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.

Some Vienna Town Council members pushed back March 4 against proposals by two developers to build extended mezzanines into their projects.

The Council held a joint work session with the Vienna Planning Commission to get updates on a pair of applications that would be processed under the town’s Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zoning ordinance.

Red Investment LLC and MJW Maple Ave LLC have proposed to build a four-story building at 374-380 Maple Ave., W., which would include about 7,500 square feet of ground-floor retail topped by 40 condominium units with two or three bedrooms each. The redeveloped site, now occupied by a three-story office building constructed in 1970, also would have a small park-like area in the rear, which would be screened by a serpentine brick wall.

The other application came from Sunrise Assisted Living, which hopes to build an 85-unit senior-living facility and 7,700 square feet of ground-floor retail in a four-story building at 100-112 Maple Ave, E. This site features additional challenges because it occupies a low-lying area prone to flooding and is crossed by underground stormwater and sanitary-sewer pipes.

Both applications feature mezzanines, which under town code can occupy only 50 percent of the area of the floor below, but each would serve a different purpose.

The one at 380 Maple Ave., W., would be set behind the building’s retail area and allow construction of additional underground parking – a bonus, given the site’s location next to a residential neighborhood.

Council member Douglas Noble expressed concern that the mezzanine in effect would be a fifth floor, while the MAC is capped at four.

Planning Commission vice chairman Stephen Kenney agreed.

“Let’s stop calling this a half-story,” he said. “It’s a floor.”

But his colleague, Planning Commission member Mary McCullough, said the extra parking would prove beneficial.

“I think it would be a good addition to the building,” she said.

Dennis Rice, one of the project’s developers, said the mezzanine could be eliminated and the building’s height reduced by 4 feet, while still meeting parking requirements. The proposed extra parking level was designed to help the surrounding community, he said.

“We don’t get any more [condominium] units or retail space with extra parking,” Rice said. “Our goal is not to make the building bigger.”

Council member Pasha Majdi said overall building height was the issue.

“The trade-off is more interior parking in exchange for 4 feet of height,” he said.

The Planning Commission will hold a March 27 public hearing on the 380 Maple Ave., W., application, said Vienna Planning and Zoning Director Cindy Petkac.

Regarding Sunrise Assisted Living’s application, the company has requested that the town allow their proposed mezzanine to cover 60 percent of the ground floor. They offered mezzanine alternatives with 50-percent coverage, but these involved either the elimination of ground-floor retail entirely or shifting it to the mezzanine level, which would limit street visibility and force patrons to climb stairs or take an elevator to access it.

Noble offered the same objection as with the previous development (“In my mind, you’ve created a five-story building”), while Council member Howard Springsteen said ground-floor retail was a key component of the MAC ordinance.

“I feel you’re leading us down this path,” he told the applicants’ representatives.

Council members requested that Sunrise representatives give another update at an April 1 work session, said town spokesman Lynne Coan.

The two applications are the only ones now under consideration by town officials, as developers submitted them just before a Council-imposed moratorium took effect Sept. 27 last year.

The Council acted following considerable public resistance to a mixed-use MAC project at 430, 440 and 444 Maple Ave., W., which Council members approved last October. The moratorium is set to expire June 17, but some Council members have indicated a desire to extend that deadline until traffic-study results are available this fall.

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