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Herndon Council Defers Decision on Metro Area Station Plan

The Herndon Town Council decided to defer a decision on the Herndon Metro Station Area Plan to its Feb. 28 public hearing.

After listening to public testimony, the Herndon Town Council voted to defer the Herndon Metro Station Area Plan for two weeks at its public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 14.

Consultants from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., discussed some of the biggest changes in the plan over recent weeks. After errors were found in the initial plan in November, VHB went back and made corrections and changes to it. The newest iteration of the plan was released in mid-December.

The study area for the plan, which began with 190 acres of land surrounding the future Metro station, went from 110 acres to 38 acres. Those 38 acres are now being referred to as the Herndon Transit-Oriented Core, and will have a floor area ratio ranging from 3.8 to 4.3.

Floor area ratio, or FAR, refers to the square footage of the building in relation to the lot, and is a measure of how dense a piece of land may be. For example an FAR of 1.0 would mean the square footage of the building would be the same amount as the square footage of the lot of land it sits on.

Many Herndon residents were concerned about the amount of development the project had been calling for. The newest version of it reduces the number of employees expected to come to the area from about 28,122 to 14,833, the number of residential units from 3,737 to 2,357, and the residential population from 7,474 to 4,714.

All of the intersections will receive improvements, mostly in the form of additional turn lanes, and all have a level of service D or better. Consultants said the level of service isn’t a grading scale, and Metro station areas often allow for more congestion because it slows down traffic, which makes the area better for pedestrians.

The consultants said to minimize the traffic impact and public cost, while maximizing the transit-oriented features and benefits to the town, the development should have a total of 7 million square feet. However, the Fairbrook parcel isn’t included in the plan. It’s what’s known as greenfield, or land without buildings already on it, ready to be developed now.

In early-February the landowners of Fairbrook found out their land was cut from the plan and requested the town consider allocating some of the development to the parcel. Doing so could have required the Council to send the plan back to the Planning Commission. 

During the public comment portion a number of people spoke addressing issues with the plan or their support for it.

Steve Mitchell said he sees the town moving forward through this plan, which is a vision of what the town sees for 2035.

Herndon resident Doug Shuster, said the plan is “shockingly out of touch” with what Herndon residents want. He said it’s too dense and out of scale with the rest of Herndon. In the past Shuster has asked the town for better standards in the planning process for Metro.

Kevin East, chairman of Herndon’s Planning Commission, said the plan is mixed use and will increase Herndon’s tax base. He said it will provide an economic return on an investment to the town, as well as an attractive gateway into Herndon.

“I think, ladies and gentlemen, we’ve done what you asked,” East said. “We’ve created something that I think is workable, is workable over time, and something that the town can be proud of. I’m suggesting that this is a good plan. I’m suggesting that, maybe not tonight but eventually, you’ll adopt it.”

Pat Voltmer, a Herndon resident who lives near the future Metro station, said the plan is not appropriate for the town. She encouraged the council to reject it. She said it doesn’t represent the unique character and charm of Herndon.

“The Town of Herndon has history, heritage and charm and should not be degraded by building and urban metropolis along the Herndon Parkway,” Voltmer said. She said the plan still has many issues that may not be addressed for decades.

Georgia Graves, a member board of the Herndon Chamber of Commerce, and Eileen Curtis, president of the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce, expressed the organizations’ support of the Herndon Metro Station Area Plan. They said the plan will benefit the local economy and business community.

Others who commented expressed concern with the pedestrian and bike portion of the plan, the fairness of the plan, the completeness of the plan and that it lacks consideration for the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.

During discussions, the Council voted against a motion made by Mayor Steve DeBenedittis to reincorporate Fairbrook into the plan and send it back to the Planning Commission. Councilwoman Grace Wolf said the issue of Fairbrook’s property could be addressed after the Council is finished with the plan. 

Leslie Perales Loges February 17, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Town staff did mention during the meeting that with a lower level of development in that area the town would face paying more money for infrastructure costs than it would if it allowed more development (and likely proffers). At the level suggested by the consultants the needed infrastructure improvements could be covered without much of it having to come from the town.
Grace Han Wolf February 17, 2012 at 11:07 PM
It's certainly not going to be a case of 'build it and they will come' - nope, the infrastructure investments should be able to be made in manageable chunks, with much of it from proffers. The Town owns none of the land that the improvements are required for either so it'll be more of a case of build and pay as we go!
BK February 18, 2012 at 03:36 PM
One of the MANY problems with this plan is precisely that it will be done in “chunks”, but “manageable” -- not so much. There are 9 separate parcels of land with 9 separate landowners. They can redevelop their properties at different times over the next 20+ years. Full build out will not happen until 2035, if at all. The result could be a patchwork of 12-15 story buildings next to the much smaller structures that are there now. The amount of “proffer” money and the timeline in which it comes in is equally uncertain. However, basic services such as water & sewer and other utilities will have to be in place before the first property is built out. Will the Town have to front some of the money for road and other infrastructure improvements? That remains to be seen, but the Town has no control over whether these 9 properties will be redeveloped in a timeline that makes practical sense.
Doug Shuster February 18, 2012 at 04:18 PM
One of the most interesting developments at the hearing was that the property owners started to get a bit agitated, specifically the Fairbrook property that was cut out of this plan. Instead of sitting back and waiting to see how much more (and more and more) the Town would generously give them (high density, few infrastructure requirements), now we hear that… well…gosh…they only really need half the density the Town was giving them in the last plan. Also, they begin to offer solutions to accommodate the density, like ramps onto Fairfax County Pkwy. And they tell us that in Tysons the battle cry is that you don't get higher density without an internal street network (grid) - a shockingly common sense approach! But we don’t let common sense get in our way here in Herndon, so our plan just hands over Herndon Parkway (a brilliant bypass that took 40 years to develop) and doesn't ask for any street network because we don't want to ask too much from the property owners.
Bob Bruhns February 27, 2012 at 04:52 PM
If owners and developers believe that business will boom there, let them pay the infrastructure costs that will be involved, and then they can enjoy the benefits. The Town of Herndon must not be burdened with those costs. At most, some time-limited future tax relief may be appropriate if this requirement is met. For all we know, the rail line may not happen on the presently planned schedule, and the buildings may not be occupied, or they may be occupied by businesses that are barely making any profit at all. If Herndon pays the infrastructure costs, expecting tax and fee returns that do not come, it will be bad news for town taxpayers. If businesses think that there is too much uncertainty that the investment will pay off, then Herndon certainly should not make the investment for them. Also, building construction should not be allowed until such time as the rail line is a certainty. That may mean no construction until 2015, if even then. Herndon does not need empty buildings towering over the south border of town. Not far to the west, we already have the building where Fannie Mae has been, about to be standing empty, or nearly so, and past experience elsewhere with rail is no guarantee of future returns here. Let's let this happen as it goes, if it will happen at all. Let's not fall all over ourselves, especially not for somebody else's huge profits.

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