Post #233: The 4/10/2019 Planning Commission meeting

Posted on April 11, 2019

The Town of Vienna Planning Commission passed the proposed 380 Maple West building (39 condos plus retail, corner of Maple and Wade Hampton) by a vote of 5-2.  Commissioners Baum and Miller were the only “no” votes.  I should have the audio, with my Excel index, posted shortly.

Twenty-six citizens spoke.  All were against the proposal, to varying degrees.  And while Commission members repeatedly assured us that they heard us, in the end, that made no difference whatsoever.

So, in round numbers, here’s the score at this point.  Assuming Town Council approves this — which, to me, seems a given at this point — these two new projects more than double the housing in my neighborhood.

There were some noteworthy things said, but not many.

At least one Commissioner totally repudiated any notion of “small town” applying to Maple Avenue.  And she cited the MAC statement of purpose and intent to justify that.  So, at some level, it got back to my “pretty important conjunction” posting of a few weeks back.  We, in the audience, thought that the MAC statement of purpose and intent was a series of declarations, connected by “AND”.  As in, foster compact development AND maintain small-town Vienna.  But apparently, unknown to us, the correct conjunction now appears to be “OR”.  So that, when faced with fostering development OR maintaining small-town Vienna, for at least one Commissioner, the choice was clear.

Yet a different Commissioner — Baum — stated the opposite.  To her, the low-rise open-space look and feel of Maple is what gives it a small-town feel.  Maple Avenue is small-town right now.  That hit the nail on the head for me.

I think it was two citizens — Alex Gallegos and Joe Daly — who, separately, summed it up best, for me.   In so many words, Vienna does not get accolades for being a great small town on the basis of its wonderful apartment buildings and condos.  And photos of the west end of Maple (e.g., Chick-fil-A) are not going to get you positive ratings in the Best Small Towns in America.

Chick-fil-a-car-wash must have come up at least a dozen times, if not more.  And never in a good way.  But, my recollection is, all of that was from the citizens.

Otherwise, there’s not much to say.  The building was marginally better, I think, than the last go-round.  There’s only one option now — the shorter building without the extra parking floor (Option 2).  They took the red stripe off the back of the building (but one Commission was fighting to get it or something like it put back on.)  There are now gable roofs at the back, which makes it look less like Duplo and more like housing.  The developer offered to plant the Town’s right-of-way with an evergreen screen to block the view of the building from the adjacent properties — something which I sincerely hope the Town takes him up on.

So MAC development proceeds without a pause.  We have another great big building that more-or-less fills the lot.  And that’s exactly what our Town government wants.

I’m not going to waste any more time on this meeting, other than to post the audio.  If you want to know what was said in detail, you can wade through the four hours of it, or try to find items of interest in my index, then listen.  I’ll post the link when I have that done.

Otherwise, I have nothing to report other than two things of a more personal basis.  I think the rest of this pretty much qualifies as just a self-absorbed rant, and the busy reader should end their reading here.


Apparently my last post, where I asserted that 10 public parking places would be lost, must be wrong, because the developer assured us that only one public parking place would be lost.  Only one commissioner — Kenney — pointed out that this could not possibly be right.  Nobody else seemed to care.

Plausibly, I may or may not have overstated the losses by … maybe two parking places or so, depending on exactly where the lane striping ends?  My only plea is that some plausible estimate be provided to the Town Council.  I.e., if you don’t like my number, then please come up with what you believe to be the correct number.

But my guess, at this point, is that’s not going to happen.  At risk of sacrilege, it boils down to a loaves-and-fishes kind of thing.  As long as you believe that you can fit three travel lanes plus two parking lanes into a 32-foot-wide roadway,  then you can come up with any estimate you want for the number of parking places lost, including zero.  So, if you don’t want anyone to talk meaningfully about lost parking, all you have to do is continue to express your faith in that miracle. End of story.

