Vienna officials move forward with library/garage proposal

Graphic shows design of the proposed new Patrick Henry Library and parking garage. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on July 14, 2020, approved an agreement with the Vienna town government for design and construction of the new structures.

Vienna Town Council members on June 15 approved an agreement with the Fairfax County government for the design and construction of a parking structure at the soon-to-be-renovated Patrick Henry Library.

The county plans to replace the existing 13,800-square-foot library and its 61 surface parking spaces at 101 Maple Ave., E., with a 20,490-square-foot library and a parking structure featuring 125 spaces for library patrons and about 84 additional spaces for the public.

Vienna and county officials in August 2019 received results of a feasibility study, conducted by Grimm and Parker Architects, for redevelopment of the 1.43-acre library site.

Vienna’s share of the project’s design cost is 30 percent, up to $850,000. The town already has borrowed funds for that expense as part of its bond issuance earlier this year, said Finance Director Marion Serfass.

The town later would be on the hook for an additional $4.2 million to cover its portion of the garage’s construction. Vienna officials hope to finance at least part of that expense via transportation grants for commuter parking.

Before March 2021, when the county awards a design contract and the town’s first payment is due, Vienna officials will be able to vacate the design-and-construction agreement without financial penalty, said Vienna Town Attorney Steven Briglia.

“If things really went to hell in a handbasket in two months, we would just give notice to the county that we’re out,” Briglia said. “We wouldn’t be out a dime.”

If Vienna officials terminated the agreement in September 2021, when the county will select the project’s design concept, the town would get back 85 percent of the design funds it had contributed. If the town backed out in March 2022, when the county was approving construction documents, its design-cost refund would dip to 50 percent.  

County staff pressed the Council for a decision on the design agreement at the June 15 meeting because of a deadline two days later for including the matter as an action item at the Board of Supervisors’ July 14 meeting. County officials hope to include the library-and-garage proposal in the bond referendum slated for Nov. 3. Construction on the project likely will begin in 2023.

Council member Douglas Noble, who did not seek re-election this year and was attending his final meeting, questioned whether town officials would have enough say in the project’s design. Allison Terzigni, a county section manager, assured him the town would have input regarding both the garage and library.

Noble also encouraged the Council not to rule out another conceptual design for the garage that would offer 188 public parking spaces.

“We’ve been promising parking in our commercial core in Church Street and the core part of Maple Avenue for 20 years and I think it’s the wrong approach to take out the option for the larger garage,” he said.

Council member Howard Springsteen opposed a larger garage, saying its height would pose a problem, but favored advancing the project.

“We have enough leverage here. If we don’t like it, we can bail out,” he said. “But we’re starting fighting over one or two sentences [in the agreement]. We’re starting to look like the gang that can’t shoot straight.”

The Council voted 6-1 to approve the agreement. The lone holdout was Council member Pasha Majdi, who earlier that night – and for the same reason – also had voted against a proposal regarding a new Vienna Police Headquarters.

“I can’t support this because it’s a major capital expenditure at not a very good time,” Majdi said. “I think we really ought to be sitting back and re-evaluating all of our capital expenditures.”

Built in 1971 and renovated in 1995, Patrick Henry Library is the most heavily used branch library in the county’s system, Briglia said. Because of its projected usage, the new facility will exceed the county’s usual size for branch libraries, according to the town’s staff report.

The design-and-construction agreement is another step forward in the Council’s third attempt to build a parking structure in the town’s commercial core.

Two earlier public-private partnerships failed. The first arrangement, which would have built a garage behind a building at 120 Church St., N.W, fell apart in the summer of 2013. A developer later constructed a mixed-use building at the site.

Under the second private-public partnership, the town would have owned, and provide 121 public parking spaces on, the second floor of a planned commercial-condominium structure at 223-241 Mill St., N.E. The town dissolved that agreement in January 2019.

Town officials hope a joint venture with the Fairfax County government, a much larger and financially stable institution, might do the trick this time around.

“Having a construction project with Fairfax County removes a large degree of uncertainty and definitely lowers measurable risk, in terms of time to delivery with the project,” Noble said.

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