Post #458: The 11/13/2019 Planning Commission work session on Sunrise at 380 Maple West

Posted on November 14, 2019
380 Maple Ave W - Sunrise view of four sides

Source:  Plans posted by the Town of Vienna for the 11/8/2019 meeting of the Vienna BAR (.pdf), by Rust | Orling Architecture, Alexandria VA.

There is no doubt in my mind that when it comes time to vote, the Planning Commission will approve this building.

All the rest is commentary.  What follows is a handful of items that I thought might be worth noting.

Audio recording:  You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him use the microphone.  Nor can you make the blockheads in the back of the room shut up.  The result is that, at times, the guys yakking in the back were louder than the people we were actually trying to hear.  I’ve done my best to make my recording intelligible, and you can find it at this Google Drive link.  The Town’s much better audio should be available in a few days in the archives section of this Town of Vienna web page.

I did not bother to type up an “index” file for this.  I’ll try to note approximate times (hour:minute) in the recording for the items listed below.

Proposed schedule (approx 0:06). 

  • 12/11/2019:  PC, to ask the BZA to consider the required conditional use permit.
  • 12/18/2019:  BZA, to approve the conditional use permit
  • 12/19/2019:   BAR, to approve the exterior appearance, lighting, landscaping
  • 1/8/2020 (?):  PC, public hearing for approval of the overall functionality of the building and compliance with zoning rules.
  • 1/28/2019:  TC, public hearing to approve the rezoning.

PC = Planning Commission; BZA = Board of Zoning Appeals; BAR = Board of Architectural Review; TC = Town Council.

Then half a year, finalizing plans, getting Fairfax County building permits, and so construction would plausibly start in fall 2020.

Of these, the only one that might balk, in my opinion, is BAR, because they need to see a lot of detail to be satisfied.  In particular, the adjacent neighbors are worried about the lighting and the potential for considerable “light trespass”, so we’d like to see a lighting plan that addresses that.  That lighting plan will fall under the BAR’s purview.

Assisted living/memory care mix (approx 0:25).

The building will only be about one-third memory care (dementia care), and the rest will be standard assisted living.  I (and others) had incorrectly reported that this would be two-thirds memory care.  Two-thirds memory care would have resulted in less traffic to the building, as advanced dementia patients get fewer family visits, on average.  But I believe that  one-third is more consistent with disease prevalence in this population, and so makes a lot more sense.  (I.e., roughly a third of the overall assisted living market will be individuals with advanced dementias of various sorts.)

Glass and lighting (approx. 0:35 and other places).  Several commissioners noted that the back of the building has a lot of window area.  And this is the first point where the exterior light levels were raised.  (The idea being that, from the neighbor’s perspective, every bedroom window is a potential source of light.)  These issues were raised again later in the meeting.

Traffic and parking and such (approx 0:46 and at several points in the meeting).  There will be 80 parking spaces, 15 surface and the rest underground.  This seemed to be more than (e.g.) Fairfax County requires.  Because the parking appears adequate, they do not plan to have (e.g.) satellite parking for their workers, or valet (“stacked”) parking on special occasions, but they will consider both of those if the need arises.  Nor will they ban residents from having cars, although that is a rare occurrence in assisted living.

At approx 1:00, their engineer presented the projected traffic to and from the building. Unsurprisingly, it was substantially less than the condos and retail would have generated.  Per the ITI ratebook, it should generate no more traffic than the existing office building, if that office building were fully leased (which it is not).  The upshot of all that appeared to be a small increase in traffic, compared to current conditions (a partially-leased office building).

This is also the point where truck turns were discussed.  The question came up as to whether there would be garage doors at the garage openings, but that had not yet been decided.

There was also some discussion of things that the neighbors wanted, from no-left-turn signs coming out of the building, to a “pork chop” concrete island on the Wade Hampton exit to prevent left turns, to blocking off Wade Hampton where it meets Glen.  Sunrise appeared to be OK with the signs, was studying the pork chop, and said that road closure was out of their purview but that they had no objection.

