Merchants Worry over Effects of Parking Garage Construction
Store owners express uncertainty their business can endure 18-month construction phase
Though Church Street merchants agree parking along the historic street is a challenge, some are concerned the construction phase of a proposed parking garage and mixed-use building will have a detrimental effect on their businesses.
Town of Vienna officials — including Mayor Jane Seeman, Vice Mayor Laurie DiRocco and council members Laurie Cole and Carey Sienicki — and the project's architect, Paul Layer, hosted a community meeting with merchants Wednesday night at the proposed site, 120 Church St. NW.
"This area really has become a live, vibrant place. This is exactly what we want for Church Street, but we don't want to stop here," Seeman said to the crowd. "We want to continue this, and because of that, we're going to build a parking garage here."
In March, Town Council accepted a proposal for a multi-million dollar proposal for a three-story mixed-use building and four-story parking structure on Church Street, the first pitch to come in under the town's newly adopted public-private partnership guidelines. The proposal is not yet approved.
If approved, the town anticipates breaking ground in February 2014 with an 18-month construction phase. The garage will have 120 parking spaces, the outdoor lot will host 52 spaces, and the curb in front of the mixed-use building will make room for five spaces.
The project from Arrington Properties LLC would cost between $5.8 million and $6.6 million, the plan said. The private building would be developed and funded by Arrington. Land for the parking structure would be sold to Vienna for $1 and construction, estimated to cost between $2.8 million and $3.3 million, would be financed by the town through meals and lodging taxes. Three of the four levels will be paid parking, with the ground level free for tenants.
"From the street, because of the angle, you're not going to see the parking garage," Seeman said. "You will see the [mixed-use] building. The parking garage behind it will double the number of parking spaces on Church Street."
Many of the merchants shared stories about the parking nightmares they have experienced — from drivers parking in front of businesses they are not patronizing to delivery trucks having no good place to park while making their deliveries — but not all are sold on the idea a new parking garage would solve all their problems.
"By the time this gets done, three more buildings will probably have been renovated under the new one space per 600 square feet rule, in which case we'll still have a parking problem," said Donny Sobel, who owns The Clock Shop of Vienna.
Businesses that choose to open under the Church Street Vision, adopted in 1999, are required to have one space per 600 square feet. Prior to this ordinance, businesses had to have one space per 200 square feet.
"The building behind me has four businesses and eight parking spaces, for example, which doesn't even cover the number of employees of the restaurant there," said Sobel, whose shop opened before the Church Street Vision. "I think the Vision was created with blinders on. The Vision needs glasses. The Vision caused the parking problem. It's like building a development with no road to it. First you build the substructure and roads to get to the division, then you build the houses. We built the houses first here."
'There is a Social Cost'
While Sobel and many of the other merchants see the benefit of increased foot traffic once both buildings are completed, the three shop owners whose storefronts form a corridor between Maple Avenue and Church Street are not so sure their businesses will reap the same benefits.
Sweet City Desserts, The Pure Pasty Co. and bikes@vienna will lose visibility to Church Street once the structures are built, and the owners worry the 18-month construction phase will harm their stores enough to put them out of business before they are even able to see whether the projected increase in foot traffic will make up the difference.
"Will I still have a business when it's all said and done? I'm not so sure. The town is initiating this, so what are they doing to protect us? It's not a problem I've brought on myself," said Michael Burgess, owner of Pure Pasty. " ... There's more than just the cost of putting the concrete slabs together. There's a social cost. There's a cost to all of the other businesses, as well. I want to know who is going to pay that cost. ... The irony is Manny [Tagle, co-owner of Sweet City Desserts] and I are helping to pay for it because it's coming out of the meals and lodging tax. I'm paying for something that could potentially kill my business."
Tim Fricker, whose shop bikes@vienna is located next door to Pure Pasty, worries the new design of the street between his shop and the proposed parking garage will change whether that location remains practical for his purposes — if it can survive the decreased revenue he will endure during the construction.
"I use the open space in front of the shop to send people on test rides on their bikes. Now it's going to be a parking garage," said Fricker, who also contributes a biking column to Vienna Patch. "We sell unusual bicycles, so people need guidance and coaching when they first get the bikes. ... Honestly, I'm 50/50 on whether I can stay here. I think that what I'm losing in this process could really hurt my business. It's a guaranteed hit on my business for 18 months for an end result that's uncertain because it cuts me off from the world visually."
When asked whether the Town of Vienna had looked into how the proposed project, particularly the construction phase, would impact surrounding businesses, Seeman said an impact study had not been conducted.
"It's a double-edged sword, it really is," Seeman said. "We think the end result will be worth it."
Nick Arrington, who owns the property where the proposed buildings would be built as well as Sweet City Desserts, Pure Pasty and bikes@vienna, agrees those three business will likely take a hit during the construction process.
When asked if he worried the tenants would suffer so much they would have to close up shop, he said he did not think the decrease in business would be that drastic.
"We've got some contingency plans for the construction for that reason," Arrington said. "We're going to try to do the construction in pieces to keep the area as clean as possible. There's no doubt it will impact the whole street, but I do think it'll pay off in the end. When people park and come out of the parking garage, the first thing they'll see are those three storefronts."
The Town of Vienna is hosting two community meetings on this topic from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. today in Council Chambers at Town Hall.