Vienna, known as the town that keeps commercialism on a straight and narrow path, is considering a controversial rezoning that would extend the commercial strip into the town's newly created historic district.
For the last two decades, Vienna has confined commercial development to two areas, one along Maple Avenue (Rte. 123) and another along a short stretch of Church Street.
But last week the Marco Polo Restaurant at 245 W. Maple Ave. requested that an acre of land behind the restaurant be rezoned for commercial use, so the restaurant can enlarge its parking lot.
The land, which the restaurant bought three years ago, presently is zoned for single-family residential use, is shown as a residential area on the town master plan and is within the Windover Historic District, created last year to preserve the residential neighborhood. One house on the site would be razed if the parking lot proposal is approved.
At a planning commission meeting last week, several citizens protested the plan as a violation of the residential area.
"Vienna is not an extension of Tyson's Corner," said Frank Lillis, president of the Windover Civic Association, which represents about 200 homes in the area. "We object to the encroachment (of the commercial zone) into our residential area."
The rezoning, Lillis added, "would violate the spirit and the letter of the land use plan and the town's long established zoning policies."
He told the planning commission that for more than 20 years no land in Vienna has been rezoned from residential to commercial use, a fact confirmed by planning commission member Arthur E. Kimberly.
Earlier in the meeting, when the commission was considering another residential-to-commercial rezoning, Kimberly noted: "There hasn't been any residential property here zoned commercial in Lord knows how long, at least since 1951."
The case Kimberly discussed involved the Jades Shopping Center, across Maple Avenue from the Marco Polo. Shopping center officials had asked that an existing 40-foot right of way at the back of its parking lot be zoned commercial and opened onto Pleasant Street as an additional entrance and exit for the shopping center. At present, the only access to the shopping center is from Maple Avenue.
Although the planning commission was expected to make a final recommendation on both cases this week, the final decision on the rezonings will be made by the Town Council after it holds additional hearings on the requests June 9.
The shopping center rezoning also has aroused neighborhood fears of spreading commercialism -- and is opposed by the Windover Civic Association and numerous residents -- but it would not significantly expand the present commercial zone. Town officials do not see the case as being as important as the Marco Polo expansion.
The Marco Polo case "is not just a little old parking lot . . . It represents the destruction of the entire zoning line and the integrity of zoning" in Vienna, resident Jerome Clovel told the planning commission.
Clovel criticized the proposal because, he said, while only a parking lot is planned at the moment, commercial buildings could be constructed in the future.
Another resident, attorney Robert A. Johnson, added: "This rezoning goes much further than this one parcel of land . . . it would be a precedent with an impact felt in other areas of town and certainly in areas directly adjacent (to the Marco Polo). We're looking at a domino effect, with the dominos then falling right down Church Street."
Among the dozen residents speaking against the rezoning was Paul Waldron, who told the commission that Vienna "had had a longstanding commitment to keeping the residential-commercial line. It's why many people moved here. It means reliance. If that line is broken now, it will have a pervasive effect all over town."
Marc Bettius, a Fairfax zoning attorney representing the Marco Polo, told the commission all that was being proposed was a parking lot, "which will have absolutely no impact on residential property," in part because the parking lot will be landscaped and surrounded by a brick wall. The additional parking space is needed, Bettius said, because the Marco Polo is so popular that patrons frequently must park on nearby residential streets.
"Residential use of the site makes little sense," Bettius said, because it is small and unsightly. The one house now on the land is in poor condition, he said, and would be razed.
While no residents spoke in favor of the rezoning, Mildred Imlay, who lives on Pleasant Street directly behind the restauarant, told the commission the Marco Polo "definitely needs more parking" because patrons frequently block her driveway when the parking lot presently available is full.
Several speakers conceded the one-acre site needs to be improved.
"There's no question that it is an unsightly area," Lillis told the commission, "but it could be cleaned up" and made into a desirable residential area.
Lillis argued that if the rezoning is approved, a transitional zone -- where houses would be turned into professional offices -- would then be permitted even further into residential neighborhoods.