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The cross on the former Faith Baptist Church in Vienna will be removed (file photo)

The cross atop the former Faith Baptist Church in Vienna will come down, but otherwise, the town has opted for a “wait and see” approach to the 3-acre property it purchased in 2020.

The Vienna Town Council unanimously voted on Aug. 29 to indefinitely postpone repairs to the roof of the aging building at 301 Center Street South.

While staff argued that improvements are needed to stop recurring water leaks, council members balked at the idea of investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into a building that they could ultimately decide to demolish.

“I would like to do the absolute minimum, even if that does cause some further damage to the building, rather than commit a lot of money,” Councilmember Chuck Anderson said. “If you spend a half million dollars on a roof, psychologically, you’re committed to that building, and I personally have not reached the conclusion that the best use for that property involves some sort of rehabilitation and repurposing of the existing structure.”

Built in 1956, per Fairfax County property records, the former church — now informally dubbed the Annex — will require substantial renovations to meet current building code standards and get approved for occupancy, a study by Whitman, Requardt & Associates, LLP found.

Though town staff are making spot repairs as leaks and other problems emerge, Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Herman requested the council’s support last week to replace the roof, either as a whole or in parts.

“Addressing the flat roof is the most pressing, current issue to ensure that the Annex does not incur further damage and deterioration due to the leaks,” Herman said. “There are issues on the shingled, sloped roof that will need attention in the very near future.”

Replacing the flat roof alone could cost $122,000 to $228,400, staff estimated. New rooftop HVAC units and removing the sanctuary windows would add $90,000 to the bill.

The cost of a complete roof overhaul ranges from $293,200 to $443,400, including up to $15,000 to take down the church steeple.

Whitman Requardt estimated that it would take up to $1 million to bring the building up to code and make it suitable for community uses. Herman noted that construction and supply costs have climbed since that study was first presented to the council in March.

When asked if the roof could hold up for another year without repairs, Vienna Facility Manager Leon Evans said he believes it could, but there’s no guarantee.

“I just got finished with the HVAC system that just failed in the sanctuary today,” he told the council. “All I was asked was to get numbers for you so you guys could figure out what direction you want to go.”

After some debate and confusion over the difference between the flat and sloped parts of the roof, the council decided to remove the church’s cross but hold repairs until after the completion of a feasibility report commissioned on June 13.

Expected to begin this fall and finish in spring 2023, the report will recommend long-term options for the Annex, which is housing the police department until its now-open station is ready for officers to move in later this month.

For now, parks and rec staff may need to keep buckets and tarp handy to deal with those pesky roof leaks. Mayor Linda Colbert acknowledged that the repairs deferral wasn’t what staff had hoped for.

“There’s just a lot of questions still,” Colbert said. “I would hate to vote on something now and not have it be the right thing. You’re right we’re taking a risk.”

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A worker stands next to 13 feet of exposed stream bank along Bear Branch in Southside Park (via Town of Vienna)

The Vienna Town Council dedicated over half a million dollars on Monday (Aug. 29) to an ongoing project to restore Bear Branch tributary, a stream that runs through Southside Park to I-66.

With no discussion, the council awarded a $543,258 design contract to A. Morton Thomas and Associates, Inc. (AMT), one of five engineering firms that submitted proposals for this second phase of a two-part project this past spring.

This phase of the restoration will address approximately 2,300 linear feet of stream that flows through the park, parallel to Walker Street SW and Ross Drive SW, by stabilizing “the steep, eroded stream banks,” according to town staff.

“The completed project will reduce sedimentation and improve the stream’s water quality using natural channel design techniques,” the project page says.

In addition to shoring up the stream banks, the project will involve the replacement of a pedestrian bridge and the development of a “functional” pedestrian trail from the bridge to an existing sidewalk.

As part of its proposal, AMT said it would provide two recommendations for a possible bridge design and work with the town and park staff to develop the trail. The firm’s contract consists of a base fee of $497,744 with $45,514 added for the bridge and trail.