So, on the issues raised in my last post, my feeling is:  I did my due diligence as a citizen.  There’s nothing more I can do.  Maybe it’s eight spaces lost, instead of ten, lost.  I don’t have to park there, so I don’t have to care.  And some tiny fraction of my taxes will help pay for the eventual rebuilding of the west corner of the Maple/Wade Hampton intersection that this project will require.  Or maybe we’ll just live with trucks routinely stopping on Maple because they can’t make the turn onto Wade Hampton when the center lane there is occupied.  Either way, I’ve done what I can.  This is now in an SEP field.

Finally, one Commissioner attacked the citizen’s use of social media, saying it more-or-less poisoned the atmosphere.  I disagree about who did the poisoning, if poisoning has occurred.   But I could not decide whether she was talking about me, and simply did not know the definition of social media. (And did not have the spine to call me out by name.)  Or whether she actually knew what social media meant, and was talking about other people (e.g. Facebook discussions).

In any case, I’ll take this opportunity to explain why I do not use this website as a social media site — that is, why I don’t take comments/foster discussion/use this for “community engagement” or otherwise allow social interaction here.

First, go read my detailed analysis of Capital Bikeshare.  (Use the categories drop-own menu to find those postings.)  Do you understand how much thought and ingenuity that took?  Can you guess how many person-days of labor went into that?   See how data-based and fact-oriented that is?

Do you really think I’m going to do all that, and then let anybody just drive by and fire off whatever uninformed opinion that they might happen to harbor?

Look at the number of times I have corrected my own mis-statements here.  Look at the parking analysis above.  (Yes, I may have made a modest mistake.)  Look at my outright apology to the Town finance director — even though I was dead right on the math, I admitted that I shouldn’t have been such a wiseass about putting that out in public.

Do you really think I’m going to go to that extent to be as accurate as possible, and then let anybody spout off here, just because they happen to have a firmly held opinion about something?  Just ask yourself, when is the last time you read a social media discussion where some loudmouth did a 180 and said “I was wrong, you were right”. In my very limited experience, social media discussions, by their nature, tend not to draw that sort of person.

Talk is cheap, and never before in the history of mankind has it ever been cheaper.  Social media is 99% infotainment.  It has no fact checking.  And all too often it tends to be dominated by people who embody a toxic combination of too much free time and supreme self-confidence in their opinions.

There are plenty of places on the internet for people to occupy themselves in various social media activities.  This isn’t one of them.  If I write nonsense, it will have no impact.  If I am merely shrill, nobody will read this.  That is, in part, why I try to leaven this with a little humor when possible.  But the bottom line remains this:  If you don’t like what I write, don’t read it.  And, ultimately, if what I write is wrong on the facts, nobody will bother to read this, period.

And here’s the dumbest part.  In the modern world, at any time, for free, anybody can set up their own websiteSo if you really don’t like this website, don’t somehow insinuate that I’m doing something nefarious by not allowing other people to post here.  Instead, put in the tiny amount of effort it would take to set up your own website.  It’s not like there’s a shortage of electrons, and doing a blog is not exactly rocket science.

I also need to point out that this cuts both ways.  E.g., I don’t get to comment on the Town’s propaganda pieces on its website or in the Vienna Voice.  This website is, in part, my reaction to what was otherwise the extremely one-sided view of MAC that was being pushed by the Town.

To be clear, the thing that put me on this path was the Town’s insistence that MAC was all about preserving small-town Vienna.  Which was not merely nonsense, but was obviously nonsense.  And which at least some Town officials are now formally repudiating.  But which, at that time, was absolute, unquestioned dogma.  There was no public disagreement among Town officials, and no opportunity for anyone to say “hey, that’s wrong” in any public way.

And so my first research project was to demonstrate that empirically.   Demonstrate, with a random sample of disinterested adults, a correctly-constructed survey with clear anchor points, and proper statistical analysis — that MAC was not creating buildings that anyone would characterize as “small town”.  I’m not even going to bother to cite the web page where I describe methods.  Look it up if you doubt the results.

So, at root, that picture above — that’s with this website is about.  It’s not social media.  It’s not for discussion.  This website is about not allowing the Town to spout baloney without being challenged. It’s that simple.  You can call it poisoning if you like.  I call it fundamentally American.