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The Vienna Town Council has cleared the way for a parking garage proposal to move forward. The garage is a key component of the potential redevelopment of the town’s Church Street business district.

“We’re really looking at a parking structure maybe not for today, but for the future of Church Street,” Mayor Jane Seeman said.

On Monday, the council gave initial approval to an ordinance that would allow a 50-foot-tall parking garage on Church Street, which exceeds the 35-foot maximum commercial building height elsewhere in the town. This ordinance would allow for a parking garage about four stories tall, said Greg Hembree, director of Planning and Zoning.

The town also is in the process of evaluating a specific proposal from a developer, Arrington Properties, for a public-private partnership to build a parking garage on Church Street. Under that proposal, Arrington would provide the land for the garage and the town would pay for construction.

A portion of the garage would be reserved for a new building Arrington Properties plans to build on the site as well. Public parking on the upper levels would be accessible through a separate entrance.

Some residents expressed reservations about making an exception to the height limitation.

“I think once you start with one building there is just a lot of pressure to continue,” said Marda Mayo during a public hearing Monday. “I think it would really change the character of the town.”

Other residents expressed concerns that increased parking would create increased traffic on Church Street.

However, council members said they think the additional parking is needed to support the Church Street vision and the inevitable redevelopment there. They said having the town in charge of the parking garage, rather than a private entity, would ensure it is the most in-line with what the community wants.

“If we don’t manage the change, the change is going to manage us,” Councilwoman Edythe Kelleher said. “We can’t just stay stagnant.”

The council must vote again in September to formally lift the height limit.

At the same time, the town staff is continuing to evaluate the public-private partnership proposal, Hembree said. Ultimately that proposal will need to go before the town Planning Commission and Town Council for public hearings and approval.

At the earliest, construction could begin on the parking garage in early 2014, Hembree said.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com