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Vienna Courts duplex plan prioritizes accessibility, but lack of green space a concern

A rendering of the duplexes proposed to replace the Vienna Courts condos (via Town of Vienna)

The Town of Vienna has another development plan on the table that promises to help diversify its housing stock.

Developer Steve Bukont, president of contractor BFR Construction, is seeking to rezone Vienna Courts (127-133 Park Street NE) from transitional to low-density, multifamily uses so the four buildings of office condominiums could be replaced with 28 residential units in 14 two-story duplexes.

Presented to the Vienna Planning Commission on Wednesday (Aug. 24), the proposal has been modified slightly from the 30 units in 15 buildings that Bukont initially suggested to the town council on Sept. 27. The elimination of one building allows for more parking and an increased, 30-foot setback from Park Street, the developer said.

“The overall concept here is still we had previously developed a single-floor, retire-and-stay-here project, and we’ve gotten tremendous feedback from virtually everybody who’s purchased one of those,” Bukont told the planning commission.

Under the current plan, each of the buildings will have two floors above ground with one housing unit on each level. Most will have an underground basement with a garage and storage space, but the buildings labeled 12, 13 and 14 in the site plan would have no basement, providing surface parking instead.

Bukont said those units will serve as a smaller but more affordable option. Overall, the units will range in size from 1,200 to about 1,900 square feet, and the developer has proposed a maximum building height of 28 feet.

A total of 75 parking spaces are planned with two spaces per dwelling unit. The parking will include 19 visitor spaces and two Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant spaces.

Aimed at older individuals looking to age in place, most of the duplexes will have private, internal elevators as well as an outdoor, limited-access lift for residents to get from the parking to their front walkway.

According to Bukont, the units won’t necessarily be outfitted with accessibility features like wheelchair-accessible bathrooms right away, but they’ll allow easy conversions. For instance, the light switches can be placed lower on the wall, and plywood can be installed behind bathroom tile so that a grab bar could be installed in the future.

“In many cases, somebody has a specific disability, so you want to be able to make the unit specific to their handicap,” Bukont said, stating that about 25% of the units will be designed as “barrier-free” for people who use wheelchairs.

Planning Commission Chair Stephen Kenney questioned the absence of green space in the plan, noting that the cottage-style duplexes approved last year for Courthouse Road included a central open space and a clubhouse.

“I guess I’ll wait to see what the public has to say. It just feels like you need more green space there,” he said.

The size and shape of the 72,173-square-foot site mean that finding more space would require altering the development’s design, possibly to a more conventional townhouse look, Bukont responded. The developer is already requesting that construction be allowed on 70% of the lot.

BFR is proposing to build brick sidewalk along Park Street and add street lamps that would extend the historic architectural feel of nearby Church Street. Utilities will also be placed underground.

While no decision on the proposal will be made until a public hearing on Sept. 14, Bukont said the neighbors who have responded to notices about the plan have expressed support.

“It’s almost a downzoning to residential,” Kenney said. “Mixed-use would be a little more dense and commercialized. Maybe [that’s] a selling point to residents around there.”

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