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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 , the first pitch to come in under the town's  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 . 

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.

, and 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 . "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 from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. today in Council Chambers at Town Hall.

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11 August 16, 2012 at 11:28 AM
Greatly needed!
Wien August 16, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Community meetings are a window dressing, listen to the Mayor's words, this thing is already done. Sad considering many businesses and many people who live in Town and pay Town taxes are against it. Considering I use the businesses and the gym across from that empty lot on a regular basis, I'd question the "need" as anything urgent. Sure, sometimes you have to walk a block or two, but I've never not found a spot. You can always find a spot if headed to Pasty, Bikes, Anytime Fitness, Bazins, etc...just maybe not a spot right in front. So now we're adding 120 parking spaces - why? Because (and here's the key) they're PAID parking spots. Goodbye free parking in central Church Street, hello revenue for someone. A garage structure where the upper levels are for visitors doesn't make parking easier, it makes it even more of a hassle, at a cost to you. And the comments that you can't see the garage from Church Street may be true, but what about the backside? If they do get a waiver to go over town height restrictions, then what about the lovely view from Maple Avenue. But hey, at least we get more mixed use business spaces. Because there aren't enough empty storefronts along Maple Avenue shopping centers, let's add more business space to the Town's inventory.
monica greer August 16, 2012 at 02:36 PM
pay to park in vienna? really?? i have never had trouble finding a spot on church street. i will NOT pay to park.
LJH August 16, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Its sad to see that the Town is more concerned with making money than supporting the businesses that make it special. As a resident of Church Street I am concerned that I am going to be living on top of a construction zone for at least 18 months and my concerns were barely addressed by the mayor when asked last night. The Town hasn't looked at the impact of brining a structure like this online fully - what will the impact on traffic be? A 2008 traffic study is hardly sufficent to tell what traffic currently is, or will be when ground is broken in 2014. A 24 hour structure where I assume there will be some kind of payment machine will also bring more crime to the area - has that concern been addressed? it appears not. The project is being pushed though without feedback from the community it will DIRECLY effect - its great that someone who doesn't live or work on church street wants more parking but when its in your backyard your feelings change. I would like to know if other locations for the garage were proposed and/or considred. For instance, the lot next to the caboose where the farmers market currently takes place - a garage there wouldn't impact businesses or residents nearly as much.
Groovis Maximus August 16, 2012 at 04:52 PM
If Arrington Properties owns the property that Sweet City, Pure Pasty and bikes@vienna all occupy, maybe Arrington should give those businesses deep, deep discounts on their leases during the construction period. Maybe the town should encourage Arrington to do just that in order to sign off on the new project.
Kirstyn Barr August 16, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Just to clarify - this project is not a done deal - it has not been approved by Town Council in any manner and is still in its infancy. We are holding the public meetings in an effort to identify resident and business concerns so that they can be incorporated into the process. Should this project move forward, the Town's intent is to mitigate the impact on residents and businesses alike before, during and after construction. Also, the spaces are intended to be paid at this point in order to cover the public parking garage's operating costs - it will be maintained by the Town of Vienna.
Kirstyn Barr August 16, 2012 at 05:50 PM
As it stands currently, the rates set for the paid parking will be so that the operating costs will be covered; not generate revenue. We are having two more public meetings today for the residents at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. in Town Hall - we encourage you to attend and provide your feedback. (I'll be sure to include your comments here in our list as the reason for these meetings is to find out what the concerns of the entire community are and to address them early on in the process.)
Kirstyn Barr August 16, 2012 at 05:51 PM
I will add your suggestion to our list of concerns/suggestions on this proposed project!
Blue Sky Thinking August 16, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Everyone I have spoken to does not want this project. The businesses close by do not want this project. The real question here is WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR IT? The Tax answer is a politicians fudged reply. The TOV have a total amount of tax income to spend each year. It's not as if there is a new fund being created from the "Meals and Lodging Tax". So if they divert funds from "Meals and Lodging" then guess where they will make up the rest. You guessed it. Us the residents. The function of local government is simple, to spend our tax revenue on our behalf. So have your say it how it's spent. They will borrow the initial sum on the bond market, putting the town in debt and then intend to repay that with our tax revenue. In the current economic conditions regarding government debt, is that really the route you want to take? These people are our elected officials, so have your say about what they put you into debt to create. Do you really want a parking garage that badly? Reading these answers I'm guessing not.
A.M August 16, 2012 at 07:08 PM
I have lived in Vienna since 1994. I regularly workout at Anytime Fitness and regularly shop at a number of the stores along Church St. and I always find spots easily. I also enjoy the small town feel that Church street brings. How many more business are going to be coming onto Church St. to where we will need 120 more parking spaces? I fear that this will change the small town atmosphere that I love about Church St. Also 123 and Church street already have a ton of traffic during rush hour, I can't imagine how bad it would be with a year and a half of construction on the road. I would be open to creating new parking spaces but would not support a large parking garage being built.
