Vienna planning body likes developer’s proposal for cottage-style housing | news/fairfax

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A proposal to build 12 “cottage-style” housing units at 117-121 Courthouse Road, S.W., received the Vienna Planning Commission’s unanimous approval Aug. 25 and now heads to the Town Council.

Developer Dennis Rice of JDA Custom Homes is proposing to build six two-family dwellings clustered along a common green. The 60,319-square-foot (1.38-acre) site, which is owned by 117 Courthouse LC, also would feature a 500-square-foot clubhouse accessible to the residents.

The residences would have “cottage housing” architecture, as characterized by a short 28-foot building height and compact footprint.

The units would have about 1,200 square feet of living space, including a master bedroom, on the first floor and 600 square feet on the second, Rice said.

“We have been approached by numerous people in the town to try and put something of a smaller-caliber home in Vienna, rather than the 4,000-, 5,000-square-foot” new houses found elsewhere in town, he said.

Each unit would have one-and-a-half stories of living space and a two-car garage on the lower level, which also would have some basement space. The garages would be accessible from a two-way perimeter service drive, which would accommodate 12 parallel visitor-parking spaces.

The road would need to allow traffic in both directions to allow emergency and sanitation vehicles to access the site without needing to back up, Rice said.

The site’s post-development stormwater runoff would be less than what the site, now largely cleared of trees, had before redevelopment, Rice said. The houses’ roofs would be designed to permit solar-power installations in the future and each house would have the option of an electric-vehicle charging station, Rice said. The duplex units’ shared walls also naturally would result in some energy savings, he added.

“We’re trying to make it as energy-efficient as we can and keep the level of maintenance to a minimum,” Rice said.

Instead of using a common dumpster, residents will roll their own trash containers to the curb, he said.

The Council in December 2020 gave Rice permission to build three single-family houses on the site. Rice shortly afterward floated a cottage-housing proposal for the property, but stuck with the single-family home proposal after running into some static with the Council.

The applicant is seeking a rezoning from the current RS-10 single-family detached residential zoning district to the RM-2 multi-family, low-density district. Vienna’s comprehensive plan supports “cottage court” or “village” housing as a transition between single-family neighborhoods and commercial zones, town staff said.

The application would need several waivers from the town. The current plan would cover 55.3 percent of the lot, but the applicant is seeking 60-percent lot coverage to allow flexibility for future engineering, outdoor-living-space options for the clubhouse or residences and possible changes to the site’s parking configuration.

Almost none of the town’s current RM-2 residential developments meet current requirements for that zone, which have not been changed significantly since 1956, town staff said.

Instead of the required 35-foot front- and rear-yard setbacks, the applicant is asking for 20 and 25 feet, respectively. The town has allowed similar reductions at other multi-family residential developments, staff said.

Robert Gambarelli, who lives in southwest Vienna, supported the proposal, saying high-priced housing in Vienna now is beyond the range of teachers and civil servants.

“Middle-income people should not be shut out of Vienna because there are no realistic alternatives to large single-family homes or townhouses,” he said.

Town resident Craig Burns agreed and inquired how much that cottage housing would cost. Rice said that currently is hard to determine, as the cost of building materials keeps skyrocketing. Some of his houses have been delayed by months because of a scarcity of kitchen appliances, he added.

“We just don’t really know [the prices] until we get closer along,” Rice said.

Tina Cardenas, 214 Surratt Court, S.W., worried about traffic near the site, noting that traffic on Courthouse Road between Maple Avenue, W., and Locust Street, S.W., “gets backed up constantly.” The site previously had only two homes and hence generated much less traffic, she added.

Town transportation engineer Andrew Jinx said the issue could be addressed when the traffic light at Maple Avenue and Courthouse Road gets readjusted.

The site’s proximity to Maple Avenue will allow its residents to walk to shops instead of driving, Rice said.

Planning Commissioner Andrew Meren added that 44 businesses were located within several hundred yards of the site, which he called “pretty amazing.”

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