This Sunday’s Events…Everyone Rides Metro It Seems…

Since Town staff and elected leaders are receiving e-mails and questions about the August 12 rally downtown, I thought I would post general version of my personal response to these messages.
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The Town of Vienna is very much aware the event planned for Sunday evening in Lafayette Park and that rally participants and counter demonstrators may be planning to travel downtown using Metro from the Vienna station. The Vienna Police Department has already been coordinating with regional law enforcement partners and emergency management organizations with regard to the event as well as keeping the elected leaders informed (myself included).  Information is posted to the Town’s website and social media accounts.

Because of the close proximity of the Vienna Metro Station to the Town of Vienna limits, the Vienna Police Department will be increasing staffing levels throughout the weekend to so that Town residents are not adversely impacted in their daily activities and to address any potential spillover issues. Metro has also posted information about service this weekend. The Town will continue to closely monitor events and will update safety-related information and links to resources as they become available. I would also suggest that, if you have not already done so, to sign up for Vienna Alerts which provides text messages on important Town-related safety information.

While any community can be reflective and learn, I fully believe that our Vienna community respects and values all people.  I especially see this with our young people. While as abhorrent as I personally find this group’s positions and others whose main purpose is to incite violence, I do support anyone’s right to peacefully assemble and voice their opinions while acting within the law.  I also support community members’ right to peacefully protest in response to this group’s activities and would ask that you be mindful of your personal safety as well.   However, as a Town government, necessarily Vienna must remain neutral and committed to protecting the safety and constitutional rights of all citizens, visitors, and rally participants equally.

And, So… Here We Are, Again… MAC Redux #2

Brian Trompeter of the Sun Gazette is doing a follow-up story on the MAC ordinance with the impetus being the standing room only July 9th public hearing on the proposed 444 Maple Avenue West project. He was planning to contact all Council members, plus some other town officials and residents, to get their views on if and how the MAC ordinance needs to be modified. He provided the questions below and I have appended my full responses to him in this blog post.

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UPON VIEWING THE VIDEO OF THE MEETING (I KNOW YOU WERE ON VACATION), WERE YOU SURPRISED BY THE AMOUNT OF OPPOSITION TO THE LATEST MAC PROPOSAL? 

Given the key location in Town of the proposed development it is not surprising that our community would be engaged about the developer’s application. I have been impressed by the number of people who have prepared thoughtful comments from reviewing the application materials rather than relying on word of mouth opinion or conjecture.

DID ANY OF THE CRITICISMS OF THE PROPOSAL OR THE MAC ORDINANCE STRIKE HOME WITH YOU?

The Mayor had appointed early this spring an ad hoc committee to review the MAC code which was  already reviewing an number of different issues as the community starting expressing its opinions.  The community perspective reinforced that we were examining an appropriate set of topics that have led to proposed amendments that have been referred to the Planning Commission. These topics include further clarification to purpose and intent of MAC, housing density relative to mixed use residential/commercial development, and a number of provisions related to open space, massing, and appearance of buildings.  Additionally, staff has begun work on MAC Design Guidelines which were originally envisioned to be a companion document to be prepared contemporaneously once MAC was passed in 2014.

HOW MUCH, IF AT ALL, SHOULD INCENTIVES OFFERED TO DEVELOPERS IN THE MAC ZONE BE SCALED BACK TO PREVENT A WHOLESALE, MASSIVE TRANSFORMATION OF MAPLE AVENUE? 

The key point about the use of incentives is for the Town to get things we want in return for giving something of value to a potential developer.  With the current proposed amendments to the MAC, some of those incentives are scaled-up, for example open space from 10% to 15%. Since the MAC is viewed as living document, looking at incentives is part of the process.

Properties will transform over time along Maple Avenue whether under by-right zoning or under a MAC rezoning.  At the time MAC was developed there was a review of the potential development opportunities along Maple Avenue. Due to various condominium arrangements and restrictive lot covenants the total number of potential sites cited in the Comprehensive Plan is 67%  of the corridor over time depending on how recently a property has been updated and the intent of the property owner.  Today there are as many (if not more) by-right applications along Maple Avenue as MAC applications.

