The Vienna Planning Commission made clear Wednesday (Sept. 28) that in concept, it’s in favor of redeveloping the Vienna Courts offices as duplex housing, but the lack of open space remains a sticking point.
After getting unanimous support for its proposed rezoning, developer BFR Construction Company merely eked out a win from the commission when it came to requested site modifications that it argued are necessary to build the planned residences.
The commission voted 4-3 to recommend that the Vienna Town Council approve reduced front and back yard setbacks, a lot area of 72,167 square feet, and an allowance for the development to cover 68% of the lot — slightly below the 70% that BFR is seeking.
“I don’t know if it’s this trade-off between additional parking and green space, but that’s where I would say I have remained a bit concerned,” Commissioner Jessica Ramakis said. “But again overall, [I] really appreciate all of the care in the proposal and that it would meet a need for having more units of this nature in the town.”
Initially envisioned as 30 residential units in 15 buildings, the Vienna Courts development was already tweaked to instead fit 28 units in 14 two-story buildings at 127-133 Park Street NE. The units will be 1,200 to about 1,900 square feet in size.
The developer heard a desire for multi-family units in a variety of sizes “loud and clear” from potential residents, BFR President Steve Bukont said after a public hearing where three Vienna residents voiced support for the project.
“I live in a fairly large, single-family home by myself now, unfortunately, and I’ve been looking for a place like this,” said Linda Wayne, who’s lived in the town for five years. “I’d like to continue to be in Vienna within walking distance of shopping, just all the amenities that Vienna offers.”
Wayne said the one-floor duplexes are preferable to a multi-story townhouse.
A 48-year resident of the Vienna area who lives alone after the death of her husband said the project “would be a very, very nice addition to our lovely town,” especially with its proximity to the Town Green and restaurants on Church Street.
The only neighbor to the property who appeared at the meeting was Stephen Cook, who confirmed that he will rebuild and live in his grandfather’s historic house at 135 Park Street. The 122-year-old home of local photographer T.R. Cook burned down in April.
Per Fairfax County property records, T.R. Cook sold the house to his grandson for $900,500 in December.
“I’m just happy to see that there’s generational ownership in town,” Commission Vice Chair David Miller said after Stephen Cook shared his plan. Read More
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.”
Outdoor dining is here to stay in the Town of Vienna — except at 111 Church Street NW.
The new regulations that the Vienna Town Council agreed to after a public hearing on Wednesday (May 11) are mostly straightforward, simplifying the permitting process for permanent and seasonal outdoor dining while setting clear standards for the number of seats allowed, operating hours, and other considerations.
However, in a change from the draft ordinance presented in April, the council voted 6-1 to allow outdoor dining within 60 to 75 feet of a residential property if the patio or tent meets certain conditions:
- No alcohol served
- No waitstaff or servers allowed
- A maximum of eight seats
- Hours of operation, including any time to set up or take down furniture, end at 7 p.m.
Town staff had proposed a prohibition on outdoor dining within 75 feet of residential properties. They said it would affect three of the 22 businesses where the practice is currently allowed under temporary measures introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: Simply Social Coffee, Blend 111, and Bazin’s on Church.
The Vienna Planning Commission unanimously recommended the amendment, arguing that people drinking or eating outside at a cafe poses less potential for conflict between residents and businesses than at a sit-down restaurant.
Staff confirmed that the conditions would let Simply Social retain its outdoor seating, but not Blend 111 and Bazin’s, whose shared patio at the back of 111 Church Street has drawn numerous noise complaints from neighbors.
“That was supposed to be parking,” Councilmember Howard Springsteen said of the restaurants’ outdoor dining area. “We’ve had major complaints, and they just seem to ignore it.”
While the restaurant owners said at a November public hearing that the patio has proven popular, becoming a “lifeline” during the pandemic, residents testified last week that the level of noise had become untenable.
Howard Uman and Theresa Ayotte, whose house is directly behind 111 Church Street, told the town council and planning commission that the noise remains “unacceptable,” even under a temporary ordinance established in December that limited the hours and number of seats for outdoor dining.
“We hear everything and anything that’s in our backyard,” Uman said. “I think there were only one or two people in there, and there was a kid back there screaming his head off and we could hear every single word, so it’s really intrusive.”
Councilmember Nisha Patel made what she called “a last-ditch attempt” to find a compromise between the residents and restaurants, proposing allowing outdoor dining within 75 feet of a residential property under more limited hours and requiring a conditional use permit for more than 12 seats.
Patel said she “would love to just side with the residents” but couldn’t ignore emails that the council has gotten supporting the restaurants, including one read by Mayor Linda Colbert from her predecessor, Laurie DiRocco.
“Noise is one of the things we get probably the most complaints about, but that’s also living in a community,” Colbert said, noting that the town still hears from people who only feel comfortable eating outside.
Colbert voted for Patel’s proposal, which failed on a 5-2 vote, as well as the final ordinance with the planning commission’s recommended amendment.
The town council will formally adopt the new outdoor dining ordinance on June 6, and it will take effect in July, after the current temporary ordinance ends. Businesses that currently have waivers for outdoor dining will have 60 days after the adoption to apply for new permits.
