Roughly 20 months after Vienna’s Wolf Trap Hotel and Tequila Grande were demolished, construction has yet to begin on the mixed-use development slated to replace them.
However, a chain-link fence surrounding the 2.8-acre site at the corner of Maple Avenue and Nutley Street has been removed, and some neatly trimmed bushes have been planted around the perimeter, suggesting the community shouldn’t expect to see construction crews any time soon.
Asked about the changes, Vienna Planning and Zoning Director David Levy told the town council on Monday (Oct. 23) that he, Town Attorney Steven Briglia and other staff members recently sent a “strongly worded letter” to developer Hekemian & Co., urging them to clean up the empty site.
“We’re all working together on trying to crack the nut on having that site be in better condition during the period when the developer’s waiting for the market conditions to improve to build,” Levy said. “Nobody’s been happy with the way it’s looked over time.”
According to Levy, the developer added some landscaping to the gravel site after the town’s public works and planning staff accompanied the site manager on a visit, but the removal of the fencing — which had started to lean over the existing plants and the sidewalk — came as a surprise.
Town staff is scheduled to meet next Monday (Oct. 30) with the site manager and Hekemian Senior Vice President of Acquisition and Development Chris Bell to discuss how to handle the property going forward, including the need to secure it to prevent safety and dumping issues.
“You can tell there are kind of holes in the middle of it. We don’t want anybody to get hurt on the site,” Levy told the council. “We want them to clean that up, leave it in a condition where it’s flat, landscaped and well-maintained…So, we’ve been on it constantly, but now it’s time to get it into a more long-term condition.”
The timeline for when construction on the project known as 444 Maple will actually commence remains up in the air.
When Tequila Grande was razed in February 2022, Bell told Tysons Reporter, FFXnow’s sister site, that construction could begin in late spring or early summer of that year. Bell and Hemekian didn’t return requests for comment by publication time.
According to Levy, the developer put the project on hold to wait out rising costs due to inflation, increased interest rates and other market conditions.
“A bunch of that has apparently improved, but they’re not ready to get started yet. [Bell] said if things look good at the beginning of next year, early 2024, they hope to get started,” Levy said, adding the caveat that Bell “told me the same thing a year ago.”
Approved in 2018, 444 Maple will be a four-story residential and retail center with 151 rental units and 20,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space. The pizza franchise Mellow Mushroom announced a year ago that it had an agreement to open a restaurant there.
During the rezoning process, the project divided the town council and Vienna residents between those concerned about its size and traffic impacts, and those who felt it would help revitalize the town’s main commercial corridor. The Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zoning that opened the door for the development ultimately got repealed, setting the stage for a zoning code rewrite that the town council officially adopted on Monday.
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
Generally speaking, florals for spring may not be groundbreaking, but the Town of Vienna is still counting on new flowers and shrubs to give its commercial corridor some seasonal pizzazz.
Landscaping crews began work yesterday (Thursday) to update the landscaping along Maple Avenue and Church Street for the first time in 20 years. The project is intended to “boost curb appeal in the business district,” according to the town.
“The plan calls for 81 landscape planters on both sides of Maple Avenue and 46 planters on both sides of Church Street to be transformed into a welcoming, vibrant display of seasonal color from spring to fall,” Vienna Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Herman said in a press release.
The initial work is focused on Maple Avenue between Courthouse Road SW and East Street NE, requiring lane closures from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Monday (Sept. 25).
However, Herman says crews will typically remove plants and prepare the new planters between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. to “mitigate the impact of lane closures on residents and commuters.”
Friendly Reminder: Crews will begin the Town's Streetscape project starting today, Sept. 21. Work will occur from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Maple Avenue, from Courthouse Road SW to E Street NE through Monday, Sept. 25. Expect lane closures around the work. More: https://t.co/QNPR5KOFAx. pic.twitter.com/Kk3qxxqcn2
— Town of Vienna, VA (@TownofViennaVA) September 21, 2023
Designed by contractor LSG Landscape with plants from Merrifield Garden Center, the project will replace all understory plantings on Maple Avenue with new shrubs, ornamental grasses and both perennial and annual plants, according to the town.
