Vienna Town Council members wary of mezzanine proposals

W. This rendering shows a mixed-use building that Red Investment LLC and MJW Maple Ave LLC want to build at 380 Maple Ave., W., in Vienna.

Just when the controversial redevelopment project at 374-380 Maple Ave., W., appeared to have cleared its final hurdle, the applicants have returned with an intriguing idea: Why not sell the site to an assisted-living company and solve some of neighbors’ concerns about the project.

The Vienna Town Council on June 17 voted 5-2 to allow Red Investment LLC and MJW Maple LLC to build a four-story building at the site that would have ground-floor retail and three floors of condominiums above, with a maximum of 37 units.

The Council at its July 15 meeting briefly flirted with the idea of rescinding the decision, but scuttled the proposal after numerous community residents and business owners testified that doing so would harm the town’s reputation and expose it to legal action.

Speaking on behalf of the applicants at the Town Council’s Sept. 9 work session, developer Dennis Rice said the builders had been approached by “a couple of assisted-living companies” – he would not say which – about possibly buying the property.

“We think it could be a win-win,” said Rice, who noted that doing so would result in less traffic along Wade Hampton Drive, S.W., and fewer new students added to the local school system.

According to Rice, an assisted-living use would:

• Allow the building’s fourth floor to be stepped back to 127 feet from the rear property line, an additional 15 feet from what the Council approved. Doing so would address concerns expressed by adjacent residents, Rice said.

• Permit the elimination of one of four driveway entrances along Wade Hampton Drive, S.W., which likely would allow for about two more on-street parking spaces.

• Remove balconies from the building.

• Shift the building’s main entrance from Wade Hampton Drive, S.W., to Maple Avenue, W. An interior loop through the building could allow delivery drivers to enter from Wade Hampton, drop off their cargo and continue out onto Maple Avenue, Rice said. The driveway would be designed for ingress and egress by emergency vehicles, he said.

Assisted-living companies could tell their employees to make only right turns onto Maple Avenue – something that would be considerably harder to enforce with individual condominium owners, Rice said.

The developers have told the interested parties that the building’s approved maximum height of 54 feet is non-negotiable, Rice said.

The site’s 118 approved parking spaces would be more than sufficient for an assisted-living facility, where companies often have no-cars policies for residents, Rice said.

As for the building’s ground-floor commercial area, Rice suggested a cafe serving residents, employees and the public would be a suitable use.

Assisted-living facilities are conditional uses under the town code and would require a recommendation from the Vienna Planning Commission and a decision from the town’s Board of Zoning Appeals, said Town Attorney Steven Briglia. In addition, the Town Council likely would have to approve a proffer amendment following a public hearing, he said.

If the building’s new owner wished to make architectural changes, these would have to be considered by the Vienna Board of Architectural Review, Rice added.

Council member Pasha Majdi said that because town code does not have specific parking requirements for assisted-living sites and those facilities are commercial uses, such a facility would have to provide the standard commercial rate of one space per 200 square feet of building.

Town planning staff said doing so would require the building’s owner to provide 375 spaces. Most jurisdictions calculate parking requirements for assisted-living based on the number of beds and employees, said Deputy Planning and Zoning Director Michael D’Orazio.

The closest parking standard for such facilities would be that applied to hospitals, which must provide one space per 800 square feet of building, said Planning and Zoning Director Cindy Petkac.

The next step will be up to the applicants on whether to sell the site for an assisted-living facility, build the currently approved mixed-use project or construct a by-right building on the site. Rice did not provide any details on what that third option might entail.

Mayor Laurie DiRocco said she liked the approved condominium project, but also was fine with the assisted-living option, which would provide more parking than a similar proposal by Sunrise Development Inc. that the Council torpedoed on June 17.

Council member Linda Colbert also was upbeat about the possibility of an assisted-living site.

“I see a lot of advantages of having this facility in town,” she said. “We have to go into this smart and with our eyes wide open.”

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