Vienna Planning Commission members on Aug. 24 – for the second time this year – recommended that the Vienna Town Council remove the cap on medical uses at the White Oak Tower commercial-condominium building at 301 Maple Ave., W.
The property’s former owner, Trimark VCP LLC, in 2005 received the Council’s approval to convert all of the six-story building into office condominiums, with the proviso that no more than 50 percent of the space could be occupied by medical offices. The Council approved that stipulation because medical uses typically require more parking than standard offices.
The current application, filed by Kim Luu-Tu, president of White Oak Tower Office Condominium Association, asks the Council to remove that 2005 restriction. The building in October 2021 reached 49.66 percent occupancy by medical offices, with only 152 square feet remaining below that threshold, according to the town’s staff report.
“That means that none of the existing tenants can expand, no new medical uses can come in and any condo owners that want to sell to a medical [use] if they leave the building are not able to do so,” said Kelly O’Brien, acting deputy planning-and-zoning director.
At least two of the building’s current medical practices would like to expand, but cannot, Luu-Tu added.
The Planning Commission on Feb. 23 unanimously recommended approval of the applicant’s earlier request to remove the medical-use limitation. The Council voted it down March 21 on a 3-4 tally, but some members told the applicant to provide further parking information if returning with the proposal.
Constructed in 1977, the 65-foot-tall, 48,323-square-foot structure is the Town of Vienna’s tallest building. Its ground level is located on a higher point than the rest of the Maple Avenue corridor, increasing the impression of height. The Town Council shortly after the building’s approval changed the zoning code to implement a 35-foot-height limit, which only rarely has been exceeded.
The Council then also increased from four to five the number of parking spaces per 1,000 square feet (excluding elevator shafts and stairways) required at commercial buildings.
The 1.35-acre site now provides a total of 183 parking spaces below the building, in a two-level garage behind it and with surface spaces. The number of spaces exceeds what was required when the building was constructed, but is less than the 226 currently required by town code. The site has not experienced parking difficulties and visitors rarely use the parking garage’s top deck, Luu-Tu said.
The commission’s Aug. 24 recommendation, which passed 6-0 (member David Miller was absent), is that the Town Council remove the limitation on medical uses at the site. But if Council members still have concerns, the Planning Commission as an alternative recommended setting a medical-use limit of 80 percent and revisiting the matter in three years.
While favoring a complete removal of the medical-use limitation, Planning Commission Chairman Stephen Kenney also supported handing the Council an alternate option with a higher medical-tenant threshold and review period, in order to boost the application’s likeliness for approval.
“It’s much easier to take a baby step and then another baby step than go all-out and then [say], ‘Oh, gee whiz, we’re too much,’ and then back it up,” Kenney said.
Some Planning Commission members were hesitant to rely on current parking data, saying it was too soon since the pandemic’s disruption to determine what long-term patterns would be. The town needs to be fair when enforcing its parking standards, they added.
The Town Council likely will take up the matter again in October.