Post #286: Just poking the bear.

Posted on May 30, 2019

One of the fascinating things about MAC zoning is just how — ah — malleable the arguments in favor of it seem to be.   You will have to have been following this for a while for the next few paragraphs to make sense.

MAC was all about preserving small town Vienna — until some Town Council members positively repudiated that and called for “small town” to be removed from the statute.

The beautiful “Statement of Purpose and Intent” in the law provided the Town Council with absolute control over what was built.  So that made this vastly preferable to “by right” development, where builders have the right to build anything that meets legal requirements.  Until the Town’s lawyer said, near as I can tell, just a month ago — nope.  The “Statement” was unenforceable, and the Town had to approve any building that met the legal requirements.  (I.e., builders have the right to build anything that meets the legal requirements.  Which is kind of like by-right, isn’t it.  And which begs the question of why the Town Council bothers to vote at all.)

MAC limited buildings to four floors — until five floors was OK, as long as the building had the appearance of four floors.  Or five floors were OK all along, people didn’t understand what “mezzanine” meant.  Or the mezzanine rules only apply to residential mezzanines.  Or something.

Oh, and MAC couldn’t possibly work with anything less than four-story buildings,  because builders could not possibly build three-story buildings profitably.  Until one was proposed — presumably profitably — a block away on Church Street.  And then, out of the blue, Town Staff decided that dropping the height limit to three floors was perfectly acceptable change for a tiny portion of Maple Avenue, under a revised MAC statute.

MAC was about revitalizing Maple Avenue retail — until Town Staff had to propose arbitrary requirements for minimum amounts of retail, because, as it turns out, MAC is all about housing, not retail.  And otherwise builders would build as little retail space as possible.

MAC is about a process that ensures quality buildings by requiring review by three bodies (BAR, PC, TC), and demands the highest architectural standards.  Until somebody on the Town Staff pulled a switcheroo for the Marco Polo developer, and quietly substituted some partial sketches of a vastly cheaper minimalist modern building in place of the stone/red-brick/wrought iron “Georgetown” style building approved by the Board of Architectural Review.  And despite the fact that somebody on Town staff did a heck of a favor that will save the builder millions of dollars, the Town refuses to hold any sort of formal investigation of how that happened.  Just trust them.

If you found all that confusing, let me just sum it up for you.  If you step back from the process, to a pretty good approximation, MAC is about justifying whatever it takes to get the next building approved.  Plus whatever whims or fancies Town Council wishes to impose.

I could go on, but I’m just going to point out one more because, as far as I can tell, we have collective amnesia about this one.  Can you recall the absolutely critical “Community workshops” that the Town held on MAC zoning?  As written up in this post.  Does anyone but me recall the clear statements by our Town leadership that discussion on MAC could not proceed without the critical feedback those workshops would provide?

Now, can you recall how those workshops completely changed the direction MAC took?  You probably can’t because … nothing happened.  Those workshops were held at the end of March.  The Town put .pdf images of the hand-written comments on line.  And, near as I can tell … that’s it.  Nothing happened.  And, as importantly, nobody seems to care that nothing happened, or looks like it will happen, as a consequence of those workshops.

So, to all of the above, we can add that this (structured and frankly biased) community feedback exercise was critical to our thinking about MAC.  (Really, go back and listen to the audio in the post cited just above.)  Until it wasn’t.  And nobody cared.  Heck, besides me, I doubt anybody even remembered.

I’ll repeat here what I said in post #262:

I’m not confused because I’m stupid.  I’m confused because I’m paying attention to what they’re saying

And I record it, and write it down, so I can remember it.  About 90% of what I do on this website is that, period.  And if the results make the pro-MAC Town leadership look a bit inconsistent — that’s only because they are.