THE MAC ORDINANCE TOOK YEARS TO CRAFT. DID TOWN OFFICIALS PAY SUFFICIENT ATTENTION TO THE PUBLIC’S EXPRESSED DESIRE TO KEEP THE COMMUNITY SMALL OR TO THE POTENTIAL INFRASTRUCTURE BURDEN ON SCHOOLS, PUBLIC SAFETY, PARKS, LOCAL ROADS AND STORMWATER-MANAGEMENT FACILITIES? 

I believe that through MAC code development process we did; given the conditions at the time four to six years ago and the 21 meetings/work sessions/hearings that were open to the public (at least the work the Maple Avenue Vision Steering Committee, staff and the consulting team did).  The MAC was developed using relevant national and Virginia best practices. The steering committee was not only consisted of members of the public, business community, and various Town commissions with purview but also staff providing input on all of these issues as well as the incentives being targeted for the prospective developer to propose those items as part of their proffer package. The code section was designed from the outset to be living document to be updated periodically as conditions evolved or new information was available.

HOW MUCH MORE INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT WILL BE NEEDED IF SEVERAL MAJOR MAC PROJECTS COME ONLINE, ESPECIALLY AT THE GIANT SHOPPING CENTER PROPERTY? WILL TOWN TAXES WILL HAVE TO RISE TO MEET THAT BURDEN OR CAN MOST OR ALL OF IT BE COVERED BY DEVELOPERS’ CONTRIBUTIONS?

I won’t speculate on what nature of each individual prospective Maple Avenue development might be or what specific impact it could hypothetically create.  Will there be needs to be addressed, likely. Part of the goal with engaging with prospective developers about proffers is to identify resources to address impacts of site development.  Additionally, the Town does have an existing robust Capital Improvement Program funded bonds supported thru the 3% meals tax. I do not foresee, at this point, a change to our approach to the program as more modern, upgraded systems will be a benefit to both residential and business development in the future.

WHAT STEPS SHOULD TOWN OFFICIALS TAKE IF THE GOAL IS TO GAIN MORE PUBLIC BUY-IN ON THE MAC ORDINANCE WHILE STILL ENCOURAGING PROPERTY OWNERS TO REDEVELOP?

All Town Meetings for proposed actions are open, the public is always welcome to present information at public hearings before the Planning Commission, Board of Architectural Review and Town Council.  And, as always, community members are always welcome to engage with their elected and appointed representatives to the these bodies.

Another important point with developments that proposed under MAC is that there IS NECESSARILY public engagement and public hearings before three government bodies.  On the other hand, a commercial three story by-right development that conforms to all site plan and stormwater management requirements would be approved as an administrative action by staff with no requirement public input.

WHAT, IF ANYTHING, WILL HAPPEN TO THE TOWN IF MAC REDEVELOPMENTS ARE SCALED WAY BACK OR NOT DONE AT ALL? 

If we, as a community, think 1960’s/1970’s style auto-centric strip commercial buildings define a wonderful small town…then the short answer is…nothing.  But…what, really, does that lead to?  Stagnation…failure…loss…  There are plenty of examples and none of us want that!

Do we want Maple Avenue to be a vibrant pedestrian-oriented place that is a destination rather than a cut thru? Do we want to create opportunities for new businesses, new housing options, public spaces, leading environmental design, safe and barrier free places?  Do we want to be a small-town as a distinctive place in Northern Virginia in face of development in Falls Church, Mosaic and Tysons Corner?  To do those things requires informed strategies for smart growth and development, that is the goal and aspiration of the MAC code…and as we have learned some of the technical wording may need to be improved, but what we heard through the Maple Avenue Vision process that the steering committee shepherded was what is stated in the purpose and intent statement of the MAC:

The purpose of the Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) Zone is to encourage compact, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use development and redevelopment along the Maple Avenue corridor to reinforce Maple Avenue’s role as the Town’s main street. The zone is intended to ensure that development along the corridor promotes Vienna’s small-town character and does not compromise the character of residential neighborhoods abutting the corridor. More specifically, the MAC Zone is intended to:

