunrise lawsuit.

Or possibly the Town is merely the passive player here, and this is just a by-product of the developer’s selling the right to build to the highest bidder.  Whatever the real motivator, the story has to be told such that, somehow, out of thin air, the developer wants to flip to the property to this new use.  If the Town of Vienna itself were shown to have acted with favoritism toward one of two competitors, they should rightly be sued by the other one.

As it stands, to do this, the Town is going to have to make up a whole bunch of nonsense about why Sunrise was completely inappropriate in the heart of downtown, but fill-in-the-blank is a great fit for a section of Maple where (e.g.) you have to walk a quarter-mile merely to be able to get to the restaurant across the street.

Trying to be an economist for a moment, consider the macroeconomic context. We are way overdue for a recession. The developer faces considerable uncertainty as to when, exactly, the project will be finished and the condos are on the market.  Condos are more sensitive to economic dips than other property. But health care is traditionally thought to be recession-proof. So this could be a way of transferring the right to build from weak hands (individual builder, condos) to strong hands (national chain, assisted living) in anticipation of a general economic slowdown.  And the current owner of those rights likely will make a profit for his trouble.

So, absent better information, either of two scenarios would fit.  This could be the Town’s way of sidestepping the Sunrise lawsuit.  (In which case, keep an eye out to see what favors the Town will use to repay the developer.)  Yet, Sunrise’s lawyers seemed to be unaware of this development.  Or, maybe it’s just business as usual, and the developer is selling the building rights to the highest bidder.  Kensington was definitely interested in that neighborhood.  In which case, I would think it would make it harder for the Town to defend the Sunrise denial in court.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Care to speak up again?

First, at the time the 380 development was passed, several citizens got up and testified in favor of it.   What a wonderful thing this was.  How this was exactly what the Town needed here.  How this new retail would revitalize this section of town.  How this building should be approved because Vienna desperately needs single-floor living for the elderly.  And so on.

Wonder if we’re going to hear back from them, now that the actual building will have nothing whatsoever to do with what they so strongly defended?  I bet not.

Second, when some Town council members wanted to rescind the original approval, many parties, including the local newspaper, loudly cried “foul”.  A deal’s a deal.  You can’t go back on that.  The very fabric of government would unravel if you could simply undo a deal at will.

Wonder if we’re going to hear from them again, now that the deal is going to change?  I’d bet not.

How can they do that (physically, I mean)?

And by this I mean, how can they take that physical building, as approved, and make an efficient assisted living out of it?  Honestly, for the life of me, I can’t see how they can do that.  So I have to wonder, how much is that building going to have to change, to do this?  Is the entire MAC process that much of a sham, that, after the fact, they can just completely reconfigure the agreed-upon building.  If so, what on earth are we actually going to get at 444 Maple West?

Just off the top of my head, and keeping in mind that Sunrise appears to be shooting for a roughly 100 bed facility as their minimum efficient scale (see Post #205), I’m going to discuss what Sunrise would probably want to do to the building to make it work as an assisted living facility.  So this is structured as if Sunrise were known to be the assisted living provider in question.

The 380 building has too much ground-floor space devoted to parking and retail, relative to what Sunrise needed. Sunrise needed that space for its own common areas, not for parking or retail. But I thought the parking was part of the specification of the building. Can Sunrise just cut that out, and reconfigure the ground floor, as they see fit? So totally change the amount of, location of, and access to the parking, with no public review? Just drop most of the retail? Really? Then what the heck was all that MAC nonsense about in the first place.

Ambulance access.  Recall all the discussion that went on w/r/t/ dedicated ambulance parking and loading at the Maple and Center facility? All the fuss and bother. Made them put in a dedicated space, got all up in their grille about not blocking Maple, and so on. Is that all just moot now? Whatever-the-heck Sunrise wants to do at this location, hey, that’s fair? That can’t be true.

Ambulance nuisance.  The original Sunrise location was not adjacent to a residential area.  Here, does this mean that ambulances would use Glen/Roland to access that building? If so, that’s a big deal to this neighborhood. (Shortest land route from VVFD to that building appears to be Center/Locust/Courthouse/Glenn/Wade Hampton, but the ambulances may be given instructions to stay on the main routes as long as possible.

Even if not, the noise of the siren alone is a big deal to the neighborhood. They’re going to put that here, with zero public comment? Again, what on earth were those MAC public hearings about, then?

Room size versus hallway width.  Assisted living facilities typically have tiny, hotel-sized rooms, linked by broad corridors, to large commons areas. Here, the rooms are too big, the corridors are (I would bet) far too narrow to pass building code for this sort of facility, and it has no common areas at all (other than the shops on the first floor, which are too small to be useful).

Dementia floor.  This building lacks a secure, internal green space for the dementia floor. It lacks all the dedicated common facilities that a dementia floor must have (e.g., its own dining room). I think the 380 building only has one elevator, but the Sunrise needs two, one of which is dedicated to the dementia floor.

Conditional use permit.  As I understand it, Sunrise got a conditional use permit (pending MAC approval) for the use of the land at Maple and Center.  But, the Town’s notice does not even mention the need to get a different conditional use permit, for use of the land at 380 Maple West.  Did they just not bother to mention that, or is the case that if you get such a permit for anywhere in Vienna, you can transfer it as you see fit?  That makes no sense.  So, doesn’t this have to go before the Board of Zoning Appeals?

I just can’t see how this can work, as described. The building as-is doesn’t work, as I see it.  Which means they pretty much have to design a new building.  Can they just do that?  I.e., once approved, can they just swap in a materially different building, for a completely different use, and say, eh, close enough?  If so, what’s the point of those MAC public hearings?

And I will just point, once again, to 444 Maple West.  If this flies, does anybody really know what we’re actually going to get at that location?  Seems like, if this is acceptable, what you actually get with MAC is the right to build … something.  To be determined.