Vienna is the only Northern Virginia locality without personnel expressly devoted to economic development, but that may change soon.
Vienna Town Council members, in a joint work session Dec. 3 with their Planning Commission counterparts, supported town staff’s proposal to hire a consultant (for about $100,000) who would develop an economic-development strategy and conduct a market study.
Town staff would seek a 50-percent financing match under Fairfax County’s Economic Development Support Fund, created by county supervisors in 2016. Town officials would bring their proposal to Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), who then would nominate it to the full Board of Supervisors.
Staff also proposed retaining a planning consultant to help update Vienna’s zoning and subdivision ordinances, many of which have been in place for decades. This would cost about $240,000 and town officials again would seek 50-percent county financing using a similar process.
Council members tentatively agreed to vote on both proposals at their Jan. 7 meeting.
Strategic economic development would lead to a more vital and engaging town and bolster Vienna’s commercial tax base, said Finance Director Marion Serfass. Or, as the proposal states, “The ultimate goal is for the town to understand how to assist businesses in locating and thriving in Vienna, to fill vacant properties, and to improve the ‘place’ that is the town of Vienna.”
According to the proposal, the project to create economic-development strategy would begin next May and last about six months. Its final report would identify niche markets and the potential location and components of “catalyst” projects, and provide marketing recommendations and an implementation strategy.
The market study would be undertaken in fiscal 2020 (which starts July 1 next year) and also take half a year. The study would analyze the town’s demographics, business inventory and economic climate; project how much development the town could absorb in the next five or 10 years; examine housing types and quantities needed in coming years; and include an action plan.
Vienna’s commercial-vacancy rate is 13 percent, Serfass said. Among the 1,095 commercial properties in town, as of October 138 were vacant and 68 of those were along Maple Avenue.
Vienna has about 3.5 million square feet of industrial and commercial space, which constitutes 10 percent of land uses in the town and breaks down as 60 percent office and professional space, 30 percent retail and 10 percent industrial.
Council and Planning Commission members urged that all commercial areas in town, not just ones along Maple Avenue and Church Street, be considered in the study. The light-industrial area between Dominion Road and Mill Street, N.E., has seen a resurgence in recent years and soon will be home to a four-story commercial condominium on Mill Street, the second floor of which will be used for municipal parking.
The owner of Cedar Park Shopping Center at Park Street and Cedar Lane, S.E., has proposed a makeover for that mall. Also in the southeast quadrant of town is an industrial park with Navy Federal Credit Union and the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center.
Council members asked town staff to find gentler phrasing for some of Vienna’s decades-old strip malls, which the draft proposal described as “unattractive and not supportive of modern retail concepts.” They also had staff members define the report’s term “SWOT,” which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
Council members reiterated concerns about redevelopment and zoning changes. Member Howard Springsteen worried several projects proposed under the town’s Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zoning ordinance were tilted strongly toward residential space instead of commercial. Colleague Pasha Majdi vowed to protect the town’s single-family residential neighborhoods.
The Council did not discuss the possibility that some Maple Avenue properties remain vacant because the owners hope to redevelop them as MAC projects.
Following controversy over Vienna Development Associates LLC’s now-approved proposal for a major mixed-use redevelopment at Maple Avenue, W., and Nutley Street, S.W., the Council this fall placed a moratorium on new MAC cases until June 17 next year so the town could modify the ordinance.
Two developers filed MAC applications before the moratorium took effect on Sept. 27, so those projects will be evaluated based on existing MAC rules.
Planning Commission member Mary McCullough supported revamping the town’s zoning ordinances.
“The town drastically needs to get its code up to date,” she told staff members. “It’s a good idea to ask for money. Thank you for what you guys have come up with.”