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FairfaxSome Vienna leaders aghast at layout of library/parking proposal

Some Vienna leaders aghast at layout of library/parking proposal

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It’s still only a rough, preliminary design, but some Vienna Town Council members at a June 13 work session were decidedly not happy with the mass, parking-garage height and street setbacks of the proposed new Patrick Henry Library.

Council member Charles Anderson objected to the “massive” amount of lot coverage at the site.

“You’re trying to do too much in too small an area,” he said. “The way to fix this is to basically make the library two stories.”

David Levy, Vienna’s new planning-and-zoning director, said a more detailed picture of the library and garage would materialize in the upcoming design-development phase.

“The final design is not there yet,” he said. “You’ll see that in the next phase.”

In 2020, the town government signed an agreement with Fairfax County to fund at least 84 municipal parking spaces at the future new library. There also would be – and this figure still is fungible – a total of 132 spaces for library patrons, bringing the site’s total to 216.

The initial concept design shows a new, one-story library stretching down Maple Avenue, E., from Center Street, S., and ending just before a bus stop. There would be an elevated plaza at the corner, complete with retaining wall and steps, and the library entrance would feature an atrium.

The new four-level parking garage would be located behind the library and accessible both from Center Street, S., and via a new curb cut and access drive off of Maple Avenue, E., just eastward of the bus stop.

“The site is quite constrained in size for the uses proposed,” Levy said, noting that parking garages have strict requirements as far as turning radii.

The small site and large proposed facilities also pose a challenge for meeting the town’s tree-canopy requirements, which may require some waivers, Levy said.

Vienna Elementary School abuts the library to the south and now has loading and vehicular access through the library’s parking lot. Designer intend to maintain that access for the school.

Town staff were pleased with many elements of the design, as it met the busy library’s programming needs and would provide direct library access from the parking garage, he said.

The design potentially could offer access to a rooftop terrace on the library, for outdoor reading, but this option would be cost-prohibitive and is not currently being considered, county staff said.

The concept design makes strategic use of the steep grade down from Center Street, S., to the intersection.

“The library against Maple Avenue will not feel so looming,” Levy said.
Council members still were not persuaded.

“It seems twice the size of the current library, in terms of length,” said Council member Ray Brill Jr. He favored putting gabled roofs on each of the library’s section for symmetry purposes and said the four-story parking garage seemed to dominate the site.

“I have looked at many of your Fairfax County libraries and I have been very impressed by the innovative, creative architectural effort,” Brill said. “This one looks like a warehouse.”

County officials responded that there are not many multi-story libraries in the county because of staffing and oversight issues. (Brill countered that the city of Fairfax’s multiple-story library fit in well with its surroundings.)

The garage would be 34 feet tall, plus 3 more feet for the parapets.
“It seems it’s almost dwarfed by the garage,” said Council member Steve Potter of the library design.

But among other Town Council members, there was more enthusiasm, or at least an acknowledgment that options were limited.

“This is the property we have. This is what we’re stuck with,” said Council member Howard Springsteen. “This is kind of like a warehouse. You have to dress that up.”

Digging deeper for the lower level of the parking garage, perhaps only a half-story, would lower the structure’s height, Springsteen said.
The garage looks out of proportion for the space, said Council member Ed Somers, who also worried about a relatively short setback from Maple Avenue, E.

Council member Nisha Patel agreed.

“Unless the setback is pushed back to at least a minimum of 35 feet from Maple Avenue, for me it’s a no-go,” said Patel, who also favored a two-story library.

The library’s current setback from Maple Avenue is 24.5 feet and would be 26.5 feet under the concept design, county officials said.

The town/county agreement has four moments when the Council could terminate its participation – but with higher financial penalties as the project progresses.

The initial phase passed when the county awarded the design contract and the town now is at Step 2, the end of the concept-design phase.

If the Council elects to kill the agreement now, the county will return 85 percent of the town’s $663,000 design contribution, leaving Vienna with $566,000, Levy said. Backing out at the design-development phase would result in the town’s getting back only 50 percent of its money.

The Council will have a chance to decide on whether to continue with the project at its July 11 meeting. Council proposed discussing the library proposal Aug. 29 to give the county time to address the issues raised, but county officials said this likely would put the project behind schedule – not a minor consideration in these times of high inflation and supply-chain problems.

Mayor Linda Colbert seemed firmly intent on moving ahead with the project.

“We have been working on getting a parking garage in this town for over a decade,” Colbert said, adding that the county was going to build a new library anyway, with or without the town’s participation. “I do not want to see this go away. I want to go forward with this.”

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