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Votes

Big Vs. Small Town

Town Council mulls over vision for Maple Avenue.

Plans for a new Maple Avenue are still up in the air. At a Vienna Town Council work session devoted to discussing possible Maple Avenue revitalization Monday, Aug. 22, councilmembers entered into a heated debated over the pros and cons of the issue.

The issue was whether to rezone all or parts of the Maple Avenue business corridor, which currently uses commercial zoning, to allow a form-based code. A form-based code gives the governing body control over the specific look of new development, but not as much control over its uses.

Councilmember Laurie Genevro Cole summed up the council’s discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of form-based code: it would create an increased tax base, she said, encourage redevelopment and control certain aspects of the town’s "look," but it would be harder to control the use of new developments and would create more density.

"Will the economy always be what it is today?" asked Councilmember Edythe Kelleher. "It’s the question of: ‘does a rising tide lift all boats,’ and if it does, than the majority of the buildings in town would have been redeveloped by now, and they haven’t."

The state of the economy underscored the discussion. On the one hand, several councilmembers wanted to take advantage of the booming real estate market and the retail value of the land along Maple Avenue, much of which is strip mall parking lots, to spark redevelopment. But others worried that Vienna would lose its small-town feel if the redevelopment process wasn’t allowed to happen on its own.

"Eventually, we’re going to lose our economic base," said Councilmember Mike Polychrones, who was in favor of allowing form-based code. If the town were to continue in its current zoning, he said, it would be difficult to stop a large department store such as Target setting up shop in Vienna.

"I’m looking at a vision of the future," said Councilmember Sydney Verinder, also in favor of form-based code. "If we don’t (do that), it will continue to be a strip mall-with-parking in the front area." Verinder suggested the Route 1 corridor, a run-down strip-mall area, as a negative comparison.

In other comparisons, councilmembers cited the redevelopment along Columbia Pike, which used form-based code.

"Why are we so eager to spark development instead of letting it happen on its own?" asked Councilmember Maud Robinson, who was strongly opposed to possible rezoning. She said that many town residents she spoke to asked her to "keep Vienna as it is."

COLE DESCRIBED the Wegman’s grocery store in Fairfax, which she said was an attractive building and an example of what could happen if a developer saw enough incentive to put money into a building without using form-based code.

Kelleher cited Bailey’s Crossroads and downtown Annandale as two examples of commercial revitalization districts that had turned out very differently from one another.

"We’d like to see better than what might happen by right," said Kelleher. "When the government comes in with incentives, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t."

"We’re the only authentic small town in 400 square miles of Fairfax County," said Robinson. "An authentic town has its warts. It’s not and artificial beauty spot from one end to the other … there’s a feeling out there that we have something genuine."

In the end, the Town Council decided that it had to reach some sort of compromise and agreed to work further on the issue. Linnea Eastin, of the Department of Planning and Zoning, suggested that the council do a feasibility study for form-based code along Maple Avenue, a less expensive option than instituting the code itself. The councilmembers decided to wait for the results of Eastin’s study before moving forward on the issue.