Carrying an estimated total cost of $2.5 million, the project is being funded by both Fairfax County and the town, which obtained a grant from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in November 2019.

The project’s first phase, which focused on the stream segment parallel to Patrick Street SW and Yeonas Park, got funding approved in 2019 and a design contract awarded in July 2020.

The first phase’s design plan is nearly complete and will be presented at a community meeting next Thursday (Sept. 8).

Photo via Town of Vienna

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Vienna Town Hall (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

At the urging of some residents and even a Fairfax County School Board member, Vienna is revisiting its noise rules, especially for businesses and other commercial sites.

The town last rewrote its noise ordinance came in 2011, but with sound issues becoming a growing source of tension between residents and businesses, the Vienna Town Council agreed on Monday (July 11) to initiate a new review — with no guarantee that anything will change.

Instead, the council directed staff to research best practices and regulations from other localities to determine whether the town should pursue any updates.

“We are not even at a point that we are suggesting there’s changes,” Mayor Linda Colbert said. “So, we may look at other jurisdictions and decide we like our noise ordinance the way it is…A conference session to review what the [police] chief and town attorney have come up with makes sense.”

Commercial Truck Noises Frustrate Residents

While possibly compounded by increased construction activities and pandemic-related changes, such as more people working from home, noise complaints aren’t a new trend for the Town of Vienna.

A resident of Park Street NE since 2019 told FFXnow that one of his neighbors has spent 20 years battling issues from Mill Street, a commercial strip that backs up to their houses. One business, the now-defunct Bey Lounge, had a live entertainment permit revoked in 2019 after multiple noise ordinance violations stretching back to 2016.

The resident, who asked not to be named out of fear that Vienna’s “small-town politics” could put “a scarlet letter on my name,” says he hears trucks pulling up to the Mill Street businesses every morning, sometimes as early as 3 or 4 a.m.

While he describes himself as a heavy sleeper, his kids reliably wake up whenever the noises begin, and he believes an inability to get a full eight hours of sleep contributed to developmental challenges his son started experiencing in early 2020, before COVID-19 arrived in the U.S.

Since he brought up his concerns to the town council in August 2021, the resident says the Vienna Police Department has done “a fantastic job” enforcing the existing noise rules, but commercial vehicle loading and unloading is allowed within 300 feet of a residence on weekdays except from 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. — a seven-hour stretch. Read More

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A mixed-use development that will bring apartments, retail, and additional parking to Church Street in Vienna is moving forward.

During its meeting on Monday (July 11), the Vienna Town Council unanimously approved the project from developer Bognet Construction to replace two commercial buildings at 139 and 145 Church Street with a three-story building and two-level parking garage.

“I think it’s going to add a lot to Church Street, a lot to our town and a lot to that corner,” Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert said after a town staff presentation on the project.

The approved project was downsized from Bognet’s original proposal, eliminating a planned basement with 10,891 square feet of commercial space and reducing the number of residential units from 18 to 11.

The provided parking has also shrunk from 72 spots to a total of 46 spaces, including 14 designated public parking spaces on the lower level and nine compact spaces. The garage will be behind the building, backing up to a 15-foot-wide alley owned by the town.

The development will comprise a total floor area of 25,101 square feet with 13,055 square feet for the residential units and 14,152 square feet of non-residential space, including the public parking spaces, according to a staff report.

The ground floor will be exclusively commercial uses, while the second floor is expected to have a mix of office suits and multi-family units. The third floor will consist entirely of apartments.

The 145 Church Street development will include a two-level parking garage (via Town of Vienna)

A rendering depicts Texas Burger as the tenant in a ground-floor suite at the corner of Church Street and Lawyers Road, but Verity Commercial, the leasing company for the development, says the name is just a placeholder.

“We do want a fun community servicing restaurant on the future corner space though,” Verity Commercial Senior Vice President Ellie H. Bechtle told FFXnow by email. Read More

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Fallen leaves can be turned into mulch (via Susan Jones/Unsplash)

The Town of Vienna will no longer grind up fallen leaves at its collection facility on Beulah Road NE, ending a program that has delivered free mulch to residents for decades.

