What has come to light in the last few weeks regarding the Herndon Metro Area Plan should be a wakeup call for the Town of Herndon.
First, let’s be clear on what the mistake was in the plan. VHB stated at the Nov. 5 public hearing that the trips generated were closer to 50 percent off than 5 percent. Let me explain how wrong that statement is. The plan would allow up to 6.1 million square feet of office space, but the traffic analysis mistakenly used the number 1.7 million square feet. After taking a multiplier to arrive at peak traffic rates, they are off by at least a factor of four—that’s 300 percent trips that are missing from the plan.
Furthermore, the same mistake was made for plans 1 and 2, presented to the Town residents over a year ago. In short, this plan in its present state is almost worthless.
Second, common sense should always be given due consideration. For example, if it looks too big, it probably is; or if there is already a traffic problem then adding 30,000 residents and workers will probably make it a lot worse.
Everyone makes mistakes and the town almost made a big one by passing the Metro Area Plan as presented. But it’s the lack of transparency in this process that is really unacceptable. Citizens,commissioners and council members should not need to pour through hundreds of pages of documents to understand what the plan is about. A transparent, concise executive summary and one page fact sheet should be a requirement for all future reports of this nature.
Third, we can’t be blinded by the glossy color brochures and fancy traffic simulations of firms like VHB. The Town will always know better than an outside consultant what will work here. Yes, we should use the vast wealth of experience and expertise that a consultant has but guide them on that path and scrutinize their work. Consultants should not be put on a pedestal. It’s a business, and it’s a tough economy, and they aren’t doing us any favors by doing our $300,000 study. And if you let them, they may try to simply please their client and tell you exactly what they think you want to hear, even if they have to fudge the numbers to do so. It happens all the time.
Fourth, the traffic analysis was wrong and there’s a good chance the financial analysis is wrong also. It just defies common sense that you need ten times the current density to incentivize redevelopment. Councilmember Singh has already presented his analysis which demonstrates that a much lower density may be viable.
Fifth, no one should mistake the debate around the Metro area as economic growth vs. doing nothing. If there is such a debate it was generated by the manner in which the Metro Area Plan was presented tothe town. The choice was clear—either accept this monstrosity of urban development or nothing would happen. This made nothing look pretty good to a lot of us. But this virtual threat had its intended effect, with one commissioner fretting that if we don’t pass this plan the train will just pass us by.
But with hard work, good analysis, and taking a collaborative—but not pandering—approach with the property owners to finding creative solutions, there is a more harmonious solution that the majority of residents will support.
Finally, this should be a wake up call that the Town Council needs to set the parameters within which the Town Staff and the consultants must operate in order to avoid making the same mistakes twice and to preserve the quality of life for Town of Herndon residents. For example: What is the density level that actually fits the character of Herndon? How many parks should there be per thousand additional residents? What is tolerable traffic congestion? And should we leave Herndon Parkway to serve its original purpose as a pressure valve for the town’s traffic?
A group of Herndon residents will present a petition to the Town to this effect. Please contact me to support the petition at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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