At forum, Vienna residents voice opposition to higher lot-coverage percentages

Vienna Planning and Zoning Department officials Cindy Petkac, Michael D'Orazio and Kelly O'Brien listen on March 2, 2020 to town residents' views on lot coverage in the town, as illustrated by the model house in the foreground. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

Vienna officials on March 2 took the pulse of local residents regarding potential relaxation of lot-coverage requirements and a raft of multi-modal transportation improvements now under consideration.

Vienna Town Council member Nisha Patel pressed for the first of the “community conversations,” held at Town Hall, to discuss the prospects for allowing residents to have more outdoor living space on their properties.

“Without asking a question, we can never get an answer,” said Patel, who first was elected to the Council last year. “I hope many of you appreciate and realize that this is an attempt at increasing the lines of communication between the community and your elected officials.”

Vienna since 1956 has not allowed lot coverage to exceed 25 percent in single-family residential areas. Patel has proposed allowing up to 5 percent additional space for covered decks, driveway expansion, patios, terraces and screened-in porches that could not be converted to interior space. The proposal also calls for all new single-family homes built since July 1, 2014, to have stormwater-management facilities.

Town officials are in the process of revamping Vienna’s zoning code for the first time in six decades and thereafter hope to make annual adjustments, said Vienna Planning and Zoning Director Cindy Petkac.

“I can’t go back and ask my counterparts why they put that in the code,” she said.

On the carpet slightly to the side of the speaker’s podium, officials set out a mock-up of a typical two-story house that showed the lot-coverage percentages of the house, its driveway and sidewalks.

Town officials since 1991 have considered decks separately and have not permitted them to cover more than 5 percent of a lot.

Susan Stillman, who chairs the town’s Conservation and Sustainability Commission, opposed more intensive land uses on residential sites and suggested developers should be encouraged to build on up to 20 percent of lots, then apply for extras such as decks.

“We’re losing our trees,” Stillman said. “It’s due to the size of our houses. Trees need root space.”

Vienna Board of Zoning Appeals member George Creed, who served for many years on the town’s Planning Commission, also did not favor boosting permissible lot coverage.

“Twenty-five percent is probably adequate as it stands,” Creed said. “The buyers need to be educated.”

Robert McCahill, president of the North East Vienna Citizens Association, said stream erosion is increasing because of the greater amount of impervious surface being built.

“I can live with healthier streams,” McCahill said. “I can live with the flora and fauna that they support. Increasing the lot coverage and increasing the impervious surface is not the way I think we should be going.”

Several residents who spoke were incredulous that some of the massive new homes springing up all over town do not already surpass the 25-percent lot-coverage limit.

Mark Stahl, a builder who lives in the town, said much of his recent work has been with larger, custom-built houses.

“No one said, ‘Can you build me a rambler?’” he said.

Vienna government officials through March 9 will be accepting public comments regarding Patel’s proposal. Residents also may complete a survey on the town’s Website, www.viennava.gov.

Vienna officials also sought residents’ feedback March 2 for a collection of proposed multi-modal transportation improvements around town.

Officials have proposed replacing the separate  right-turn lane on eastbound Church Street, N.E., at Mill Street, N.E., with hardscaping and public art. This proposal would create two new on-street parking spaces and allow a crosswalk over Mill Street, N.E., to be relocated and shortened.

Vienna resident Laura Bligh did not care for this proposal, calling the current intersection “fine the way it is.” Bligh also urged town officials to study parking supply and demand in the Church Street area before pursuing a municipal parking structure there.

Creed also weighed in on transportation matters, saying he favored a proposal to extend walking-signal times at some intersections so pedestrians can make their presence known to turning vehicles.

Creed also liked the newly installed mini-roundabout at Park and Locust streets, S.E., but favored moving its crosswalks farther away from the traffic circle. Stahl liked that roundabout as well and asked whether one also could be built at Lawyers Road and Church Street, N.W.

That intersection has unique challenges,  said town transportation engineer Andrew Jinks, but he added a roundabout there is not out of the question.

Some residents favored measures to address vehicle speeds and cut-through traffic.

Town resident Sean Thompson suggested Vienna officials should try making some streets – e.g., part of Church Street in central Vienna – vehicle-free pedestrian zones. He also favored solving traffic congestion by making some roads narrower and making it “painful to drive on Maple Avenue.”

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