Vet Loses Bid to Move Her Practice To Vienna
Thursday, August 10, 2006
In the end, the mortgage brokers and insurance agents triumphed over the dogs and cats.
Despite the backing of nearly 100 clients who showed up at town meetings on her behalf, a veterinarian was turned down in a bid to move her practice to an office building on Maple Avenue (Route 123) in Vienna. The town's Zoning Board of Appeals last month denied the request by Daniella Schutzengel to move her practice from Dunn Loring, where her lease is to expire in a few years, into the White Oak office tower, saying they had to respect the concerns of building tenants who worried that having a vet's office as a neighbor would cost them business.
The board's 5-1 ruling ends a confrontation that generated great interest and emotion, unusual in a local zoning dispute. Longtime clients of Schutzengel's turned out at hearings to help plead her case, while anguished tenants in the office tower painted dire scenarios of the effect that a veterinary practice would have on business.
The case underscored how difficult it has become for veterinarians to find space in suburbs where high land values, strict zoning regulations and increased building density make it difficult to find a desirable and affordable space that won't draw opposition.
Schutzengel, 51, who has owned the Dunn Loring Animal Hospital since 1999 and has practiced in Fairfax County since 1983, has been turned down at four locations since she started looking for a new office several years ago, in anticipation of her lease running out in 2009. The owner of the building at Schutzengel's current location has other plans for it and isn't renewing any of the tenants' leases.
The new owners of the White Oak building, Trimark Corp., agreed to sell a $1.5 million second-floor unit to Schutzengel, and to rent a terrace outside the unit, which she said she would turn into a "green roof" where dogs could be walked. But other tenants objected, arguing at zoning hearings that a veterinarian was inappropriate for a professional building. They complained that their views from their offices would be marred by the sight of dogs relieving themselves or being euthanized, another planned use of the terrace.
Schutzengel and her clients and neighbors testified that her practice was clean and well-run. But zoning board members decided that the concerns of other tenants were enough to justify a rejection.
Schutzengel said in an interview that she spent about $50,000 on her attempt to get the White Oak space -- on legal fees, an architect and a deposit -- and said she was so upset that she might leave her practice once her lease runs out to pursue other endeavors, such as veterinary work in developing countries. If she does try to find a new space, it won't be in Vienna, even though she had initially hoped to land there, she said.
"I can't go before those boards again," she said.