Maple and Center, updated 8/16/2018

Posted on July 18, 2018


Second update 8/16/2018:  Looks like we may have two different assisted living facilities in the works.  Kensington assisted living was canvassing houses north of Maple Avenue yesterday, regarding a proposed assisted living facility where the BBT bank is now (415 Maple West).   The BBT lot has long struck me as a likely victim under MAC zoning:  almost an acre, relatively little business, and another BBT at the other end of town (440 Maple East).   So it appears that this is now in process to become yet another large MAC building.

Update 8/16/2018:  Maple and Center is in fact slated to be a Sunrise assisted living facility.  A preliminary set of plans can be seen here (.pdf).  Town Council will be discussing that with Sunrise Assisted Living just prior to the Monday 8/20/2018 Town Council meeting.  The Town’s write up describes this as “80 units”, but based on my earlier calculation, I would have bet that it would be 80 beds.  (And so, fewer dwelling units due to a mix of single and double-occupancy rooms.)  The obligatory 15′ tall glass-walled retail area will occupy part of the first floor, in this case, 8500 square feet of new retail space.

This is relevant to the 8/20/2018 Town Council meeting because this should be well over any density (dwelling-units-per-acre) limit that the Town had been considering under MAC.  That density limit is one of the proposed changes to be discussed at that Town Council meeting.  Presumably, the presence of this, on the table, will put an end to further discussion of density limits under MAC for now.

I will also note, in passing, that this building appears shorter than 444 Maple West, by a considerable margin. Measuring the drawings, it appears to be about 45′ tall, or just under three-quarters the height of 444 Maple West.  That would make sense, I think, given that they do not need to provide the very high ceilings  built into 444 Maple West.  That allows for the mandatory 15′ first floor, then 10′ per floor, which would be ample to provide a finished ceiling height of 8′.  In other words, this is a four-story building that is somewhere near the height of a traditional four-story building.

As an aside, purely subjective, I have been told that most Falls Church residents are not happy with how their downtown “mixed use” redevelopment turned out, with the sole exception of the assisted living facility.   I assume that the Town will accelerate discussion of this because a) assisted living will be popular (at least compared to the other MAC projects), and because b) if my Falls Church rumors are any guide, it will in fact be less objectionable than other MAC projects.  That, combined with what appears to be a relatively more modest size, could make this the first genuinely popular MAC project.  And based on how the proposed 444 Maple West has been received (over 1000 signatures on a petition against it), the Town Council needs that right now.

What I find most unusual here is how long the Town was aware of this before there was any public mention.  It makes me wonder how many more projects are informally “in the pipeline”, i.e., has the train already left the station on the redevelopment of the downtown, but the public just hasn’t been made aware of it yet.

There are no changes to my prior writeup, below.

Town documents have cryptically mentioned Maple and Center as a likely location for a MAC-zoned building.   It came to my attention yesterday that a property at that location is now “under contract” there.  Presumably, then, “Maple and Center” is Vienna Center, the two buildings directly across from Patrick Henry Library.  One is an imaging center, the other was the former Inova urgent care center.  They sit adjacent to the Vienna Inn.

So that corner now appears slated for redevelopment under MAC zoning.

With the mandatory front and side setbacks, only about 0.6 acres (of the total of just over 0.7 ares) appears to be buildable.  Under MAC zoning, I believe the developer has the right to build right up to the side lot lines, if they leave a blank wall.  So, in theory, this one could leave a big blank wall adjacent to the Vienna Inn on Maple, and adjacent to the small commercial building on Center (108 Center Street North, Turner Financial Group).   But in practice, the building is large enough that they will want windows on all sides for the three residential floors.  In that case, they must provide some setback all around, and the likely buildable area is only about half an acre.

Town officials have talked about getting an assisted living facility in downtown Vienna.  Let me run with that, and see, hypothetically, how that would work out on this site.

At first glance, this property seems too small for that, but that’s not so.  On three floors, they might be able to squeeze in nearly 100 700-square-foot rooms.  Turns out that Sunrise assisted living is, in fact, building urban assisted living facilities with under 100 units.   So that size is not too small for an urban assisted living facility.

Whatever it turns out to be, at this point, we pretty much know the drill with MAC zoning.  The new building will be just under twice as tall as the taller of the two buildings there.  And it will pretty much fill the lot.  At the minimum, it will provide a stark contrast with the one-story Vienna Inn adjacent to it.

A similarly-located facility in Falls Church gives some guidance as to likely tax values.  The Kensington at 700 West Broad St. sits on 0.77 acres, 120 assisted-living beds (reference), and has a tax valuation of about $26M.  It is, however, a five-story building, which would not be allowed under MAC zoning.  As we expect to see here in Vienna, the tax valuation rose about 10-fold when that facility replaced the roughly 3000-square-foot restaurant that was there.

Finally, it is worth noting that Falls Church got the builder to agree that six of those beds will be reduced-cost beds for lower-income individuals (see final site plan here).  The actual amount of subsidy involved is quite modest.  The expected basic annual fee is about $70,000, i.e., for persons with no significant nursing care needs.   The subsidy provided by the builder is about $94,000, to be split among six individuals, or a over a 20% discount, for six of the beds.  Even if all 120 beds only rent at the basic fee, the entire low-income subsidy amounts to about 1 percent of gross revenue. (In practice, because most patients will have some upcharge for additional nursing care, the low-income subsidy is well under 1 percent of gross revenue.)  Presumably, that was a proffer from the builder, and was not an affordable housing program as defined in Commonwealth statute.

Scaling that down to the Town of Vienna lot, they appear to end up with about 85 beds (between losing one floor and losing acreage).  If they have a 50/50 mix of one-bed and two-bed units, assuming I did the arithmetic correctly, that will work out to be close to 80 dwelling units per acre (57 dwelling units on 0.7 acres).  If the Town imposes anything but the most permission density standard under a revised MAC zoning, it will be difficult for this facility to comply.

One final aspect of this is that Town appears to have known about this in advance.  It is unclear to me how that works, but my impression is that the Town is actively seeking redevelopers for currently vacant buildings in Town.  Here, one of the two buildings was vacated when Inova moved its urgent care center down the street.