Construction impacts, keeping the sidewalk open, noise and dust mitigation came up at some point in the second hour of the meeting.  There was a call to use various noise and dust abatement measures, and keep the sidewalks open, from Commissioner Patariou.  Commissioner Kenney suggested that it would be hard to keep the Maple Avenue sidewalk open, as they will be digging to within about 8′ of the curb.  One person attending (Sargeant?) suggested that the normal response to this would be to tell pedestrians to use the sidewalk on the other side of Maple.

Commentary:  I think a key issue here is kids walking to school, and for that, open sidewalks are vastly more important for 444 Maple West than for 380 Maple West.  See map below.  The lack of a Maple sidewalk at 380 Maple West (Black X) is an inconvenience for me (on Glen), but as far as I can tell, it presents no barrier to any school children trying to get to to (e.g.) Madison.  Those east of it can cross at the Pleasant Street HAWK light.  Those on Glen and further west are not obstructed by it.  And it has no impact on those south of Courthouse.

By contrast, if they shut the sidewalks for 444 Maple West (Red Xs), that’s going to be a real hassle for school children in the neighborhood bounded by Nutley, Maple, and Courthouse.  Instead of being able to walk toward Madison, they will then have the choice of walking away from Madison to the Pleasant Street HAWK light, or walking away from Madison to the Courthouse/Maple traffic light.  (Or, as likely, taking their chances by dodging across Nutley in the AM rush hour.)

Sidewalk issues and schools:  380 Maple West (Black X) and 444 Maple West (Red X):

Other stuff

Toward the very end of the meeting, one Commissioner called for Sunrise to provide a pedestrian’s-eye view of the front of the building.  At this point, everyone realizes that our brains misinterpret the typical 3D view given in these developer presentations (see Post #420).

As an aside, this was among several items that made me realize that I may not need to do this blog any more.  At some point, they’re getting it, and I’ve said all I have to say.  It’s a case of diminishing marginal returns.

One Commissioner made a point out of how little retail space was being provided.  But I can assure you that, from a traffic standpoint, they neighbors are just fine with minimal retail space.

One or two commissioners made sure that the transformers were going to be tucked away somewhere, in light of what happened with the Chick-fil-A-car-wash.  They are (or it is) going to be tucked away in a separate enclose on the rear lot line of the building.

The issue of putting the power lines underground came up, and I still don’t understand whether the proffers require that they do that or not.  They are written in a conditional format (if Dominion Power works with them), which, to me, doesn’t translate into a form commitment.

The emergency generator will be on the roof, which I think is optimal from the standpoint of noise in the neighborhood.  The entire back of the garage will be solid, ditto.  Commissioner Kenney asked if they’d be willing to put sound-absorbing materials on the inside of the rear garage wall, but Sunrise thought that would be unnecessary due to the interior-type finish they plan for the garage (i.e., it’s not going to be raw concrete, it’ll have finished ceiling and walls).

Green/solar.  They asked about green roof, and the reply was that the enlarged storm water planter covered their storm water requirements.  They were asked about solar (photoelectric panel) or solar-ready roof, and the reply was ambiguous.  Plausibly, they had not gotten that far in the planning yet.  FWIW, my best guess shows that solar panels have a very short payback period due to large decreases in cost in recent years.  If your cost/benefit analysis is even a couple of years old, it may be substantially incorrect.

Source:  National Renewable Energy Laboratories, Q1/Q2 2019 Solar Industry Update

Finally, as has been the norm of late, staff presentations, contractor presentations, and similar were not publicly posted ahead of the meeting.  At the end of this meeting, commissioners specifically asked that they be sent those materials.  So they will get those materials.  But not the public.  Which, again, seems to have become the norm.  But I’m pretty sure isn’t legal.  Let’s say I was unsurprised.  Which, in case you missed it, was the point of my just-prior post.

Honestly, I don’t understand why the various Town boards put up with that.  Why they allow staff to give them literally zero time to review materials prior to a meeting.  It’s disrespectful, it wastes their time, and to a very large degree it short-circuits thoughtful discussion.  As in, if a thought doesn’t occur to you, on the fly, as you are reading materials for the first time on the screen, then that’s tough.  It prevents various Town council members from engaging in thoughtful reflection prior to a meeting.  And it puts Town staff in the driver’s seat, not our elected and appointed officials.

If I had tried that, when I was staff to a federal legislative-branch commission, I would have been fired.  But of late, Town staff present this as if this is a normal way of doing business.  It’s not.