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Zoning a 'Look'

Could a change in zoning code prevent unwanted changes in design on Maple Avenue?

<bt>The Town Council inched one step closer Monday night to initiating a study of possibilities for zoning — including form-based code — along Maple Avenue. The council met with a representative form Duncan Associates, the primary candidate to be awarded the contract for the project, and his colleagues Geoffrey Ferrell and Mary Madden of Ferrell Madden Associates, who would advise the Duncan Associates on the study.

Duncan is a civil engineering consulting firm specializing in zoning and land development regulations. Ferrell Madden specializes in designing form-based code.

R.J. Eldridge of Duncan Associates began by reassuring the council that drastic change is not the first option. "We have great respect for what's on the ground first, and we see where that works, and it maybe just may be some tweaks here and there," he said.

Asked by Mayor Jane Seeman whether the firm might recommend no change or only partial change, Eldridge said a total change in zoning would be highly unlikely. "I actually would imagine that the final project would be more of a hybrid," he said. "We've found through our experience that just taking one specific approach is not the best way to remedy the situation."

FERRELL ASSURED the council that his firm would be "the tail of the dog on this, certainly, and Duncan is the dog."

Councilmember George Lovelace said he would prefer that the existing town code be considered against the other three options — form-based code, overlay zones and mixed-use zoning — rather than weighing form-based code against all other options. "My preference is that we use the town's code as the generator," he said.

Eldridge responded that this was the approach the firm had planned to take, although the town may not have worded it exactly so in its request for proposals.

When asked by Councilmember Mike Polychrones how form-based code could protect the town's character, Ferrell explained that the firm would look at the center of town, "pick out the places you value and cook out what it is you value about it." Most of those traits he argued, would be characteristics of form, which would become the basis for the code. "Then you just turn the dials according to how much flexibility and how much prescription is appropriate."

Councilmember Maud Robinson reiterated her often-expressed concern about raising the town's skyline. Noting that she considers a low skyline to be a defining small-town character trait, she said, "You might label me the anti-height member of the council, and mixed-use usually envisions going up, up, up."

Two stories would be likely, said Ferrell, "but if four stories is too high, that's not a problem."

Eldridge also told the council that parking changes and any necessary additions to staff or the computer infrastructure to accommodate his firm's suggestions would be included in the report.

The decision to award Duncan Associates the contract to conduct the study will now be placed on a regular Town Council meeting agenda. The date has not been set, at least partly due to Lovelace's desire that the three representatives be present at that meeting to field any questions the public might have.

THE COUNCIL ALSO reviewed the town's policy requiring an engineer-certified grading plan for any building addition with a footprint greater than 200 square feet. Edward Maillett of Nutley Street, N.W., had requested the review because he felt the cost of obtaining such certification was prohibitive to his having an addition built on his home.

The purpose of the grading plan is to determine whether and how the addition would affect the flow of runoff.

Maillett received the sympathy of council members, but the idea of altering the policy was rejected in light of frequent complaints from citizens about various drainage problems.

"I sympathize with you, but I also sympathize with the people who come here and say, 'My neighbor put on an addition and put in a downspout that runs right to my basement. What can I do?'" Councilmember Laurie Cole summed up.

Also rejected was a request by the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Fairfax County Firefighters Union that they be granted a waiver of the newly adopted town ordinance prohibiting solicitation on the streets of Vienna. The groups wanted to continue their Labor Day Telethon fundraising.

Council members expressed admiration for the petitioning groups, but Town Attorney Steve Briglia warned of the legal difficulties involved in allowing certain groups to do what others cannot. Most councilmembers stated their concern for the safety of both motorists and solicitors.

Polychrones stood by his initial dissent toward the ordinance.