Post #357: The 8/19/2019 Town Council meeting: 893.

Posted on August 20, 2019

This post just puts a marker down, regarding last night’s Town Council work session and meeting.  I hope to expand on this, if I can ever figure out what actually occurred at last night’s Town Council meeting.  But in a nutshell, I have no clue what went on. 

Also, in the interest of not looking like a total nut-job, I have now struck out what I wrote originally, in favor of just saying, I’ll have to review the tapes on this one to give an actual, fact-based review of the meeting.  If such a thing is possible.  But it’s going to take me a couple of days to get around to that.

To cut to the chase, the agenda item on having the staff modify the commercial zoning rules sounded cut-and-dried.  But it was anything but that.  Now MAC zoning and the rewrite of MAC zoning either has or hasn’t been commingled with that.  Now the Mayor’s prior promise that nothing would change under a rewrite of the commercial rules either has or hasn’t been made inoperative.

Here’s what I know, for sure.  (And here, I’m not going to bother to do what I usually do, and give citations to the original discussions.  Either you remember this, or you don’t.)  So:

Remember the folks who gave you Marco Pologate?  The ones who assured you that a fictional 100 day rule required (!) that Town Council make hurried decisions on rezonings?  Who quietly tried to add an ambiguous line to the MAC zoning to eliminate the four-floor limit?  Who piously declared that the planned 5th floor in the Sunrise proposal was legal because (pick one):  rules did not apply to commercial mezzanines and/or even though the mezzanine was enclosed with a wall, it was actually open to the floor below, as required by statute?  Who touted an “open space” requirement under MAC that literally did nothing to ensure open space?  Who quietly gave a developer four feet off the Wade Hampton right-of-way?  Who gave us that lovely spacious plaza in front of the Chick-fil-A-car-wash as a marvelous public benefit of MAC zoning?  And who, somehow, appear to have decided that a building with two floors of housing over a partial floor of retail is “principally” occupied and used for commercial purposes?

Those folks?  Trust them.  That’s the message.  We now must trust those folks to rewrite all the zoning rules in the Town of Vienna.  Because it’s critical that we rewrite all those laws.  Right now.  Mission critical, no time to dally.  So we must trust them to do so.  Trust them to do it without doing anything tricky, ambiguous, or unclear.  Trust them to be completely transparent about what they are doing, and why.  And, per the Mayor’s promise from earlier this year, trust that they will make no material changes in the law.  (Unless that earlier assurance, by the Mayor, that nothing would change in this rewrite, is no longer operative).

And, apparently, Town Council is good with that.  What can I say?  “You knew what I was when you picked me up”?

No, I think the right aphorism here is “you break it, you bought it”.  The Town Council that green-lights this is the Town Council that owns it.  Two years from now.  (Those who survive the next election, that is.)

I mean, they haven’t even started yet, and already the process comes across as total chaos.   Ill defined.  Unclear.  And from that auspicious start, we must have faith that whatever they come up with will a) make no material changes but b) be vastly better than what we have now.

So maybe the right aphorism is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  Sure, you can point to things that are messy about the current code.  And against that, you have no idea what the new version of the code is going to do.

In its favor, perhaps if they get rid of MAC as part of this, the Town will face fewer lawsuits?  That would be a material benefit.  But it’s tough to say, and it’s not even remotely clear where the much-touted MAC zoning rewrite stands at this point.  I get the impression that has now gone down the memory hole.  Rewrite?  What rewrite?

Near as I can tell — and don’t hold me to this until I review the tapes — I think they’re chucking our entire zoning code into the blender, giving a whirl, and a couple of years from now, we’ll get to live with the resulting legal smoothie.

FWIW, the less-crazy parts of my original posting follow.  In the interest of transparency, I have merely x-ed out the crazier portions.  Although, to be honest, I’m not convinced they are wrong.  They just sound nutty.

Two best quotes of the meeting go to Steve Potter:

“We have diverted the topic, and I don’t understand why.”

“A difference of opinion is not an attack.”

I’m with ya, buddy.  I just wish I could figure out what else was going on.

To condense this as best I can:

Then:  Remember MAC zoning?  You know, that trashed the neighborhoods on the west end of Maple with that fast-food place and those football-field sized buildings? Remember how MAC was critical to the very survival of Vienna’s business district?  Remember how Vienna was going to become a ghost town without it?

Now:  Eh, what MAC, doc?  We don’t need no stinking MAC.  We need to rewrite our existing commercial zoning.  MAC revisions?  MAC moratorium?  That’s so five minutes ago.

I’m not even trying to be sarcastic.  Mostly.  I literally have no idea what was decided, if anything.

The only number that sticks in my mind is the number of new rush-hour trips on Maple, per the Town’s pet consultant, under some modest assumption of MAC build out.  And I think the number on the slide was 893.  It was not discussed during the meeting.  But that seemed to be the (under-) estimate of additional vehicle trips per hour.  With some modest MAC build-out.

Perhaps I hallucinated that.  Because, as big a story as that ought to have been … nobody said anything about it.  No way to know, because that presentation was not posted on the Town’s website, and while there was a promise in the meeting that it would be posted …  it ain’t happened yet, and I’m not holding my breath.  So all I have is my recollection of a single stray number, on a slide,  not discussed at all during the meeting.

That’s against a baseline number of about 2200/hour peak trips down Maple.  My best recollection, again.

Hey, who could possibly have guessed that.  Call it a one-third increase in rush hour trips.  From merely the first phase, of concentrating a bunch of high-density housing projects on the single most congested street in Northern Virginia.  Who’d have thunk it?

To be honest, I have no idea if my ramblings here bear any resemblance to reality.  It has been a long day and I have other stuff on my mind.  And, frankly, the contractor’s presentation was awful, as I shall discuss at some length.  So, perhaps this is purely based on my distorted view of things.  It’s going to take me a couple of days to review the tapes and … try to sort out what was or was not said.

For now, if you want a quick summary, I’ve got nothing for you.  Give me a couple of days to try to make sense of it.  Seems like something sure as shit changed.  Maybe I’ll eventually figure out what it was.