A.M August 16, 2012 at 07:12 PM
I also greatly resent the fact that I would possibly have to pay to park!
G. C. August 16, 2012 at 07:51 PM
A.M. is the second person to express resentment over the idea of having to pay for parking. I wonder how many drivers will skip the pay parking garage and go find free parking elsewhere, perhaps in residential neighborhoods adjacent to the shopping district. I suspect those residents won't be happy about that. Or maybe they'll park in spaces that are intended for specific businesses, such as the Clock Shop, or Caffe Amouri, but walk to another business, denying those shop's customers parking.
Nigel Twose August 16, 2012 at 08:05 PM
My family has been buying bikes from bikes@vienna for 15 years - that's been 8 bikes so far I think. Each time, we have tried the various options on the space in front of the store, which I think would disappear under the new scheme. It's reassuring to hear that this is not yet a done deal, and it's reassuring that the needs of existing businesses will be taken not account. But if I was running one of those small businesses - the ones that are already there, providing good jobs - I'd want more than soothing words to reassure me.
Kirstyn Barr August 16, 2012 at 08:05 PM
My apologies - to clarify on the paid parking point - the Town is looking at ways to cover the operating costs of the garage and one of those ways is paid parking. Nothing is set in stone as Town Council has made no decisions on any factor concerning the proposed public parking garage.
Kirstyn Barr August 16, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Just to clarify, the paid parking is not a definite. The Town is looking at ways to cover the operating costs for the garage, and one way is paid parking. We are looking at other options and are looking for creative ways to cover the cost aside from paid parking.
Kirstyn Barr August 16, 2012 at 08:30 PM
We definitely agree with your sentiments! We most assuredly want to make sure that not just those businesses adjacent to the proposed structure, but all of the merchants on Church Street, experience a limited impact during and after construction. It's difficult to give definite answers to these concerns when there are so many unanswered questions about this proposal. But, we need to hear these concerns so that we can adequately address them through the process. As time progresses and we move forward, we most assuredly will have more than just soothing words to provide.
J Anderson August 16, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Any business that would benefit from that garage should be able to validate parking if pay to park is approved. That cost should then be covered by either the town or the owner and not the customers or businesses.
Kirstyn Barr August 16, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Thanks for the suggestion - I'll be sure to include it on our list of ideas to handle the operating costs of the structure.
Tim Fricker August 16, 2012 at 09:04 PM
I really appreciate Nigel's comments as a longtime customer with us. And I want to stress that it is not merely the disruption we will face during the construction phase that concerns me. I fear that the end result will leave my business without a safe and adequate test riding area and isolated down an alley, invisible from Church Street. Vague assurances about some sort of signage don't really help me at this point.
bjw August 17, 2012 at 04:19 PM
I found responses to concerns over the size of the new structure to be disturbing. When the town representatives answer is to say that once changes are made to Maple Ave. under new height guidlines they hope to adopt under the new vision for 123 , you might not even be able to see the garage , I shudder. I returned to Vienna 26 years ago (I grew up here) to raise my family in this town that had kept it's heart. I now see a town that seems to make its decisions based on what will entice developers to build. I believe the town needs to find out if it's citizens want to live in mini Reston. I wonder how the town can continue to accommodate increased density without being able to make major changes to infrastructure. Can you imagine the traffic in town when the commercial buildings in town are increased to 50 feet. The developers might love it but will we want to live here?
G. C. August 17, 2012 at 04:40 PM
If you want some idea of what is being considered for Maple Avenue, check out the following Patch articles: http://vienna.patch.com/articles/a-vision-for-maple-avenue#photo-8524503 http://vienna.patch.com/articles/consultant-picked-for-maple-ave-vision http://vienna.patch.com/articles/council-prepares-request-for-maple-ave-vision-consultant#photo-8524501 I think this will utterly change the character of downtown Vienna, and not for the better. We'll end up with nothing but chain stores and even worse traffic problems than we have today.
Amelie Krikorian August 18, 2012 at 03:07 AM
I have frequently had trouble finding a parking spot on Church, but not so much that I think a parking garage has to be built. Based on some of the reviews in "best of Vienna" I would hope that Pure Pasty, Bikes, and Sweet City would survive because of the loyalty of the current customer base... but certainly they will get less new traffic during construction. Someone suggested building the parking garage where the farmer's market currently is -- and have no farmer's market? Really? Not to mention ViVa Vienna? Parking in Vienna is a lot more difficult than it used to be 15 years ago, that's for sure, and not just on Church. When Southern States became a strip mall, that created a lot of overflow parking into what used to be the Safeway lot and is now Walgreens. People parking to use the bike path at Whole Foods has been creating a lot of problems too. And parking for the Halloween parade... forget it. To me, Church street has a unique, small town look and feel to it that a massive garage would damage. If we are going to build one, put it on Maple Avenue. Sane Viennaians avoid it so we won't have to look at it.
Peter August 19, 2012 at 12:43 PM
I am a resident of Vienna. If a garage is needed, then please build it underground. Thank you.
Tim Fricker August 21, 2012 at 03:09 AM
To add to the story, tonight (August 20th), the Town Council voted to revise the height restrictions in this part of town to allow for a parking structure, not to exceed 50 feet in height, BUT also allowing for an additional 7.5 feet for "rooftop features" such as stair and elevator towers, etc., so we could be looking at a building whose highest points would measure 57.5 feet from street level.

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