For a fleeting moment Nov. 14, it looked as if a developer had scaled back a proposed residential-condominium project enough so it would pass muster with the Vienna Town Council.
Two hours and a brief recess later, the Council allowed the ball to come closer to the goal line, but forced the applicant to go back into a huddle again for one final push in three weeks.
BFR Construction Co. would like the Council to rezone the 1.66-acre site, which now is home to four three-story commercial condominiums, from T-Transitional zoning to RM-2 multi-family so as to build the residential condos.
The proposed buildings each would consist of a pair of single-floor condos stacked one over the other and would be just 25 feet tall – a full story under the usual 35-foot height limit – so as to have a more residential-looking aspect.
The developer also added several amenities as extra enticements, including undergrounded utilities on Park Street, geothermal heating and cooling, and 19 guest parking spaces to ensure the development would not cause spillover onto busy Church Street.
BFR Construction Co. originally had proposed to build 30 condominiums at the site, then scaled that back to 28 condos in 14 buildings, which received the Vienna Planning Commission’s recommendation – albeit with concerns about lot coverage.
Town Council members on Oct. 24 continued the public hearing on the proposal largely because of the amount of impervious surface it would entail. The proposal called for 70-percent lot coverage (the developer placed the figure at closer to 68 percent).
Multi-family projects typically far exceed the town’s standard 25-percent cap on lot coverage for single-family residential development, but this proposal’s figure was higher than that of any multi-family development the town leadership has approved.
The applicant came back Nov. 14 with an offer to trim the development’s lot coverage to 66.8 percent by building only 13 structures with a total of 26 units. The builder would remove the 14th building and reorient adjacent Buildings 12 and 13 (which now would have narrower, shotgun-style designs) to provide extra green space.
Steve Bukont, president of BFR Construction, pushed back against some Council members’ suggestion to shrink the building’s footprints to create more open space. The buildings’ sizes are dictated by the parking provided underneath, and the developer is building in a bit of extra room so residents can access their vehicles without feeling cramped, he added.
Two neighbors spoke out at the hearing about the project’s density, while another resident who lives just outside of town said she favored the development and might like to live there one day.
Another neighbor just to the north, Nash Cook, pressed to have an existing brick retaining wall extended further toward Park Street to better separate his home from the proposed development. Bukont seemed amenable to that idea, and town officials said the wall likely would need to tape down a bit toward the street so as not to appear monolithic.
Council members, a majority of whom in an informal poll indicated they would be amenable to having the project advance, voted 6-0 to defer decision on the matter to Dec. 5. As he had during the Oct. 24 meeting, member Ed Somers recused himself from the discussion and vote.
Council members Nisha Patel and Howard Springsteen still hope the applicant can lop one more building off the proposal’s total.
Bukont indicated he would aim for 12 buildings with 24 units, which would cut the site’s lot coverage to an estimated 61.5 percent. The developer also would retain the planned utility undergrounding on Park Street and examine the possibility of cutting the amount of guest parking, but only consider the “green energy” options and not commit to them as a proffer.
The development still would retain a range of housing sizes, he said. Council member Charles Anderson on balance thought Bukont’s proposal a worthy alternative to commercial development that potentially could occupy the site.
“I think, going forward, this is important for the town,” Anderson said. Council member Steve Potter, who noted that he and some other members had been elected for their opposition to the now-rescinded Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zoning ordinance, still was unhappy with the proposal’s lot coverage and pressed to have it go no higher than 60 percent.
“To me, this is a major problem,” he said. “It truly is a slippery slope.”
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