Post #828: Meanwhile, back in Vienna VA, I voted against the library bond referendum

Posted on September 27, 2020

I’ll just briefly explain why.  These are all issues that I documented more than a year ago.

The Fairfax County library bond referendum, on the ballot for the upcoming election, includes $23M for replacing the Patrick Henry Library, among other things.  The Town wants to put the new library under a parking garage, although in the final iteration they settled for just two floors of parking, not three as shown above.  I’m hoping they’ll rethink that decision.

  1. Note that the library looks like a set of upscale shops.  That’s because it was based on MAC zoning.  We repealed MAC zoning, but didn’t change the design.
  2. The library is an afterthought.  It’s stuck underneath a big parking garage. 
  3. Nobody in the entire DC metro area has ever built a library under a parking garage.  (Yes, I checked).  Wonder if there’s a good reason for that?  (Hint:  absence of natural light plus big thick concrete pillars.)  You’d think that would give you pause, wouldn’t you?  But nope, not our Town Council.  We’re going to have the only one of these in the whole DC metro area. And nobody ever stopped to ask whether that might not be a good thing.
  4. We’re committing fraud to obtain the money for the garage, claiming that it is a commuter facility for people using Vienna Metro.  (No, I did not make that up.)  We’re telling that lie in an attempt to get the Northern Virginia Regional Transportation Authority (or some similar organization) to pay for it as a way to relieve traffic congestion.  Whereas, in our own documents for the Town, we refer to it as what it is — shopper/diner parking that has nothing to do with commuting.  (And the last thing we would want, in the morning, is to have yet more people trying to drive into the Town of Vienna, anyway).  People object to the term “fraud”, but, well, we’re knowingly  lying in order to obtain money, fully realizing that we will not deliver the service that is being paid for.  That’s more-or-less the definition of fraud.
  5. The Town has no firm estimate of how much parking it actually can use at that one site.  Which one former Town Council member dismissed by suggesting that all that excess parking could be used to reduce parking requirements for future commercial construction.  Think about that for a second, and you’ll realize that a) they know we can’t use that much parking, but b) they are more than happy to spend your tax dollars to make adjacent private development more profitable.  (N.B., any new construction must meeting zoning standards for adequate parking, so there’s no justification for building a massive amount of excess parking now, to accommodate future demand from future construction.  If you stick to the law, there won’t be any unmet parking demand from future construction.  Unless you are going to allow people to build new buildings without adequate parking, and, instead have the taxpayers pay for that parking, instead of the developers.)
  6. Fairfax County spends $1000 per square foot to build libraries.  That’s more than twice the amount that the state estimates is needed to build a new library.  If that produces some notable public architecture, maybe that can be justified. But a library stuck under a parking garage, for $1000 per square foot?  You’ve got to be kidding me.

This train has left the station, as far as the Town of Vienna is concerned.  My last hope is that voters won’t approve the Fairfax County library bond.  So I voted against it.

I’m not anti-library, I’m just anti-irrationality.  This whole sequence of events — design it to match a zoning standard, repeal that zoning standard but keep the design, take the (as in, basically, one) rough design sketch that the consultant used to cost out a big garage, and make that the final proposed design, don’t budget for it out of our own capital fund but try to obtain the money by fraud instead, and above all, do the entire planning process for a parking garage without first estimating how much parking can be used at that site — this whole sequence is just a classic example of how organizations can engage in totally irrational decision-making.

We just sort of wandered around to get to the point where this is now.  And, having gotten here, nobody will stand up and say, hey, maybe this needs some rethinking.  That’s just the way it’s done, here in the Town of Vienna.

Given that the Town is going to have to live with the outcome of this for the next half-century, I’d rather see no change, rather than see this built.  Hoping that, with a long enough pause, maybe this really might get some rethinking.

And that’s why I voted against the library bonds.