The Vienna Town Council voted unanimously yesterday (Monday) to turn the upcoming leaf collection season into a trial period, maintaining the Beulah Road facility as a storage site while exploring the best method for transporting leaves for disposal.

“We give you the flexibility to essentially determine what the cheapest alternatives are,” Councilmember Chuck Anderson said to town staff. “Then, we revisit this next year to see what the results of your sort of transitional year is to figure out the efficient way of doing this.”

The town’s mulching operations at the 8-acre Beulah Road site have been the subject of debate for years, with residents taking exception to the machine’s noise, smell, and environmental impact.

Rising leaf disposal costs led the town to reevaluate its collection program, which ground up about one-third of the leaves collected every fall into mulch and sent the remainder to Loudoun Composting.

Town staff presented several possible alternatives, including using the Beulah site for storage but transporting all leaves to Loudoun Composting and taking the leaves directly to the disposal site.

While some community members expressed appreciation for the town’s mulch deliveries at a public hearing in March, a survey of whether users would still order mulch if they had to pay $50 per load received mixed results, with 62 out of 114 respondents saying they would.

“I don’t see any economic or environmental justification whatsoever for continuing the mulching,” Anderson said. “…It’s just something that’s costing the town and causing a lot of issues for people who live nearby.”

Instead of settling on a definitive process, the town will take a variety of approaches to this year’s leaf collection season, which will begin in late October, to see how the program will work without mulching and what costs to expect.

A staff analysis found that, based on current fuel costs, it would cost Vienna $138.02 per hour to hire rental trucks to transport leaves for disposal, compared to $192.81 an hour to use its own trucks. The rental trucks can also carry 25 cubic yards of leaves to the town truck’s 21 cubic yards.

“By using the rental trucks, we have more capacity, which equals fewer trips, which equals fewer miles and fewer gallons, so it is truly efficient, but it also allows flexibility that is required. We’re not limiting staff to that one option,” Councilmember Steve Potter said.

While the town will stop providing mulch, the council directed staff and the Conservation and Sustainability Commission to develop recommendations for a program to encourage residents to mulch leaves on their own properties.

Many localities, including Fairfax County, are already encouraging residents to “leave their leaves,” citing the environmental benefits of composting or using a mower to mulch leaves so they can decompose.

Anderson suggested Vienna could develop an educational program and potentially offer incentives for on-site leaf mulching.

“I know that not everyone is in a position to do this, but the work of staff and the CSC made it very clear that, from an environmental standpoint, that was by far the lowest carbon footprint and the best result,” Anderson said. “From an economic standpoint, it’s also the cheapest, because we don’t incur the costs of picking [leaves] up and all the rest.”

With its mulching operations shutting down, the town now has to find a long-term use for the Beulah Road leaf collection site. Some neighboring residents have advocated for turning the property into a park.

“We’re not going to be using that land 10, 15 years from now for leaves,” Councilmember Ray Brill said.

Photo via Susan Jones/Unsplash

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Patrick Henry Library in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

An initial concept for the upcoming Patrick Henry Library renovation is here, and the Vienna Town Council has some reservations.

At a Town Council conference session on Monday (June 13), Fairfax County public works staff unveiled a conceptual site plan for a one-story library and a four-level parking garage to replace the existing facility and parking lot at 101 Maple Avenue East.

The county hopes to expand the community library from 13,817 square feet to about 18,000 square feet — smaller than the previously expected 21,000 square feet — to accommodate its programming plans, including a larger children’s section and upgraded technology.

The project will also add a public parking garage to the 1.4-acre site. The current concept provides 216 spaces, including seven accessible spots and five with electric vehicle charging stations — more than the 209 spaces required by the county’s agreement with the Town of Vienna.

Fairfax County’s initial concept site plan for the new Patrick Henry Library and parking garage (via Town of Vienna)

With an access road planned from Maple Avenue and a driveway to the garage from Center Street, the two structures will essentially take up every available inch of space.

