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Vienna Town Council aims for fall deadline to complete zoning code rewrite

The Vienna Town Council discusses its zoning code overhaul at a conference session on May 8, 2023 (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Town of Vienna has set a tentative timeline for wrapping up the first overhaul of its zoning code since Richard Nixon occupied the White House.

At a May 8 conference session, the Vienna Town Council urged staff to have the rewritten code ready for adoption on Oct. 23 — its final meeting before a new council is elected on Nov. 7.

To meet that deadline, staff will present a complete draft of the new code on June 5 and schedule public hearings for July 10 and 12. Officials with the Department of Planning and Zoning had proposed waiting until late August for the public hearings, since people may be out of town during the summer.

“Staff could…use the summer break to engage with the public and educate them about the contents of the draft, so that they are more able to provide informed testimony,” Planning and Zoning Director David Levy and Deputy Director Kelly O’Brien said in a memo. “While it is likely that many people will be on vacation, staff will provide multiple opportunities both in person and online for citizens to engage when they are available.”

However, the council argued that it would prefer to hear from the public “sooner rather than later” on the update known as Code Create, whose completion was designated as a top priority for 2023.

Faced with a tight timeframe either way, council members noted that July hearings would give staff more time to incorporate the public’s feedback into the final document, and community members could still submit written comments afterwards.

“I think there’s an advantage to going out earlier, because I think I’d like to hear from the public,” Councilmember Ed Somers said.

Before spending over half an hour debating the Code Create schedule, the town council discussed potential new uses in transitional zones — which currently allow little beyond medical offices and massage therapy businesses — and how to handle the mixed-use building at 901 Glyndon Street SE.

The council was particularly split over whether to allow child care centers in transitional zones with a conditional permit. Councilmember Nisha Patel worried that the noise could drive away tenants, while Councilmember Chuck Anderson countered that having child care available in or near their office is a draw for many workers.

Council members suggested creating a zoning district specifically for 901 Glyndon, which is unique in Vienna as a condominium building with ground-floor commercial space in the middle of a single-family residential neighborhood. Town Attorney Steven Briglia warned against “grandfathering” as a “slippery slope.”

“[The building is] always going to be a square peg in a round hole,” he said.

The discussions hinted at the myriad issues that still need to be settled before that Oct. 23 deadline for Code Create, which has been underway since September 2020. The rewrite will shape the town’s future look and development, dictating everything from new zoning districts to lighting standards and bicycle parking requirements.