  1. Encourage compact, pedestrian-oriented development along Maple Avenue East and West that collectively accommodates residents, visitors, and businesses;
  2. Encourage a pedestrian-friendly, human-scale design of streets, buildings, and open spaces;
  3. Foster mixed-use and destination-style retail development along Maple Avenue East and West;
  4. Promote a variety of housing options in the Town;
  5. Enhance the Town’s economic vitality by promoting the preservation and creation a variety of business establishments, including restaurants, services, small and locally-owned businesses, and other uses which contribute to the vitality of Maple Avenue East and West;
  6. Maintain and promote eclectic character and visual interest of building design and site configuration by encouraging a variety of building heights, density, and building mass consistent with Vienna’s small-town character and compatible with surrounding residential neighborhoods;
  7. Provide for a high quality of development along Maple Avenue East and West; and
  8. Improve environmental quality and promote responsible development practices along Maple Avenue East and West;
  9. Encourage the creation of publicly-accessible community gathering spaces, such as parks, plazas, and other open spaces;
  10. Encourage the incorporation of art in sites and buildings through a variety of design elements, natural features, installations and displays in highly visible and publicly accessible locations;
  11. Foster a built environment that is comfortable, safe, accessible, barrier-free and convenient to residents and visitors of all ages and abilities.

 

 

Stopping Them from Getting Away with Murder… Tree Edition

Paraphrasing…

Why do you let developers commit wholesale murder of trees? Much of this destruction is totally unnecessary. The town should have better oversight over tree protection on tear-down sites…

I agree…

A challenge the Town has (or an local jurisdiction in the state) is that we cannot exceed the explicitly delegated authority from the state of Virginia (this is unlike Maryland, DC or other states). This plays out in many ways, land use, zoning, etc. but I will address tree canopy issue with this response. The state code states that a development must have 20% tree canopy within 20 years. The Town has be working with our state legislators (Keem and Peterson) to move that to 20% tree canopy in 10 years…and it has been repeated killed in legislative committees. Also, there is no delegated authority for significant tree preservation like DC has…another topic DOA in Richmond.

What has the Town done…well we have NOT thrown up our arms about it. A number of members of the Town’s Community Enhancement Commission (CEC) with experience in the field working with the Town arborist rewrote the planting list for trees/shrubs and their growth rates over time in the context of various best practices. So, what did this do…it effectively means that to get to the 20%/20 years requirement builders need to plant or save more.

What else…The Town arborist reviews all the site plans for new development and road projects. Where there are trees that are unlikely to survive construction due to impact on the root zone or diseased they are allowed to be removed…others are marked to be saved. (for the Follin Lane project I walked my frontage with Town staff and discussed trees, embankment slope and sidewalk location to save trees, this was well prior to my current role with the Town). The are other cases where lot regrading due to low lying ground will kill the root systems (Mashie Dr./Maple Ave. is an example). Proposed planting plan and schedule in the site plan has to be approved by the Town arborist.

In addition, the Town has street tree planting plan that they work thru and provide to developers for their frontages that put ornamental trees under the power lines and canopy trees elsewhere, so there aren’t trees hacked up by the power company. Lastly, the CEC has on-going education efforts about native plants and invasive species and sponsors work days at Town parks to remove invasives.

We can always improve inspections and other elements, so if you see anything that seems amiss on a development site, please report it… that Town’s app is great because you can include a picture and it goes directly into the tracking system (see here for download).

Some Q&A Thoughts, Part 2

[BACKGROUND: The Northeast Vienna Citizens Association asked all candidates four questions for their newsletter. Below is an my response to their questions]

The last town wide traffic calming study was done in 2008.  With all the new developments proposed for Town, how do you believe the Town should deal with all the additional traffic issues that will certainly follow? Should the town be more proactive in traffic control, initiate a new study, and consider new technologies as they develop to move traffic through Town more efficiently?