Most of the existing understory on Church Street will remain, but it will be supplemented by new plants with “similar colors and textures to create a more consistent appearance,” the town said.
While the project mostly deals with the underlying plants, it will also remove trees deemed to be in poor health, per the press release:
As part of this project, some trees that are in poor or declining condition will be removed. This will not only improve the health of the remaining street trees but also increase sunlight exposure and reduce root competition. To maintain the tree population, an equal number of new trees will be planted, enhancing both consistency and biodiversity.
A recent inventory determined that most of Vienna’s remaining trees are healthy, but the overall canopy has declined, prompting the town to consider new conservation measures. A proposal that would require developers to preserve more trees will go to the planning commission for a public hearing on Wednesday (Sept. 27).
The planting work on Maple and Church is expected to continue through Nov. 8.
“If all goes as planned, residents and visitors will start seeing the colorful results in spring 2024,” the town said.
A new crop of plants will take root this fall along Maple Avenue and Church Street, the Town of Vienna’s main commercial roadways.
LSG Landscape Architects, a landscaping firm contracted by the town, will present its proposed design for the new planters next Thursday (June 29) after sharing the concept with the Vienna Town Council this past Tuesday (June 20).
The town is inviting residents, business owners and other community members to attend the informational meeting, which will take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Vienna Community Center (120 Cherry Street SE).
“Homeowners understand the importance of curb appeal, especially when they want to sell their homes,” Vienna Park and Recreation Director Leslie Herman said in a press release. “We’re working with the Town’s economic development department to create a similar dynamic to create a welcoming, vibrant commercial area that attracts residents and visitors and ‘sell’ them on supporting local businesses.”
LSG has proposed replacing or refurbishing 81 landscape planters on both sides of Maple Avenue between East Street and 213 Maple Avenue West, along with 46 planters on both sides of Church Street between Mill Street and Lawyers Road.
The project will focus on flowers, shrubs and other low-lying plants, but some trees may be removed if they’re in “poor condition” or “to allow more light and reduce root competition with the new plant installations,” town staff said in its recommendation to the council.
Replacing planters that were first installed 20 years ago, construction on the new landscaping is expected to begin in mid-September and finish by the end of November.
“If all goes as planned, the commercial corridor’s planters will begin to burst with color next spring,” the town said.
Vienna previously hoped to have the new plants in place by this summer, but in March, the town council argued that funds should be allocated separately for design and installation, rather than all at once, leading to a delay.
The contract of $83,445 was ultimately awarded to LSG on May 1. The town will conduct a second bidding process for a contractor to build and install the new planters in August and September, per a timeline provided by LSG.
The Town of Vienna wants to bring more color to Maple Avenue and Church Street with a landscaping refresh, but new greenery won’t be in the ground until August at the earliest.
Department of Parks and Recreation staff approached the Vienna Town Council on Monday (March 20) to request $600,000 for a landscaping contractor that will help design and install new planters along the town’s main commercial streets.
However, uncertainty over how exactly those funds will be spent led the council to postpone a vote until its next meeting of April 10.
“Many of us have questions we’d like to get answers to,” Mayor Linda Colbert said.
Staff had hoped to get design options for the improvements this April and choose a final one in May so that the project could finish by the end of July, according to a request for proposals issued Jan. 12.
The town was seeking a vendor to design and install 81 landscape planters on both sides of Maple Avenue between East Street and 213 Maple Ave. West, along with 46 planters on both sides of Church Street between Mill Street NE and Lawyers Road NW.
The existing landscaping, including planters, brick sidewalks, streetlamps and bus shelters, was installed on both streets approximately 20 years ago, according to the town.
