#533: How will the Patrick Henry Garage fit into the Maple Avenue cityscape?

Posted on February 26, 2020

This is just a quick calculation to see where the proposed three-floor Patrick Henry Garage would fit on the on the graph above.  And the answer is, until 444 Maple West gets built, the Town’s garage will be the second-largest building on Maple. (Or, given the uncertainties in the measurement, tied with the second-largest building.)

The only building that will be larger — by total enclosed volume — is the Giant Food shopping center.  And while that shopping center is one-story and sits almost 400′ off the road, the garage will be 25′ off the road.

So I’m not exaggerating when I say that we’re in the process of making a parking garage the centerpiece of the new Vienna downtown.  In the context of the current Vienna, A 220′ long three-story garage, sitting 25′ off Maple, is going to be noticeable. 

How does this fit in?

I posted that graph like the one above in an article I wrote back in July 2018.  So it was time to update that.  So I’ve added the existing Patrick Henry Library, and the proposed Patrick Henry Garage.

Let me point out just a few things about this proposed replacement for the Patrick Henry library.

First, this is going to stand out from the rest of Fairfax County’s libraries, and not in a good way. 

I claim there is no other Fairfax County library that’s built like the proposed Patrick Henry replacement.  That is, a library squatting under three levels of parking.  You can see photos of all 22 Fairfax County free-standing library facilities on this page.  In fact, the only one that I know of that even has a parking garage is Fairfax City, and there the garage is built into a hillside with the library sitting on top.

And yet, Fairfax County seems to be on board with this design. This is why I noted the comment made at the last Town Council meeting, by the representative of Fairfax County.  She expressed approval for a design with a library on the first floor of a multi-story parking garage.  Basically, she blessed some version of what you see pictured above.

One of the reasons my jaw dropped at that comment is that Fairfax spends an almost-unbelievable $1000 per square foot for new library construction, and routinely produces libraries that are architectural showpieces.  As noted in that reference, the $1000/square foot is is about three times what the Commonwealth expects a library to cost.  And, in all fairness, with that level of expense, Fairfax has produced some really nice buildings.  Light, airy buildings with unique designs.  Urban art, so to speak, like so:

Source:  Fairfax County website, pictures of Dolley Madison library.

A building like the one above looks like it might cost $1000/square foot.  By contrast, I think Fairfax is going to be hard-pressed to justify spending that much on what amounts to the ground level of a parking garage, for the proposed Patrick Henry building.  I mean, the requirement that you hold up three levels of parking places some fairly strong constraints on what you can do with the library itself.  So going in this direction not only represents a sharp break with a long history of showpiece architecture — as above — it sure as heck can’t cost the $1000/square foot that Fairfax is asking you to vote for in its forthcoming bond issue.

Second, this will stand out from the surrounding buildings on Maple Avenue.  So, let’s ask the question:  What’s the volume enclosed by the walls of the proposed Patrick Henry Garage, and where would that fit relative to the rest of Maple Avenue?  While we’re at it, let’s put the Sunrise facility on that graph.  Here, the proposed Patrick Henry Library, with three floors of parking, is in red.  The existing library is one of the little green bars on the left.

So this doesn’t exactly blend in with what’s on Maple now.  It’s going to be one of the largest structures.  One way or another, this is going to make a statement.

Finally, what I’m afraid of — in the context of a Town government that is rewriting all of its zoning — is that this remains somebody’s vision for the future of Maple Avenue.  As in, putting in a lot of much larger buildings, to match the scale of that garage.

I mean, let’s put this fully in context, with the Vienna that exists today.  People will typically walk no more than a quarter-mile from where they park their car.  So, at present, this garage has this service area shown below.

For the current Town of Vienna, we’re asking for more than $50K per parking space, to service a handful of currently under-parked businesses within this radius of the proposed garage. And, ever the economist, let’s be honest about what this does:  This improves the profitability of those businesses.

Right now, a couple of days a year (e.g., during Viva Vienna), a garage of that size would be fully utilized.  Otherwise, right now?  I challenge any and all to show me where the 188-car’s-worth of parking is missing from inside that quarter-mile circle.

So the only way I can make sense of this is forward-looking.  This garage is here to serve some presumed future parking need, where even more people travel down (four-lane) Maple Avenue, and need to park in the heart of Vienna.  Whatever this garage is being built for, it’s not being built to match Fairfax’s exceptional architectural standards for libraries, and it sure doesn’t seem to be built to match any plausible existing need for parking.