Our traffic calming program is driven by safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers.  We do need to update the Town’s Guide to Traffic Calming to reflect more recent practices and available solutions.  Vienna should develop town-specific street standards to size streets for adjacent land uses (see the new street typology added to 2015 update to the Comprehensive Plan) that are distinct from VDOT residential street standards. We should incorporate traffic calming design into roadway reconstruction projects. The Town has already installed rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFB’s) on Beulah Road which have just recently been reauthorized for use. Further, the Town has allocated funds to purchase active speed feedback signs and is beginning to design a centrally controlled traffic-responsive traffic signal system.

Included in the Parks and Recreation mission statement is a commitment to “maintain 13 parks and numerous trails and stream valleys” in Town.  Many times our streams need extra help during the year besides the town-wide clean ups.  How would you encourage Parks and Recreation to do more clean-ups on a needed time frame.

The first step is to identify and notify the Town that help for a particular location is needed.  In addition to calling, recently the Town has launched a service request web portal (https://help.viennava.gov/TIMPublicLive/TIMPortal/ , also as an iPhone or Android app) where citizens can report a wide range of issues including those with our streams.  The next step is to determine the type of response whether by Town staff for immediate or high risk situations, or something that can be planned and incorporate community members.  An idea I will be exploring with our parks and recreation director this coming year is an “Adopt a Stream” program that could potentially provide more frequent opportunities.

Some Q&A Thoughts, Part 1

[BACKGROUND: The Northeast Vienna Citizens Association asked all candidates four questions for their newsletter. Below is an my response to their questions]

This year the Town staff and the Planning Commission will begin the process of updating the Comprehensive Plan for 2020, an ideal time to begin analysis of the Mill Street / Dominion Road Light Industrial /Commercial Corridor.  Do you support public meeting(s) to bring together residents and businesses in the area to discuss its future.

The development process for the Comprehensive Plan makes extensive use of public Planning Commission subcommittee meetings as well as Planning Commission and Town Council work sessions and public hearings prior to adoption.  Our community is looking forward on a variety of issues and areas where the Comprehensive Plan update would benefit from focused meetings as part of the overall process. This includes subjects such as sustainability/environment, transportation, economic development, and business formation/retention. In addition, commercial areas such as Maple Avenue, Church Street, Cedar Lane Shopping Center as well as the commercial/light industrial area along Mill

Street/Dominion Road would benefit from additional conversations.  The goal of the Comprehensive Plan process is to develop a five year plan for the community with input from business, residents and property owners expressed as goals and measurable objectives that focuses the annual budget and Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

What is your position on the Town granting variances on projects where the Town will be part owner and therefore a beneficiary of the variance?

Many communities throughout the state have projects for their own public buildings that move through local planning process which include requests for site plan modifications, conditional uses, rezoning, and other changes. The process requires the recommendation of the Planning Commission, potential action of the Board of Zoning Appeals, and an affirmative action by the Town’s Council. Vienna  is not unique in this matter. The recently opened Vienna Community Center included site plan modifications for minimum side yard, open space, parking space size and the number of parking spaces.  The interest of the community is protected by an open process of public meetings and public hearings where citizens can express their position and provide input to the process.

 

Follin Lane…Update from DPW

Friday at close of business I received the following update and two week look ahead from Mike Gallagher, the Deputy Public Works Director:

Week of May 9th

  • Mon. May 9  –  Grade and compact street and sidewalk subgrade, backfill sidewalk, pour sidewalks and curbs
  •  Tue.  May 10 – Grade and compact street and sidewalks subgrade, backfill curbs, reinstall signs, place topsoil
  •  Wed. May 11 – Manipulate and place cement in subgrade*, place topsoil, re-install signs, place 6” base paving in slot closest to NFCU
  • Thur. May 12 – Manipulate and place cement in subgrade*, place topsoil, reinstall signs, Look to start 6 inch stone street base
  •  Friday May 13 – Finish Manipulation if needed, place stone street base,
  • Sat. May 14 –  Work if we lose day due to Rain

Note: From personal observation street grading is working between Hine and the townhouses near Maple as of Saturday May 7. Sidewalk area is cleared and the stone base being placed from both ends of the project.  My understanding is that adding cement to the subgrade is to stabilize the clay soil and necessary for the road to not deteriorate too quickly.