Blend 111 owner Michael Biddick confirmed to FFXnow that his restaurant’s outdoor patio will revert back to a parking lot.
“We are deeply saddened and shocked by the decision of the Vienna Town Council to eliminate our outdoor dining patio,” Biddick said by email. “For many, it is an essential location to enjoy dining safely and a bright spot from the devastating pandemic over the past two years. We regret that the Council did not consider a compromise solution that further limited the hours on the patio and other reasonable steps to mitigate noise concerns from residents living in a nearby home.”
A private elementary school in Vienna has big plans for the future, but it needs the town’s permission to realize them.
Green Hedges School is looking to add a new gymnasium, playgrounds, and an athletic field on its 4.3-acre campus at 415 Windover Avenue NW. The proposed expansion will also involve renovations to the main school building and the demolition of “several smaller buildings,” according to the Town of Vienna’s summary.
With portions of the main building — known as Kilmer Hall — now close to 50 years old, Green Hedges officials believe the time has come to pursue upgrades, as the school nears its 80th anniversary.
“The time is now to update our facilities, just to get them ready for the next 80 years, as I like to say,” Head of School Jennifer Bohnen said. “So, that’s part of it, just to make sure that our facilities are the best they can be for our students and our faculty.”
According to Bohnen, the school hopes to add a second floor to Kilmer Hall and construct a separate gym building. Right now, indoor athletic activities are held in a multipurpose room that also hosts theatrical performances, music classes, and student assemblies.
The proposed playground will replace equipment installed 20 years ago with a more “immersive,” hands-on facility “that is developmentally and age-appropriate” for all of Green Hedges’ students, who span toddlers to middle schoolers, Bohnen says.
“Our playground is going to feel much more natural, so it really fits in with the environment,” she told FFXnow, noting that the playground is planned instead of an underground recreational facility that was approved in 2017 but never built.
Buildings slated for demolition include a two-story residential house on Nutley Street and the school’s one-story Grace Hecker Rice Art Center, according to current and conceptual site plans submitted to Vienna.
Before any work can start, however, the school has to get the Vienna Board of Zoning Appeals’ approval to amend the conditional use permit that lets it exist in an otherwise entirely residential neighborhood.
Started in 1942 at its founders’ Arlington home, Green Hedges School relocated to its current site in Vienna’s historic Windover Heights district in 1955. It currently serves 190 students, starting at age 2 through eighth grade.
As part of the expansion project, the school is asking to bump up that enrollment cap, which has been in place since 1985, to 225 students. An increase in the 42 full-time employees allowed and additional parking spaces have also been requested.
The school can provide parking for up to 54 vehicles under an approved 2007 site plan, but it currently only has 48 spaces, according to the town.
“Green Hedges is thriving right now,” Bohnen said. “We’re in an all-time high with enrollment to amazing Vienna families, and…it’s an exciting time.”
The Vienna Planning Commission will discuss Green Hedges’ proposal during a work session at 6:30 p.m. today (Wednesday).
More than a year after it closed, it remains unclear exactly what kind of establishment will replace Vienna’s Amphora Restaurant, but the food will likely be served outside as well as indoors.
The Town of Vienna Planning Commission voted unanimously on Feb. 23 to recommend that the Board of Zoning Appeals grant the request, despite some misgivings related to previous outdoor dining approvals.
Sarantis Properties, which did not immediately return a request for comment, intends to completely renovate the existing 4,882-square-foot building, which was built in 1977 and has experienced few changes since then, Vienna Zoning Administrator Andrea West told the commission.
Planned changes include improvements to the parking lot and a dumpster enclosure, as well as the addition of an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramp at the back of the restaurant.
The developer also hopes to build a new 532-square-foot deck on the southwest side of the property that will have 42 seats for outdoor dining, three of them accessible to people with disabilities, if the permit is approved.
The restaurant will have an additional 170 seats inside.
“That includes bar seating, some banquet seating, booths, and then, tables with individual chairs,” West said.
The planning commission received one public comment from a resident representing the Townes of Vienna community, who expressed concern about potential noise, parking, traffic and environmental impacts of allowing outdoor dining at the restaurant.
An engineer and architect involved with the project noted that Sarantis plans to screen the deck from residential neighbors behind the site with a green wall, and trees will be planted along the parking lot’s perimeter, though a site plan still needs to be submitted to the town’s Board of Architectural Review.
She said the town’s zoning department hasn’t received any noise complaints about those restaurants since they opened in March 2020 and June 2021, respectively, but she didn’t know if police have gotten reports.
Planning Commission Vice Chair David Miller suggested the town should review its outdoor dining requirements, which are tied to the availability of parking spaces.
“Hawk & Griffin isn’t working,” he said. “People are flooding over into other businesses to park there, so we missed something. Our standards aren’t right or something.”
West said the 75 parking spots on the former Amphora site are more than enough to accommodate the 216 seats proposed for the new restaurant, exceeding the 54 spaces that are required.
The Board of Zoning Appeals will hold a public hearing and vote on whether to issue the requested outdoor dining permit on March 16.
Rendering via Paramount Construction/Town of Vienna