#530: Our assets become our liabilities #5: Large tracts of land remaining in Vienna

Posted on February 20, 2020

In Post #526, I pointed out the absurdity of using eight acres of prime land in Vienna — in the middle of a residential neighborhood — for the Town’s leaf mulching activities.  Previously, I had written about the likely fate of the Parkwood school (Post #397), and had written up a few other local tracts of land in and around Vienna (in this post).

That got me to thinking:  Just how many significant tracts of land are left in the Town of Vienna?   Let me define that as pieces of land that are:

  • Not in the Maple Avenue or other retail /commercial zones
  • Three or more acres in extent (enough to make a small park, say), and
  • Privately held, with one owner.
  • Excluding Westwood Country Club and Navy Federal Credit Union (and associated buildings).

The point of this is to ask how many opportunities that Town might have to add to its inventory of parks.  Basically, if the Town is bound and determined to add thousands of new residents along Maple, what sort of opportunities might come up for the Town to buy some significant chunks of land for additional parks, to serve those additional residents?

With that rationale, I am ignoring the two largest tracts of privately-owned land in Vienna:  Westwood Country Club (157 acres) and the Navy Federal Credit Unit/FBI/Other industrial area (about 66 acres).  These are a) too large for the Town plausibly to purchase, and b) unlikely to be up for sale at any price the Town could possibly afford.

Another way to say it is, how rare is it for the Town to have the opportunity to buy a significant piece of land?  How nearly unique is an asset such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which sits at the end of my street.  How many chances to purchase land can the Town pass on before there are no more opportunities left?

To try to answer this, I did the simplest thing:  I looked at some maps, looking for large pieces of undivided land.  I scanned both Google Maps and the Fairfax County property tax maps. So I may have missed one or two, but I’m reasonably confident of the following answer:

The short answer is:  few.  There are only a handful of large pieces of land left in Vienna, and most of those are unlikely to go up for sale now or in near future decades.  So if one of these does come up for sale, it should be treated like the once-in-a-generation event that it is.

Here’s what I come up with, as my inventory.  Unsurprisingly, it consists almost entirely of tax-exempt land, both churches and non-profit corporations such as swim clubs.

I count fewer than a dozen such tracts.  Of these:

  • Seven are churches or church-related properties.
  • Two are swim clubs.
  • Two are schools.

It sure looks like the Town of Vienna remains committed to growth.  The Town government is in the process of redoing all the zoning, with funding from Fairfax County based on how much additional tax revenue the resulting additional development will create.  The Town now recently hired its first Economic Development manager.  And so on.  If there’s nothing we can do to dissuade the Town government from moving in that direction, maybe we can at least ask them to have some sort of plan to preserve some open space by having plans, in hand, for purchasing one or more of these, if they come up for sale.