Week of May 16th

  • Mon. May 16 – Place 6 inch street stone base, topsoil, look to place sod
  •  Tue. May 17 –  Place 6 inch Street stone base, place sod, start fine grade stone base
  •  Wed. May 18 – Finish 6 inch Street stone base and continue Stone fine grade, place sod, get ready for storm and water work on Echols and detour needed
  •  Thur.  May 19 – Complete fine grade stone, start 4 inch base asphalt , place sod
  •  Fri May 20 – Complete 4 inch base asphalt, get ready for storm and water relocate on Echols and detour needed

May 23rd and beyond
The Deputy Public Works Director provided the following summary of work beyond May 23rd toward completion of the entire project, “…there is some storm drain work and water relocation to be done on Echols Street. This will be done while traffic is open on Follin Lane, with Echols closed between Follin and Mashie during the days and re-opened at night. This will require temporary daytime detours for about a week. Then the intersection of Follin and Echols will be re-built and which will require the complete closure of the intersection completely for about one week. 24 hour detours around the intersection will be required.  As we get closer to this work being scheduled, notices will be sent to surrounding community.  Last, the final surface pavement will be laid with Follin lane open using flagging operations and appropriate  traffic control.”

Thank you! ! !

Thank you for your support today! As a result, I will be serving our community as a council member for the next two years effective July 1.  Congratulations to Linda Colbert and Pasha Majdi for being reelected to Town Council and to  Laurie DiRocco for winning another term as mayor. I look forward to working with you in the coming years for the benefit of Vienna. I would also like to thank Craig Burns and Roy Baldwin for a race well run.  I believe  a number the issues they raised during the course of the campaign resonated with voters and I would like to seek solutions to them for the benefit our community.

Maple Avenue Zoning Amendments…What They Are, What They Aren’t

…please don’t let me be misunderstood.

the Animals

Will things develop faster or slower due the Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) Zoning Amendments?  Really, only the market will determine the pace of development. That market is already being significantly rearranged due to the Tysons redevelopment.

So the important conversation is about how the Town of Vienna will control development. What can we do?  Here are some important points to consider about the Town’s commercial zoning:

Existing Commercial Zoning

If a developer submits an application that conforms to the Vienna’s existing zoning and site plan requirements and does not require a variance or conditional use permit the development is termed by right. Vienna’s existing commercial zoning (C-1, C-1A, C-1B and C-2) permits by right a wide variety of business-related land uses, including: product sales; home installation services; offices, recreation, repairing, manufacturing, processing or assembly businesses, restaurants;  and apartments.  There are other uses that are conditional or require a use permit subject to approval like motels, drive thrus, medical facilities, animals hospitals, etc.

There are a number of minimum requirements to be conforming:

  • 15 foot front yard setback to building
  • 0 foot setback side yard
  • 10 foot rear yard set back to building
  • 35 foot height limit (effectively 3 floors)
  • Rental apartments on 2nd or 3rd floor only but cannot exceed 50% of square footage.
  • Entire operation of the business or activity shall be conducted wholly within an enclosed building.

Town council and planning commission have no say in a proposed commercial development submission as long as it conforms to existing commercial zoning regulations and site plan requirements. Reviews are handled at the staff level.  There is no public hearing requirement. Board of Architecture Review has limited review against basic architectural standards.

MAC Zoning, What It Does

It provides the Town control, first and foremost

Requires rezoning and site plan:

  • Board of Architecture Review at initial design phase against standards and the final architectural design
  • Planning Commission review/recommendation to Council approval
  • Town Council review/approval or rejection

Sets specific requirements for:

  • Front and side yards
  • Height limit w/ specification related to roof peaks
  • Parking and loading minimums and location
  • Pedestrian pathways
  • Bicycle parking
  • Sidewalk zones
  • Tree coverage in parking lots
  • 10% open space set aside
  • Site configuration
  • Roof forms, overhangs and parapets
  • Neighborhood compatibility protections in setback distance and height, screening walls
  • Building facades and architecture (transparency and materials)
  • Lighting

It creates the opportunity for different types of development than existing commercial zoning, including mixed-use residential condominium/retail spaces.

