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Oct 31

Maple Avenue Corridor Has Passed

Posted on October 31, 2014 at 10:45 AM by Stephanie Baynes

As many of you know, I have been talking about Maple Avenue Vision, now Maple Avenue Corridor (MAC), for a number of years. My first exposure to the idea of upgrading the Town’s commercial zoning ordinances came when I was on the Planning Commission. The Council, at the time, asked the commission to make recommendations on Vienna’s “main street.” The Planning Commission in 2008 felt the Town needed to hire a consultant and appoint a steering committee because upgrading the commercial ordinances would require a group effort.

Fast forward six years and the Town now has a MAC ordinance that was created by a 17 member steering committee and approved by the Planning Commission. The Town hired Lardner Klein Consultants to work with the steering committee and Town staff. 13 of the 17 steering committee members were residents. Some were also small business owners as well as board and commission members. I credit Mayor Seeman on selecting a broad array of committee members who had a vested interest in the Town and cared about the future of the Town.

Why was it important to pass the MAC? There are three main reasons. The first is that our commercial zoning ordinances are from the 1960s and support strip mall zoning. I don’t believe anyone in Town wants future redevelopment to move in that direction.  It would be nice to offer an alternative.

Secondly, in fifty years there have been changes in transportation, technology, the environment and the lifestyle of residents. Residents like bike riding, sitting outside at restaurants, enjoy public art, desire gathering spaces, and value environmental sustainability. The MAC ordinance takes these features and incorporates them into the Town’s commercial zoning ordinances. If the Town wants to require these additional features of property owners, we need to offer an incentive. The incentive for the MAC is additional height, moving from 35’ to 54’ with a minimum of 15’ on the bottom floor and mixed use. The MAC does not allow more than 4 floors.

Lastly, with the redevelopment of Tysons next door, the Town needs to clearly define what we want our main street to look like. The Town wants to move the buildings to the front of the street (some are already like this) and have parking in the back, make the sidewalks 20’ in front of the buildings so Maple Avenue is more pedestrian friendly, and encourage shared or structured parking. Over time, this creates a main street and a destination for residents.

MAC is an investment in the future of the Town. Please know this is not something that came from commercial interests or without thoughtful deliberation. The main ideas and the MAC ordinance specifically came from residents, Town staff and a knowledgeable consultant. The fundamental intention was to upgrade the commercial zoning ordinances while maintaining the Town’s small town feel.

I know some residents are hesitant about the MAC and how it will influence Vienna’s small town feel, but the MAC keeps that in mind as well as keeps Vienna’s commercial district viable. This commercial zoning ordinance creates a picture of what the Town wants Maple Avenue to look like in the next 15 to 20 years. Additionally, there can be changes made to the ordinance when needed.

Any redevelopment will be determined by the free market and current economics. We know the economy will change over time and future markets are difficult to predict, but the Town’s commercial zoning ordinances will not determine the economy. Ultimately, the Town should have a current vision in place, so when the economy allows for it, redevelopment will happen in a way that the Town desires.

Laurie A. DiRocco