Post #439: Community meeting on 380 Maple West/Sunrise Assisted Living

Posted on October 30, 2019


My wife attended the meeting on 380 Maple West/Sunrise Assisted Living two nights ago, in the Vienna Community center.    This is a brief and second-hand summary.

First, a recap:  Sunrise had proposed to build an assisted living facility at Maple and Center.  At the last step of the approval process, the Town Council turned them down.  Sunrise (rightfully in my opinion) sued (e.g, Post #342, among others), asking for $30M damages, plus legal fees, plus another shot at getting approved.

Meanwhile, the Town approved a MAC building at 380 Maple West.  The developer of the 380 Maple West building rallied quite a few citizens to speak in favor of it, stressing how wonderful the design was, how much the additional retail would benefit this area, how great the developer was, and above all, how much Vienna really needed single-floor condos so older people could retire and stay in town.

Up to speed?  Good.

Now forget all that crap, because none of it remains true.  (Except possibly the Sunrise lawsuit, the status of which is unclear at this point.)

New plan:

The 380 developer will sell the lot at Maple and Wade Hampton to Sunrise.  In effect, the developer is selling the rezoning (and the land it’s attached to).  Sunrise will build something that more-or-less fits in the same footprint as what was approved for 380 Maple West.  (Which isn’t hard to do, as the building comes close to filling the legally allowable footprint anyway.)  I don’t have any hard information on how tall the building will be, other than four floors.  But the building will look like the original Sunrise proposal, not what was approved at 380.  The use will be primarily for Alzheimer’s  care (two of the three residential floors).  The first floor will be primarily the lobby for the assisted living, with a small captive cafe at one corner that will serve residents of the facility and the general public.

So, after the 380 Maple West building received final approval under MAC, there’s now a different developer, different use, different appearance, and different (as in essentially no) retail space.   And yet, it’s kind-of sort-of pre-approved as it stands.  The new building will have to go through all four of the Town’s boards (BZA, PC, BAR, and TC) for the appropriate rubber stamps, but not as an original project.  These changes are but mere modifications of the original proposal.

Betcha didn’t think that could happen under MAC zoning, did ya?

The presence of no fewer than six Town of Vienna bigwigs at that meeting (four Town Council members, chair of one board/commission, Town Attorney) was a pretty strong signal that Town government wants this to proceed.  Presumably this will solve a potential $30M problem for the Town.

There seems to be uniform agreement that the assisted living facility — particularly if it is primarily a memory care (dementia care) facility — will generate less additional traffic than the prior planned use.  So that’s a plus for the neighbors.  I also think they’re providing a path through the building so that trucks won’t have to turn around in Wade Hampton.  Also a plus.  But it’s still a very large building, by Town of Vienna standards, directly adjacent to a residential area.

Oh, and the transformer for the underground utilities is at the back of the lot, not in the middle of the sidewalk.  People were primed to go looking for that.

The opera ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings

Kensington who?  Near as I can tell, everybody (for now) is just tossing Kensington Assisted Living down the memory hole.  Kensington had started on plans to build an assisted living on the former BB&T bank lot, more-or-less directly across the street from 380 Maple West.  They had surveyed the neighbors, they had asked the Town to vacate an alley right-of-way at the back of the lot, and so on.

Not clear what’s going to happen there.  To me, twin assisted living facilities would be no weirder than a combination fast-food-car-wash.  Maybe they’ll build there anyway once the MAC moratorium is lifted.

Have we learned our lesson yet, or not?  A colleague has pointed out to me that maybe we’re assuming facts not in evidence.  What’s the biggest lesson here?  It’s that the developer can do a complete switcheroo.  And so, what’s to stop them from doing a second switcheroo?  And by that I mean that, sure, Sunrise did the dog-and-pony show.  They’ve drafted up a new concept for the building.  But, has the contingent contract been signed?  Has the land been sold?  Is the developer still playing Kensington off against Sunrise, to get the highest bid?   If not, why not?

I don’t now.  You don’t know.  Bet the Town doesn’t know.  Wonder if the Town is doing this, thinking they’ll be shed of the Sunrise lawsuit.  Talking up what a wonderful thing it will be to have an assisted living in Vienna, and so on.  Only to find that, at the end of the day, they got Kensington not Sunrise?

I guess we can only wait and see.  At this point, assuming we’ve now learned our lesson, it would be hard to be surprised about any new developments.