Incentivizes things that the Town desires:

  • Green building certification
  • Water conservation and quality
  • Closing driveways (which reduces traffic congestion)
  • Public art
  • Commercial recycling
  • Public parking and shared parking
  • Transit and bicycle amenities

Provides an applicant one extra floor of development to four floors (54 feet, 62 feet  including mechanical systems).  For this, the Town receives many things it desires to retain the small town atmosphere many people in our community talk about. MAC Zoning also gives the Town something more important… the ability to say, “No.” For a comparison of commercial by-right zoning to the Maple Avenue Commercial Zoning see this presentation.

MAC Zoning, What It Isn’t

Unlike the existing commercial zoning, MAC Zoning does not allow a developer carte blanche to do whatever they want; to build to whatever architecture that suits them.

The MAC zoning amendments were not created in the dark, it was not a closed process.  It was created through a series of public meetings over two years of Maple Avenue Vision Steering Committee representing all facets of the Towns boards, commissions, businesses and residents supporting by Town staff and an external consultant (Elisabeth Lardner who designed the Town Green).  The group worked  through many different versions and variations to reach consensus on the complex planning and zoning issues addressed in the amendments.  All of which is documented here.

The resulting Maple Avenue Commercial Zoning Regulations were proposed to Planning Commission and recommended to the Council which passed them after a public hearings before each.

 

Why Can’t We Make Them Stop?

[BACKGROUND: The Northeast Vienna Citizens Association asked all candidates ten questions as part of the Candidate Forum on April 21st. Below is a narrative version my response to this question.]

This may be a question for the police. I never see bike riders stop when crossing Church Street on the bike path. What can be done? Also too many motorist do not stop at stop signs all over Town. With more density and cars, is it time to consider “stop sign cameras”?   If not, what pro-active measures would you recommend besides police patrols, since they cannot be everywhere?

Traffic safety is made of four legs of a stool:

  • Education
  • Enforcement
  • Engineering
  • Emergency response

Safety is a community and collaborative effort, so for all the items mentioned below assume that baseline of facilitation and consensus building.

For bicyclists, education of young riders is available through programs offered by the Vienna Police, elementary schools, bicycle shops and bicycle organizations like Washington Area Bicyclists Association.  Adult riders education is primarily through the last two groups.  Much of this already occurring but it is always helpful to increase collaboration. (Note that all drivers need to on-going education and reinforcement as well)

Police enforcement should be part of comprehensive plan focusing on safety and where the highest risks exist whether with bicyclists, pedestrians or drivers. Where there are significant conflict points like the W&OD / Church Street crossing, I would expect that would be of high importance.

Stop sign cameras are not currently allowed in Virginia (at least in my review).  The state does explicitly allow “traffic light signal violation monitoring systems” aka red light cameras (§ 15.2-968.1. Code of Virginia) but this is only for signalized intersections.

Engineering covers such a wide range of topics it could be several posts by itself, so I will just hit some highlights where Town staff can be creative but still be within accepted engineering practice:

  • Different sign and pavement marking treatments on trails approaching intersections. This can be applied really any intersection.
  • Roadway design features as part of our traffic calming program such as road narrowing, raise intersections, etc. have been demonstrated being effective in making streets safer

One other item I want to mention, is the Streets subsection of updated Comprehensive Plan that I drafted on behalf of the Transportation Committee of the Planning Commission.  This subsection introduces the concept of connecting street design to adjacent land uses. (I will post more on the Comprehensive Plan separately.)  This is important and different because it defines streets based on the use people make of them rather than simply a place for traffic.

In closing, I should mention the last item, emergency response.  When, in the unfortunate case a crash occurs, the time for emergency medical services to be on scene to provide treatment and move any injured people to hospitals for advanced treatment is of paramount important in survivability.