“The site is quite constrained in size for the uses proposed,” Vienna Planning and Zoning Director David Levy said. “Parking garages in particular have minimum dimensions related to turning radii and efficient layouts. As a result, there’s not really many options for the concept design.”

The limited space will make it difficult to meet Vienna’s tree canopy requirements, which may have to be waived, Levy told the council.

The concept provides open space in the form of a plaza at the corner of Maple and Center. A rooftop terrace to provide outdoor reading and classroom space has been considered, but it would be “cost-prohibitive” to include initially, according to county staff.

Though staff said the setback from Maple Avenue will be slightly increased, council members urged the design team led by the firm RRMM Architects to find ways to use less space and reduce the height of the garage. Read More

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The Patrick Henry Library parking lot in Vienna, empty after it closed at 6 p.m. (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

As new development starts to emerge in Vienna’s commercial corridor, the town wants to make sure it’s staying in the lines when it comes to parking.

The Vienna Town Council approved $115,000 in funding on Monday (June 6) for a parking supply and demand study that will assess the current availability of parking, future needs, and potential strategies for managing parking going forward.

The contract will go to Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, Inc., a transportation firm that’s also involved in the town’s first comprehensive zoning code update in half a century.

Utilizing the same consultant will allow staff to “seamlessly” integrate the study’s findings into the Code Create Vienna project, Andrew Jinks, a transportation engineer and planner for the town, told the council.

“Right now, the schedule is for this to be wrapped up at the end of January,” Jinks said of the parking study. “If it trails into February, the data would already be available.”

The Code Create website suggests a public hearing process could start this fall, but Town Manager Mercury Payton told the council that the new code isn’t expected to be finalized for another 12 to 14 months.

While all five present council members voted to fund the study, some initially questioned whether it’s necessary given the similarities with the Code Create process, which includes a review of the town’s existing parking standards.

Nelson/Nygaard’s proposal breaks the study into three phases:

  1. Review the town’s existing parking situation
  2. Forecast future demand based on projected development, travel patterns, and other factors
  3. Develop an overall parking strategy — a top recommendation of the economic development report that Vienna commissioned last year

The consultant plans to conduct stakeholder workshops, public meetings, and an online survey.

Councilmember Ray Brill argued that some of those efforts seem “duplicative” of what the town has spent more than a year doing with the zoning code update, suggesting the study could instead hone in on areas like Church Street and the Vienna Shopping Center with well-known challenges.

“There’s some fluff in there,” Brill said. “We have a parking problem in certain areas. We don’t in others. Focus on the ones we have, come up with a solution, and don’t take eight months to do it.”

Though public parking concerns have come up in Vienna before, Councilmember Nisha Patel expressed skepticism that another study will add enough new information to justify the cost. She noted that upcoming projects, such as the Patrick Henry Library renovation and a proposed Church Street development, could alleviate current space shortages.

Councilmembers Chuck Anderson and Steve Potter countered that updated data is needed to help the town plan for the future.

“Given the number of changes in our society, especially since Covid, on where [people] work and where they drive and a lot of things being delivered, we need to really go in with our new zoning [code], with realistic numbers for parking,” Anderson said.

Patel said Anderson’s clarification of the study’s goal helped, and she and Brill ultimately supported allocating the funds.

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Town of Vienna sign on Maple Avenue (file photo)

Vienna residents’ next property tax bills won’t be quite as high as anticipated, even as the town commits to raising employee salaries and other additional costs.

The Vienna Town Council voted unanimously last night (Monday) to adopt a $48.7 million budget for fiscal year 2022-2023 with a real estate tax rate of 20.5 cents per $100 of assessed value — a 1.75-cent cut from the current rate. The new budget will be in effect from July 1 through June 30, 2023.

This will be the 10th consecutive year that the town has reduced or maintained its real estate tax rate, according to a news release.

With the average residential tax bill expected to increase 3.7% from last year due to rising assessment values, the council had urged staff to lower the tax rate beyond the 1-cent reduction initially proposed by Town Manager Mercury Payton.

