Vienna poised to adopt new zoning code, allowing slightly taller buildings in Maple Avenue core

The Vienna Market development was approved under the since-repealed Maple Avenue Commercial zoning regulations (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Any future buildings constructed in the heart of Vienna will get a little more vertical wiggle room under the town’s impending new zoning code.

Slated for adoption right on schedule at the town council’s meeting next Monday (Oct. 23), the first comprehensive rewrite of Vienna’s land use regulations since 1969 will introduce a few new uses and simplify the zones and districts that guide development.

Among the more potentially noteworthy changes will be an increase in the maximum height for buildings in the newly named Avenue Center (AC) and Gateway South (GS) districts, which can be found, respectively, along Maple Avenue between Lawyers Road and Glyndon Street, and at the corner of Park Street and Cedar Lane (essentially just the Cedar Park Shopping Center).

Under the updated code, buildings in those districts could be up to 42 feet tall, up from the current limit of 35 feet. However, any part within 95 feet of a residential property would be required to drop back down to 35 feet.

As noted by town staff in a summary of the code changes, the height increases are proposed “in very specific locations,” but they address a top focus of the zoning overhaul, which was initiated in 2020 partly in response to resident concerns about the size of developments on Maple Avenue.

In place from October 2014 to June 2020, the controversial Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zoning ordinance sought to revitalize Vienna’s central corridor by giving developers more height and density in exchange for needed amenities.

The incentives drew developers, but the resulting projects — including the Chick-fil-A/Flagship Carwash, the recently opened Sunrise Senior Living, the Vienna Market townhomes and the not-yet-built Wolf Trap Hotel redevelopment — became so hotly contested that the town put the ordinance on hold in 2018 before repealing it two years later.

It remains to be seen whether the zoning code overhaul, known as Code Create, will produce similar reactions.

In addition to reorganizing the code to be easier to navigate, the 331-page draft consolidates the town’s jumble of zoning classifications by creating a single zone for all multi-family attached residences and grouping commercial areas into districts based on “geographic integrity and common development patterns.”

“By doing so, the Town will be able to recalibrate more frequently, as needed and desired, to adjust for evolving conditions within a particular geographic area,” town staff said.

Other notable changes include:

  • A “step down” in height from 45 feet to 38 feet for commercial Mill Street buildings within 30 feet of a residential property
  • Townhouses can now have three full stories, not just 2.5 as previously allowed, though the height limit of 35 feet is unchanged
  • Open space requirements for multi-unit residential developments, in place of a 25% cap on lot coverage that has been waived for every approved project in the past decade
  • More standardized — and, in some cases, bigger — setbacks for commercial properties
  • Newly defined uses for cottage housing, community gardens, cultural facilities or museums, adult day support centers, animal care facilities with boarding, brewpubs, continuing care facilities, shared kitchens, specialized instruction, composting drop-off facilities and craft beverage production establishments
  • More detailed lighting regulations
  • More relaxed, simplified sign standards, including allowing hanging signs in all commercial areas
  • The first-ever bicycle parking regulations

Additional revisions will likely come even after the code is adopted, particularly with parking regulations left mostly untouched pending a supply-and-demand study.

At an Oct. 2 meeting, when the town council voted unanimously to advertise Oct. 23 as the date when they intend to adopt the new code, some members suggested they may want to revisit the definition and standards for “adult” businesses.

Prohibited from being next to a residential property or within 1,000 feet of a school, church, child care center or another adult business, adult businesses are defined in the draft as establishments that primarily sell products or provide services related to “specified sexual activities or specified anatomical areas.”

A previous draft also included any establishment that presents “such materials” and “limits its customers to persons over 18 years of age,” a definition that the town’s Code Create consultant ZoneCo worried would be too broad.

“We just have to be careful not to be a whole bunch of businesses in an ‘adult business’ category that don’t belong there just because they’re targeted at adults, because ‘adult business’ has a very particular meaning,” Vienna Planning Director David Levy said.

Councilmember Ed Somers proposed that tobacco stores should be regulated as adult businesses, but Levy said staff would have to review state laws to see if that’s allowed.

Vienna currently doesn’t have any clubs or other businesses that would be classified as an adult business, according to Levy.

“The names, I’m glad we don’t have them in Vienna,” Councilmember Ray Brill said after referring to a list of such businesses in Fairfax County. “But if we do, I hope we’re strong enough to revisit this.”