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Comstock, Town Officials Withdraw Application for Redevelopment of Downtown Herndon

by Fatimah Waseem August 3, 2018 at 12:00 pm 15 Comments

Plans for the redevelopment of downtown Herndon were officially withdrawn in late July following the filing of three appeals from property owners next to the site of the redevelopment effort.

The appellants are challenging the June 18 decision of the Heritage Preservation Review Board to approve the redevelopment plan, which is presented through a public-private partnership between the developer, Comstock, and the town, which owns the property.

The appeals allege the HPRB approved the project prematurely and failed to apply the town’s requirements for historical preservation, including whether or not the proposed development, which would require demolition of some buildings, was compatible with buildings in the heritage preservation district. Of particular concern is the demolition of the old Stohlman Subaru building on Elden Street, the preservations status and significance of which was misrepresented to the public and the board, according to the appeals.

One appeal charges that the town exercised “undue influence” on the HPRB and attempted to limit its power by clarifying town officials’ expectations of how the board would handle the redevelopment proposal. The appeal also states the town officials’ presentation of the application to the HPRB was biased.

Discussions are underway between town officials and the developer to determine the next steps. “We continue to work with the town and trust that things will stay on track,” a spokesperson for Comstock told Reston Now.

In a statement, Lisa Merkel, the mayor of the Town of Herndon, said she was disappointed the project was being stalled despite years of planning, outreach and public comment, especially since the demolition of the old Stohlman Subaru building was evident in proposals since the original request for proposals.

I hope this delay doesn’t cost Herndonians the opportunity to have the vibrant, arts-focused, smalltown downtown so many have dreamed of and worked to make happen for decades. I am hopeful, but worried,” Merkel wrote.

Going forward, the town’s zoning administrator must schedule a hearing at the next town council meeting. During the meeting, appellants will discuss their appeals before the council. The town council will decide whether or not it will reverse the HPRB’s decision on the development.

Other concerns raised in the appeals include the impact of the development on traffic, overflow parking needs for residents of nearby apartments, and the high-density nature of the development.

The filed appeals are below:

Heritage Preservation Review Board Appeals by Fatimah Waseem on Scribd

File photo

  • JoeInReston

    Am I reading this right, nearby property owners are challenging the redevelopment plan because it would demolish the old Stohlman Subaru building, an action nearby property owners feel would violate historical preservation requirements?

    Is it not self evident that there is nothing about the Stohlman Subaru building worth saving? Historical preservation rules/guidelines can be a good thing, but I hate to see them used in ways that go against the spirit of the rules.

    • SubBrah

      In reading through the appeals, I don’t see anything that supports the article’s assertion that the Subaru dealership is “of particular concern” to the 3 individuals who filed appeals. Only 1 mentions its historical status outright, and it’s from the perspective that the town not fully disclosing that building’s historic nature.

      From my perspective, the appeals appear to be more about town procedures/policies as well as the standard concerns of size, parking, and traffic — things we Restonites are also concerned about; too bad we don’t have the same appeal option that our neighbors to the west do (sigh).

    • John Higgins

      I read it a bit differently, Joe. The appeal seems to acknowledge the potential for redevelopment, but takes issue with the proposal the Preservation Review Board approved. We in Reston can certainly identify with their concern (viz. Tall Oaks Village Center and Kensington.) Here, too, the core issue is “massing”. Looking at the plans put in front of the Board, it seems to me the only thing being preserved is the sign telling us that the district is historic.

      • 30yearsinreston

        The Comstock proposal is a cookie cutter townhouse development
        The area on Monroe st is full of similar properties
        Look at Hunters Wood for another example
        They dont even remotely fit in with the old town area
        Herndon can do better

    • JoeInReston

      Thanks John and SubBrah for your responses. Sounds like my interpretation from the article text may not reflect the actual appeals text.

      As a Restonite, I can obviously identify with the concerns of over development .

  • Let’s Go PSU!

    A much more comprehensive news article along with compelling images that illustrate the potential issues the size/mass of the proposed redevelopment: http://www.connectionnewspapers.com/news/2018/aug/01/whats-next-herndon-downtown/

  • Phillips Simon

    The property does have some additional history worth sharing with newer community residents. Stohlman took ownership from Paul Bros. Oldsmobile/Subaru and after the demise of Oldsmobile. Prior to that and for decades it was simply Ashwell’s Oldsmobile. The Subaru franchise added in the 70’s to enlist smaller/fuel efficient cars for sale given, the time.

    Ashwell’s Oldsmobile was a pillar of the Herndon community for a long time and one of the largest employers in Herndon on the present site that still looks the same today. Robert (Bob) Ashwell, Jim Ashwell and Ronnie Ashwell were good folks and the dealership was a meeting place for locals looking to shoot the chit on any given day.

    RIP Bob and Jim Ashwell and thanks for the memories.

    • Charles Wright

      Great background information. It’s important also to note that the Stohlman, built in the 1920s, is classified as a “contributing” building in the Herndon Historic District. The Town’s application for historic status clearly shows this and is on the state’s Department of Historic Resources website: https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/historic-registers/235-0003/ (click on application on the webpage)

      • John Higgins

        Thank you for your post (and link). Not previously aware of Herndon’s history, the narrative in the nomination was informative and interesting.

    • Reston Realist

      Don’t get me wrong,the Ashwell’s were great folks. they contributed much to the community. That said, the building is a wreck and uninhabitable. It would cost more to renovate to a usable structure than it would cost to renovate. Back in the day, when coach Ashwell was coaching HHS football, a car dealer in Herndon could do enough business to keep the lights on…. Not now. There is no historical significance to this building, it should have been torn down years ago.Just because it’s old doesn’t make it Historic

  • EliteinReston

    I swear I am not trying to be snarky here. But I’ve lived in this area since 1987 and never heard the word “Herndonian” refer to people from Herndon. Is that a new thing or always been here? I have read “Restonian” but never heard my neighbors or others use that word.

  • Greg

    Not surprised at all, but what a shame. Another decade lost.

  • 30yearsinreston

    Can Herndon annex Reston ?
    Without Hudgins, we can prosper

  • Nuff said

    I think we can all agree that the stohlmann historic status was just a bad excuse to stop development, fact here is that most people who have lived here in this area for a while are tired of traffic, overreaching politicians and the greed that comes with unbridled development. Good job Herndon!
    Now what aboit Reston? O yea, we have the RA …

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