Vienna’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR) will need at least one more work session, followed by a vote at a regular meeting, before it signs off on designs presented by the developer of the Vienna Market mixed-use project.
BAR members at a May 24 work session said they’re still unhappy with design concepts put forth by the builder, saying they differ markedly from versions previously approved by the BAR and Vienna Town Council.
The Council in May 2018 approved the project, which will build 44 townhouse-style condominiums, 8,200 square feet of retail space and a 32-space underground parking garage to serve the retail stores. The project will occupy nearly 2 acres at 245 Maple Ave., W., and 101, 107 and 115 Pleasant St., N.W.
Northfield Investment and Development of Bethesda on April 17 acquired the site’s three parcels for $11.7 million. The next day, BAR members deferred their decision on the project’s plans, citing what they said were drastic changes since the development’s approval last year.
Residents who spoke at that meeting said the new plans eliminated rounded bays, featured single windows broken into multiple units and omitted scalloping and iron detailing along Maple Avenue, W.
Speaking at the BAR’s May 24 work session, Bill Foliaco of the architectural firm Lessard Design showed revised plans in which the scalloping was restored and the condominiums’ brick bases had been rusticated to give more of a solid, masonry-like appearance. The plans also revised side elevations of some of the condominiums to provide more windows and brick rustication, he said.
“We’re trying to keep the building grand,” Foliaco said. “There’s a lot of articulation. We’ve added a lot more of that detailing back because at the eye level, the pedestrian level, we do want this to feel like it’s been here a while, not like it’s brand-new and someone just built it and doesn’t care about the character of where we’re putting it.”
But Foliaco stopped short of agreeing to the elaborate Dupont Circle-style detailing shown in the development’s initial renderings, saying it would be “hard to pull off” and “won’t come out the way we imagined it.”
BAR chairman Paul Layer agreed the new renderings were closer to what originally had been proposed, but added that the more wholesale changes needed to be addressed.
“The bottom picture [with the new design] to me looks rigid, square, normal and sterile,” agreed BAR member Michael Cheselka. “It’s just not acceptable on a major building on our main street in Vienna.”
(The developer did not have 3-dimensional renderings of the new designs. While such depictions are required during the rezoning process, they are not stipulated when permits are being sought, said town planner Andrea West.)
Foliaco said part of the problem was the initial renderings were hand-drawn, but more recent ones were executed on a computer.
“I think you lose some of the richness,” he said.
But BAR vice chairman Laine Hyde was having none of that. Hyde said she’d shown both sets of drawings to half a dozen people unaffiliated with town government and received a unanimous reaction: “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“It’s shockingly different,” she said, adding, “I’m just not seeing the detail, the variety of materials, the mix of stone. I’m just seeing sameness on all sides.”
Hyde especially was unhappy with the new designs along Pleasant Street, N.W., adding that this was the gateway to the town’s Windover Heights Historic District.
“The new [design] looks, in every way, much plainer to me,” agreed BAR member Roy Baldwin. “It lacks prestige.”
Even if the final result is not stylistically identical to what the Council approved before, the new design should be at least equivalent in quality, Layer said. The BAR also needs to see all the planning elevations in their entirety, not just in sections, he said.
“There’s a fundamental shift at the level of detail and articulation that we’d like you to move back toward,” Layer said. “We need to have it returned to the level of texture, articulation and richness . . . as it was originally proposed and recommended by us.”
The BAR will hold another work session regarding Vienna Market’s designs on June 14 at 8 a.m. at Vienna Town Hall.