“The landscape plants have matured over the years and the uniformity of the design has waned,” the RFP said. “The trees are the predominant feature of the landscape planters while the shrub and herbaceous perennial layer is inconsistent and often absent.”
In addition to the actual plants, the requested funding would cover soil remediation, root pruning, the public engagement process, traffic control and sidewalk closings, and any needed removals of vegetation other than trees, which will be taken care of by town staff, Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Herman said.
The Tysons-based firm LSG Landscape Architecture, which previously assisted Vienna with a study of the Maple Avenue streetscape, was selected as the contract recipient.
Councilmember Chuck Anderson balked at the lack of details on the price of individual plants and other expenses, questioning why staff was seeking $600,000 right now when, so far, LSG has only provided a cost estimate of about $83,000 for the design portion of the project.
“I understand that the design’s not done, but we lack any leverage over pricing, so for the remaining $520,000, in theory, they could come up with whatever they wanted at whatever price,” Anderson said. “…This does not sound like to me to be sound contracting practices, particularly for a contract that’s this big. I think we need more certainty.”
According to Herman, the town believes having one firm design and install the project would be more efficient than doing separate RFPs, but after talking to LSG, staff decided they could get a more accurate estimate for the cost of implementation after the design is chosen.
Though initially skeptical, other council members ultimately agreed with Anderson that more financial information is needed after staff seemed unable to explain how they arrived at $600,000 as their proposed funding cap.
Despite her lingering questions, Colbert lauded the project’s overall goal of bringing more life and color to Vienna’s streets year-round.
“We’ve had residents come to us, email, come to our meetings and speak, businesses have talked to me about expecting Maple Avenue and Church Street to be greatly improved,” Colbert said. “It will help our businesses, and it will define our town better, I think, as people drive into town.”
Mellow Mushroom is officially coming to the Town of Vienna.
The Atlanta, Georgia-based pizza restaurant has signed a franchise agreement to open a new location at 444 Maple Avenue, the four-story, mixed-use development replacing the now-demolished Vienna Wolf Trap Hotel and Tequila Grande at the corner of Nutley Street.
FFXnow’s sister site, Tysons Reporter, noted early this year that Mellow Mushroom was featured as a leased tenant in a property brochure for the project, but the business didn’t confirm that the location until Monday (Nov. 28).
“We are extremely excited to bring the Mellow Mushroom brand to Vienna,” franchise owner Jay Shah said in the press release. “The support of this community and the Mellow Mushroom team have helped us grow four successful Mellow Mushroom restaurants.”
The restaurant will be operated by the franchisee Vienna Pizza LLC, whose owners also have Mellow Mushrooms in Short Pump, Chantilly, Virginia Beach and Fredericksburg.
Founded in Atlanta in 1974, Mellow Mushroom now has locations in 21 states, including restaurants in Herndon and Chantilly. In addition to pizza, it sells calzones, hoagies and other sandwiches, burgers, salads, and both cocktails and “mocktails”:
Each Mellow Mushroom is unique in its design and décor and frequently captures unique aspects of the local community. The cornerstone of the Mellow Mushroom menu is stone-baked pizzas featuring a crust made from five simple ingredients, including water from Appalachian Mountain springs. Other menu highlights are freshly made salads, handcrafted cocktails, and a wide selection of beers, many of them local.
Mellow Mushroom didn’t return an inquiry about a possible opening timeframe by press time.
The vacated hotel and Tequila Grande buildings were razed this spring, but nothing appears to have been built on the 2.79-acre site yet. Developer Hekemian & Co. estimated in February that construction would take 18 to 20 months.
The 444 Maple project will consist of a four-story, 151-unit residential building with approximately 20,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, supported by plazas and two levels of parking.
In addition to Mellow Mushroom, Hekemian’s marketing brochure indicates that space has been leased to the restaurant Tom Yum Thai and Gloss Nails salon. There are still three available commercial suites.