“I think we did a good thing to help all residents in Vienna, but also, we were fiscally responsible,” Mayor Linda Colbert said after the vote. “We still have the rainy day fund and so on.”

Even with the increased tax cut, the adopted budget is 12.7% larger than the current spending plan, thanks to an “unusually large” surplus from fiscal year 2020-2021 and revenues bouncing back after two years of declines during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to town staff.

Parks and recreation fees have returned to pre-pandemic levels, jumping from $991,000 in fiscal year 2021-2022 to $1.1 million in the newly adopted budget, Director of Finance Marion Serfass told the town council.

The town also has also seen strong sales and meals tax revenues. The latter rose 23% to $3.2 million, according to budget documents, which attribute the increase to “easing pandemic conditions, creative solutions to restaurant dining including outdoor dining opportunities, and several new restaurants opening.”

The adopted budget includes a 4% salary increase for all eligible employees, on top of a 3% increase that was approved with last year’s surplus funds but deferred to the coming fiscal year. It also establishes a new, separate pay plan for the Vienna Police Department to “address challenges with officer recruitment and retention,” the town says.

In his overview for the budget, Payton noted that most town employees will see a 11.7% increase in health insurance premiums.

“The salary increase will assist employees in recovering those increases and also address inflation, wage pressure and employee retention concerns,” he wrote.

On top of the budget and real estate tax rate, the town council approved increases to the water and sewer rates of 2.6% and 3.8%, respectively. Fixed service charges will also go up by 4.8%, from $31.30 to $32.80 per quarter for most residential customers.

The average residential customer will see an overall increase of $10 per quarter, or $40 annually, in their bill.

According to the town, the service charges increase is necessary to bring them “in line with industry standards.” Serfass said the town’s utilization of federal coronavirus relief funds for $5 million in infrastructure costs prevented rates from growing even faster.

Vienna was allocated a total of $17.1 million by the American Rescue Plan Act, about $13 million of which the town intends to spend on water, sewer, park, street, and sidewalk infrastructure projects. The second half of the funds are expected to come in June.

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A few diners are seated on the patio behind Blend 111 on Church Street in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

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.”

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Construction on Vienna’s new police station is expected to be complete in July (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

It will cost the Town of Vienna nearly $300,000 more to finish construction on its new police station at 215 Center Street South.

The Vienna Town Council agreed last week to authorize spending increases of $249,310 for contractor Hoar Construction and $48,817 for project manager Downey & Scott.

However, town officials emphasized that the overall project is still on track to come in $98,913 under the $17.3 million allocated to it from bond funding and cable fees.

“The police station has several different components to it,” Vienna Director of Finance Marion Serfass said at the May 2 meeting. “Some items are under the original budget, and some are over, but in total, the entire project is under budget by $98,000.”

One of the items that has gone over budget is Downey & Scott’s contract, which was originally approved in January 2019 with a $318,950 price tag.

Hired to manage the construction process, the firm previously requested and received an additional $67,680 in October, citing a longer-than-anticipated pre-construction phase and “unknown condition incidents” that emerged after work on the site began.

Bringing the firm’s bill up to $437,897, this new increase was needed to extend the contract by 90 days, according to a memo sent to the town on April 8.

“Due to supply chain disruptions, the roofing materials, fencing, and other materials have been delayed,” Downey & Scott said in the memo, reporting that Hoar’s estimated completion date for the project is July 19.

That will be “less than a month late despite historic issues with construction materials and the supply chain,” according to town staff.

The town council approved both funding requests without any public discussion, but members said they had talked about them in a closed conference session.

“I just want the public to know we discussed this in detail,” Councilmember Chuck Anderson said. “We asked a bunch of questions, so it’s not like we’re just automatically approving it.”

Construction on the Vienna Police Department’s new building began in January 2021. When completed, the station will be approximately 30,000 square feet in size with a firing range, additional interview rooms, more personnel and storage space, and a 1,500-square-foot multipurpose room that could be used by the community, among other amenities.

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