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Following objections over design modifications at the Vienna Market mixed-use redevelopment project, Vienna Town Council members on Nov. 4 unanimously approved architectural changes that will enhance the rear façades of four units.

The controversy began this spring when town officials and adjacent homeowners objected to the applicants’ proposed exterior designs for the project’s buildings, saying they differed substantially – and were inferior to – plans submitted at the time of the project’s approval last May.

After a summer of Board of Architectural Review (BAR) meetings,  the board on Sept. 19 approved revised designs for the project. But  adjacent  residents Charles and Laura Anderson filed an appeal, objecting that the revised designs would use different materials for the front- and rear-facing façades.

After subsequent negotiations and a Nov. 1 BAR work session, the applicants – NV Homes and Northfield Investment and Development – agreed to modify the rear façades of four units (Nos. 1, 13, 28 and 29) that are parallel to Pleasant Street and the Bank of America property facing Market Square.

The applicants offered to include brick on the rear façades “up to the sill between the second and first floor for the entirety of the row, using the same brick schemes used on the front of each individual townhome,” BAR chairman Paul Layer wrote in a Nov. 2 e-mail to the Council.

Council member Pasha Majdi was pleased by the final outcome.

“This appeal was not just about bricks or materials,” he said at the meeting and in a subsequent press release. “It wasn’t about cutting a deal with neighbors. The decision established that the phrase ‘public view’ applies to the front and back of commercial buildings. The decision clarifies a muddled section of the [Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zoning code] by establishing that facades visible from any public street are including in the definition of ‘public view.’ The effects of this decision will have a major impact on future development throughout the town.”

Council member Nisha Patel said the final resolution showed the value of having developers reach out to the public.

“This is a great win-win,” she said.

“I think this makes for a better project, so thank you all,” agreed Mayor Laurie DiRocco.

The project has traveled a rather bumpy road since it first came before the Council three years ago.

Council members in June 2016 voted 5-2 in favor of the initial proposal, which called for 49 townhouse-style condominiums atop 28,000 square feet of retail space and a 105-space underground parking garage at 245 Maple Ave., W., and 101, 107 and 115 Pleasant St., N.W.

But the proposal was defeated because the Council’s vote did not meet a six-vote super-majority necessitated by a protest petition filed by some surrounding property owners. The Council later tightened up requirements for protest petitions, lowering the super-majority vote threshold to five.

Council members in May 2018 approved a revised, slightly smaller Vienna Market proposal, featuring 44 townhouse-style condominiums, 8,200 square feet of retail space and a 32-space underground parking garage to serve the retail stores. It was the second project approved by the Council under the MAC ordinance.

Trouble cropped up again for the development on Oct. 14, 2018, when arsonists destroyed the former Marco Polo Restaurant building on the nearly 2-acre site. Vienna and Fairfax County police later arrested a 14-year-old Vienna-area boy and 13-year-old Reston boy for the crime.

Town officials became vexed after months passed by and the property owner still had not demolished the charred building’s remains. After intimations from Vienna officials last December that the town might tear down the building and bill the property owner, the developer had the structure demolished.

The property’s current owners bought the site in April, and the project now is in the early construction phases.

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