ULI Washington News

Vienna and the W&OD Trail—ULI Washington Panel Makes Recommendations for Improving the Trail and Surrounding Areas in the Heart of Vienna, VA

ULI Washington recently released a Technical Assistance Panel Report analyzing existing challenges and opportunities for improving the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Railroad Regional Park, together with surrounding areas, within the Town of Vienna, Virginia. The Town of Vienna is located in the northeastern portion of Fairfax County and is approximately 14 miles from Washington, DC. In 2015 the Town updated its Comprehensive Plan, and as part of the update, the Town set goals for creating/updating master plans for the Town’s parks, including the W&OD Park.

The W&OD Park is a linear trail that runs from Shirlington in Arlington County, Virginia to Purcellville in Loudoun County, Virginia. The Park is approximately 45 miles long, and approximately two miles of the Trail runs through the heart of Vienna. In developing a plan for the Park, the Town is focusing on the following issues: 1) opportunities for physical improvements, 2) constraints to making improvements, 3) use of the Park to promote economic development, and 4) parking as it relates to the trail and the industrial uses adjacent to the trail. 

ULI Technical Assistance Panels, or TAPs, provide expert, multidisciplinary advice to public agencies facing complex land use and real estate issues in the Metropolitan Washington Region. Over the course of two days, a team of eight ULI members endeavored to understand the challenges and opportunities for improving the Trail and the surrounding central core of Vienna, and then developed recommendations regarding future land use, urban design, and economic development actions that the Town could undertake as next steps for improving the park and the center of the Town.

Panelists analyzed the context of the study area, physical attributes of the Trail, and the relationship between the Trail and the surrounding land uses. The objective of this TAP was to develop recommendations prior to the development of a full master plan for the Park.

During the course of the TAP, the Panel developed a vision of Vienna as a historic trail town at the heart of the W&OD Trail and used this vision as a driver for the Panel’s recommendations. The panel affirmed and embraced the Town’s intent to better integrate the Trail into the community.  The Panel also emphasized that the study area represents an opportunity to promote alternative forms of transportation in pursuit of livable community goals for the Town.  In the case of the W&OD Trail, these transportation elements represent a historic transportation legacy which can be reinterpreted in a contemporary manner that enhances the lives of all members of the Vienna community.

The Panel acknowledged that the Town of Vienna is well positioned to enhance and further develop key sites around the trail, including multifamily residential and retail development opportunities, but such improvements will require overcoming planning, parking, and other constraints. The primary constraints include 1) an inadequate urban design framework for the trail and/or properties along the trail, 2) uses along the trail that are not the highest and best uses for their sites, and 3) height limitations that make it unlikely the Town will achieve desirable mixed-use development involving residential over retail development. The Panel also emphasized that safety, access, and parking are all important issues that should be addressed in improving trail design and trail integration with the Town.

Panelists also recommended that the Town develop a specific area plan for the several blocks surrounding the Trail area between Locust Street and Ayr Hill Avenue, including the addition of multifamily and/or mixed-use development, with ground floor retail and office/multifamily residential above, with up to five floors of residential. The addition of these uses could enliven and activate the area, and bring more retail and restaurant businesses to the Town center, strengthening the sense of place for the heart of the Town.

In addition, the Panel recommended that the Town 1) join the NOVA Parks board as a recognized municipal member, rather than relying on Fairfax County to represent its interests, and 2) search for a variety of funding sources (federal, state, foundation, private and NOVA Parks) to finance many of the improvements mentioned above.

The Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park is an increasingly important recreational, environmental, and transportation asset for Northern Virginia and the Town of Vienna. It is used for many purposes by many individ­uals, and with additional planning and investment could become an even more valuable park asset for the region.

For Vienna itself, the Trail is also a central green spine and a defining public realm, especially where it intersects with the main streets of Maple Avenue and Church Street at the center of the Town. The recommended improve­ments outlined in the TAP report are intended to strengthen the character of the Town and reinforce its sense of place as a distinct and unique community within northern Virginia. These recommended improvements are also intended to strengthen the trail as whole, better defining Vienna as a central place and destination at the heart of the trail.

The TAP was chaired by Uwe Brandes, founding executive director of the Masters Program in Urban and Regional Planning at Georgetown University. Members of the Panel included:

Daniel Anderton, Dewberry; Allison Anolik, Louis Berger, Inc.; Steven P. Hubert, Buchanan Partners; Paul Moyer, VHB; Dean Schwanke, Schwanke Consulting and Communications; Renan Snowden, Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District; and Neil Sullivan, Gensler.

A final version of the report may be found here.


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