Vienna officials are clarifying what residents and business owners want to see in the town’s Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zone, but Town Council members indicated Feb. 25 indicated it likely will be fall before they approve changes to the ordinance governing the town’s main business area.
Developers who voluntarily redevelop properties along Maple Avenue between the town’s western border and East Street under the MAC guidelines receive additional building density in exchange for amenities and architectural features sought by town officials.
The Council enacted the MAC ordinance in 2014, approved one project in 2016 and two in 2018, the latter of which drew so much opposition from residents that Council members suspended consideration of further MAC applications until June 17 this year so the ordinance could be made more palatable to the public. (Two developers submitted applications before the moratorium took effect.)
Town officials began the MAC-reformation process last fall by taking the public’s pulse via a visual-preference survey. Residents rated a selection of photos of mixed-use buildings up to four stories tall from around the country and offered thoughts on how they wanted structures and amenities to look in the MAC zone.
Survey takers wanted buildings to be three or four stories tall, with varied heights to make them look as if they were constructed over time. They also desired landscaping, wide sidewalks, public amenities, gathering spaces and distinctive architectural flourishes, said Kelly O’Brien, the town’s principal planner.
When the town holds community workshops on the MAC March 29 and 30, planning staffers will add images of other amenities, such as bicycle facilities, that respondents desired but did not see in the building-focused survey.
The town received 1,064 verified survey responses, 397 of which also included comments. Of respondents who identified themselves by gender, 57 percent were male and 38 percent female, she said.
Queried on the gist of the residents’ comments, Vienna Planning and Zoning Director Cindy Petkac said she would prefer to let those remarks stand for themselves. Town officials made clear in the survey that they could not prescribe any one kind of architectural style in the MAC zone, she added.
The Council acceded to Petkac’s request that a joint work session between the Council, Planning Commission and Board of Architectural Review be moved from March 6 to March 20 because the Planning Commission had been forced to cancel another recent meeting owing to inclement weather.
Reiterating concerns expressed at the Council’s Feb. 11 work session, some members said no decision on MAC changes should occur before a traffic study of the Maple Avenue Corridor is finished.
Public Works Director Michael Gallagher will give the Council the briefings on that study April 1, June 10 and Sept. 9, said Town Manager Mercury Payton.
Because of that pushed-back schedule, the Council in April will have to begin the process of extending the MAC moratorium deadline past June 17.
“My personal opinion is we’ll need more time,” Noble said.
Council member Pasha Majdi pondered whether three-story buildings, which are what Vienna allows now outside the MAC zone, would have been survey respondents’ top choice if it had been offered.
“To me, the elephant in the room is building height and density,” he said.