[Sun Gazette editorials represent the viewpoint of Sun Gazette Newspapers, which provides content to, but is otherwise unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]
In one sense, the damage already had been done by the time the Vienna Town Council convened the evening of July 15 for a meeting that lingered into the wee hours of the next morning.
Members of the Town Council, with the Planning Commission in tow, had gathered to discuss the possibility of rescinding June’s approval of a development plan worked out through the town’s “MAC” (Maple Avenue Commercial) ordinance.
Critics of that approval, both within the Town Council and in the larger community, were hoping to use the turnover in a number of Town Council seats that occurred July 1 to bring the matter back to the table and revisit the project, possibly rescinding approval.
It was, to use somewhat undiplomatic language, a not-too-smart idea. The developer almost assuredly would have sued and probably would have prevailed.
Even though Town Council members ultimately decided not to move forward with any rescission of the approval, the mere fact it was brought as far as the Council dais sent a signal to the regional development community that they need to watch the situation in Vienna carefully.
We’ve seen this scenario play out in a number of other Northern Virginia localities. Just to pick two: Arlington and Falls Church.
At various times in recent years, the development process in those two communities (one large, one small) was rocked when elected officials and their appointed commission members either sent out an anti-development vibe or put excessive hurdles in front of those who wanted to do business in their cozy confines.
In each case, developers began looking elsewhere and, when officials realized the prospect that the golden goose of new development might be no more, the course was reversed and a more development-friendly attitude returned. But the ramifications lingered for a good while.
Vienna officials, and their constituents, are going to have to figure out whether they want development or they don’t. There is not much middle ground to be had, and each option provides both benefits and costs to community life.
If a community consensus on that seminal question cannot be reached, the result is likely to be more chaotic episodes like the one transpiring on the long night of July 15-16, where town officials, developers and residents are left wondering what the end goal really is.