About a Wall

About a Wall

The wall between Tiffany Place and Giant must be replaced — but with brick or vinyl?

Much of Monday night's Town Council meeting revolved around the question of a crumbling wall between the Tiffany Place condominium development off Branch Road and the adjacent Maple Avenue Shopping Center. However, the meeting opened with a round-robin of verbal assault on the recent cancellation of plans for a tunnel under Tysons Corner in favor of an above-ground elevated train.

Jack Mitchell, president of the Westbriar Citizen's Association, approached the council to ask that letters be written to state and federal representatives on the subject. He said the proposed train would interfere with other means of transportation in the area, as well as the proposed network of paths and bike trails, would detract from the landscaping that was planned for Tysons, would be loud and ugly, and would interfere with businesses in and around Tysons during its construction.

"I couldn't agree with you more," said Mayor Jane Seeman, calling the proposal "very shortsighted" and adding, "I would be happy to write those letters."

"This is going to be a monstrosity the way it's planned now," said Councilmember Laurie Cole, who advocated a system of shuttles as an alternative if the tunnel could not be afforded.

"What will be done to Route 7 and [Route] 123 in the construction of an elevated [train] will be disastrous to not only the residents of Vienna and their convenience of transportation, but I think it will have a disastrous impact on our businesses in the commercial core," said Councilmember Maud Robinson. "It's unbelievable that responsible people holding office would forget that, no matter when you serve, you are only a temporary steward of all the land in this county, and you have a responsibility — you have a legacy in your hands to leave to future generations, and not to absolutely despoil it with a proposition like this."

BECAUSE OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES of its original construction, the wall between Tiffany Place and the Giant supermarket presented the council with a conundrum. Normally, the commercial property in such an arrangement would be responsible for the construction and maintenance of such a wall, which is intended to shield the residential property from the noise and sight of a public parking lot.

However, explained Planning and Zoning Director Greg Hembree, the wall was built by the original developer of the condominiums in the early '80s as part of a proffer agreement, in order to have its six lots rezoned for a higher density. Thus, the responsibility for maintaining the wall, which has since been found to be of substandard construction and is now crumbling in places, falls on the housing development.

The ordinance under which the wall was built calls for an "ornamental masonry wall," but residents of Tiffany Place are asking for a waiver in order to replace the existing construction with a much cheaper vinyl wall. In August, the Planning Commission made a divided vote not to recommend the waiver, and a similar waiver was requested in 2003 and was denied by the Town Council.

The cheapest estimate for a brick wall came in at just over $80,000 from All Star Fence & Concrete Company, which estimated the cost for a vinyl replacement at about $37,500. The cost will be split among the 26 households in the subdivision.

"Who sees the wall?" asked Robert Cowen, whose son, Mark, is the new president of Tiffany Place Unit Owners Association. "It's designed to insulate us from the shopping center, not the other way around." Cowen said he saw little point in making residents buy a brick wall "for the benefit of truck drivers and trash men making their rounds" in the Giant parking lot.

Residents and council members asked whether the wall or any of its materials could possibly be salvaged and repaired, but Town Manager John Schoeberlein said that, since the wall was found to have almost no footer to support it, there was no choice but to demolish it. He also noted that this was at least the third time that problems with the wall had been brought before the council.

The council decided to defer a decision on the subject after Councilmember Edythe Kelleher asked whether changing the requirements would necessitate an amendment to the proffer condition on the property's zoning. Town attorney Steve Briglia also noted that any change to the wall's appearance would also have to be brought before the Board of Architectural Review.

The council plans to revisit the issue at its Sept. 25 meeting.

FRANCHISE AGREEMENTS with Verizon for new cable and upgraded telephone services were adopted Monday night. Verizon cable installation in town is expected to begin shortly, and the company has agreed to extend the option of fiber optic service to over 90 percent of the town within one year. A portion of southeastern Vienna, served by the company's Merrifield office, which is not yet wired for fiber optic service, may not have such service for as long as three years.

Verizon's local contractor, Ivy Smith Company, will be alerting residents when work is scheduled to begin in their areas, and up-to-date information on the installation will be posted on the town's Web site.