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FairfaxBusinessVienna project garners (qualified) enthusiasm from Council members

Vienna project garners (qualified) enthusiasm from Council members

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It’s been seven years since the Vienna Town Council approved a “Church Street Vision” redevelopment project, but another now is in the offing.

Vienna Town Council members seemed intrigued June 14 by conceptual plans for a mixed-used building on two parcels at 139-145 Church St., N.W., but had concerns about the site’s parking, architecture and proximity to a busy intersection.

James Bognet, president and CEO of Tysons-based Bognet Construction, owns the 0.62-acre site and is aiming to build a three-story building at 141 Church St., N.W. Bognet and representatives from MGMA Design, the project’s architectural firm, outlined the proposal at the Council’s work session.

Both parcels now have two-story retail/office buildings that would be razed to make way for a new 35-foot-tall structure with six commercial spaces on the 9,378-square-foot ground level and two 9,448-square-foot floors above with nine residential units each.

There also would be a 10,891-square-foot basement featuring retail space and an 804-square-foot rooftop amenity area for the building’s residents.
Conceptual drawings by MGMA Design show a potential ground-level restaurant with outdoor seating guarded by a stone retaining wall at the corner of Lawyers Road and Church Street, N.W.

“We’re hoping to have a dynamic outdoor space,” said Will McBeath, a partner with MGMA Design.

Taking advantage of the hilly terrain behind the building to the north, the developer would provide 72 parking spaces, including three handicapped spots.

Thirty-eight of the spaces would be in an underground garage accessible from Church Street, N.W.; the remaining 34 spaces and a dumpster area would be located above that garage. The second parking level would be open to the sky and accessible from Lawyers Road, N.W.

Council member Ed Somers urged the developer to design the second parking level’s entrance in a way that protects pedestrians from motorists pulling out of it.

The project would be developed under the town’s C-1B zoning ordinance, which the Council authorized in July 1999. The ordinance supports the Church Street Vision plan, which encourages redevelopment along what arguably is the town’s most scenic commercial street.

In exchange for parking reductions, increased building density and an expedited review process, developers provide architectural amenities sought by the town.

The Council since 1999 has approved these four Church Street Vision projects: 101 Church St., N.W. (Sushi Yoshi, Vienna Pet Spaw), 111-113 Church St., N.W. (Bazin’s, Blend 111); 144 Church St., N.W. (Red Galanga); and 120 Church St., N.W. (Bard’s Alley, Rita’s, etc.).

That last project, which includes ground-floor retail and residential apartments on the second floor, was approved by the Council in 2014 and was the most recent Church Street Vision initiative. The site earlier had been proposed for a mixed-use building with a municipal parking garage, but that public-private partnership fell through in 2013.

Conceptual drawings for the 141 Church St. project show a variety of building materials and architectural touches – such as cornices, molding, gooseneck lamps and Juliet balconies – that aim to meet town officials’ hopes for buildings along Church Street that resemble those built at the end of the 19th century.

Council member Howard Springsteen said the conceptual designs more resembled buildings in Merrifield’s Mosaic District than ones on Church Street.

“I’d like to have a more historical feel than you show here,” he said.

Some Council members were not keen on the developer’s proposal to use fiber-cement siding on some of the residential units above the ground floor, which would have an all-brick façade. Council member Ray Brill said fiber-cement requires regular repainting, while colleague Nisha Patel objected on aesthetic grounds.

“Cement-board siding is unappealing and unattractive,” Patel said.

Council members also worried about the proximity of the possible corner restaurant to the intersection at Church Street, N.W., and Lawyers Road, N.W. That crossing, which is the western gateway to Vienna’s revitalized Church Street is located directly across from the busy Vienna Post Office and one block away from the even busier intersection at Lawyers/Courthouse roads and Maple Avenue, W., which often results in traffic backups.

The Church Street/Lawyers Road intersection has a zigzag shape with poor sight lines, odd turning angles and misaligned opposing sections of Church Street. It has multiple crosswalks, which introduce pedestrians into the mix, and cannot accommodate a roundabout.

“The more clearance at the intersection, the better,” Springsteen said.
The Council will review the plans again after the developer formally submits them. Church Street Vision projects are reviewed only by the Council and town staff and do not go before the town’s Planning Commission and Board of Architectural Review.

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