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Vienna Town Council suggests two stories for new Patrick Henry Library

Patrick Henry Library in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

An initial concept for the upcoming Patrick Henry Library renovation is here, and the Vienna Town Council has some reservations.

At a Town Council conference session on Monday (June 13), Fairfax County public works staff unveiled a conceptual site plan for a one-story library and a four-level parking garage to replace the existing facility and parking lot at 101 Maple Avenue East.

The county hopes to expand the community library from 13,817 square feet to about 18,000 square feet — smaller than the previously expected 21,000 square feet — to accommodate its programming plans, including a larger children’s section and upgraded technology.

The project will also add a public parking garage to the 1.4-acre site. The current concept provides 216 spaces, including seven accessible spots and five with electric vehicle charging stations — more than the 209 spaces required by the county’s agreement with the Town of Vienna.

Fairfax County’s initial concept site plan for the new Patrick Henry Library and parking garage (via Town of Vienna)

With an access road planned from Maple Avenue and a driveway to the garage from Center Street, the two structures will essentially take up every available inch of space.

“The site is quite constrained in size for the uses proposed,” Vienna Planning and Zoning Director David Levy said. “Parking garages in particular have minimum dimensions related to turning radii and efficient layouts. As a result, there’s not really many options for the concept design.”

The limited space will make it difficult to meet Vienna’s tree canopy requirements, which may have to be waived, Levy told the council.

The concept provides open space in the form of a plaza at the corner of Maple and Center. A rooftop terrace to provide outdoor reading and classroom space has been considered, but it would be “cost-prohibitive” to include initially, according to county staff.

Though staff said the setback from Maple Avenue will be slightly increased, council members urged the design team led by the firm RRMM Architects to find ways to use less space and reduce the height of the garage.

“We’re really talking about a limited number of space here,” Councilmember Chuck Anderson said. “It just doesn’t work to put a one-story library with a four-level garage in this completely restricted space in the middle of our town. It would be overwhelming in terms of mass.”

Suggested alterations included turning the library into a two-story facility and lowering the garage by putting the bottom level partially or entirely underground.

According to the design team, Fairfax County Public Library generally uses one-story buildings because they’re easier for staff to monitor. Putting a full level of the garage underground would increase the project costs by 30%, but the team agreed to look at options to lower the structure’s height.

Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert cautioned against reducing the amount of parking too much, since the project is partly funded by a $2.3 million Northern Virginia Transportation Authority grant.

“They want to see a lot of spaces, so we have to be really careful or we’re going to lose that money,” Colbert said of the NVTA.

Under its agreement with the county, Vienna can pull its support at multiple points and get back some of its contributed funds. The council could vote on whether to continue its involvement on July 11, when county staff said they will have updates on the feasibility of the proposed concept revisions.

Town staff noted that Patrick Henry Library will be renovated regardless, so leaving the agreement would mostly mean losing the 84 parking spaces allocated to the town.

While not ideal, the library property is “the most viable option” that the town has to end a 15-year quest for a public parking garage, Councilmember Howard Springsteen said. Town Manager Mercury Payton recounted several failed attempts to work with private developers on a facility.

Councilmember Nisha Patel said she’s in favor of a new library and parking but doesn’t want to get “backed into a corner” without options, especially as Vienna plans for anticipated growth on Maple Avenue.

“I don’t want to do something because we’re afraid of losing money,” Patel said. “We’re not going to do something to lose the funds, but we want to have a say, and we want to work together to get it that way.”

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