Post #397: Our assets become our liabilities, round 3.

Posted on September 26, 2019

At the 9/24/2019 Transportation Safety Commission meeting, one citizen said that the Parkwood School is likely to close, following the death of its founder and long-time director.  That little private school is located at the corner of  Marshall Road and Ware Street.  For all appearances, other than for the extensive on-site parking, it looks like handful of 1950’s houses on a spacious lots.  In the picture below, the Vienna Aquatic Club pool is in the background, and most of the foreground is Parkwood School.

That citizen was hoping the Town might buy the land and make it a park, rather than let it be developed.   So that prompts the re-run of a point I made in this prior post and this prior postOur assets become our liabilities.

In Vienna and the rest of Northern Virginia, a significant piece of open space used to be an asset to a neighborhood.  It kept residential or commercial density down, it might have added a nice bit of greenery, and so on.  Always harmless, typically beneficial.

But now any significant bit of open space is a potential liability as well.  If redeveloped in the current economic climate, the result will be larger structures and higher density than the surrounding neighborhood.  A neighborhood without such open space is stable.  Change occurs one small lot at a time.  But a neighborhood with some large open space risks leap-frogging from its current state to … whatever is most profitably built these days.  And, in general, for a larger piece of land, that means some form of higher-density housing.

Per the Fairfax County tax maps, the school in its entirety sits on about 4.3 acres of land.  (All five lots circled above are owned by the same trust.)  To put that in perspective, the new six-house development across from Westwood County Club occupies 2.7 acres.  The Tequila Grand/444 Maple West development occupies about 2.75 acres.

If not rezoned to higher density, but merely subdivided under the current RS-16 zoning (minimum lot size of 16,000 square feet), the three current structures could be replaced with eleven new houses.  Given market conditions, there is little doubt that the houses would be as large as could be fit onto the lots.

I’d like to think that a developer would not try to get it rezoned to higher density, given the land area involved.  But these days, you just can’t tell.  The school is, after all, directly across from a large church, not other houses.  It backs to a swim club (Vienna Aquatic Club), not houses.  And it’s a very convenient commute to Metro from there.  If rezoned for townhouses, a quick reading of the zoning law suggests they could squeeze in maybe 30 or so under our current townhouse zoning of 8/acre, plus a bit of required open space.

Anyway, Vienna is totally unprepared to buy new park land.  At least as far as I can tell.  There’s no plan for parks and no contingency fund for purchasing such land.  (In fact, oddly enough, much of what we have as park land today used to be the locations of our local sewage treatment plants.  Those areas were converted to parks when sewage treatment became centralized in the 1960s.)  The idea of preserving this fairly significant piece of land as open space for future generations is appealing.  But it ain’t gonna happen.