In a flashback to its hurried approval of the downtown Herndon redevelopment project last year, the town’s Heritage Preservation Review Board unanimously approved Comstock’s application to demolish several buildings to make way for the mixed-use project last night (Wednesday).
The board granted Comstock, which is leading the public-private partnership, Certificates of Appropriateness that allow the developer to proceed with the project. The HPRB’s approval last June prompted several property owners neighboring the project to file an appeal on the grounds the project was approved prematurely.
Last year, the HPRB approved the certificates to demolish buildings at 770 Elden Street and 750 Center Street, as well as the exterior architecture of the development, despite staff’s recommendations to defer the decision to a later date.
Mike McFarlane, who was the lone dissenting vote on the board last year, voted in favor of the project last night. After discussions with staff, McFarlane said the reasons why he initially opposed the project — the size, mass and scale of the building — were not within the purview of the board.
“There was more than gentle arm twisting from some elements in the town that I resented,” he added.
Residents who testified at last night’s hearing overwhelming supported razing the buildings, including the site of the former Stohlman Subaru, which one resident said had a roof that was “flapping in the wind.” Supporters urged the HPRB to approve the project, which they said would give the town a sense of place and has been anticipated for years.
Noah Klein, Comstock’s legal representative, noted that the properties under question were not historic landmarks and did not contribute significantly to heritage preservation. He said Comstock would continue to work with residents to incorporate some elements of the to-be-demolished buildings.
“The concept is to present a new and vibrant design but also connect it to the historic heritage,” Klein said.
John Vassello Jr., one of the appellants who challenged the HPRB’s decision last year, said he was still dissatisfied with the project. Although he noted he does not oppose the development, Vassello said he was vexed about the lack of public involvement and questioned whether the HPRB’s vote was influenced by town officials, who have a vested interest in the project.
The town’s attorney cut off Vassello’s remarks after he reached the maximum allotted time of three minutes. A resident who supported the project read Vassello’s remaining testimony.
The meeting concluded with applause from the audience. The vote was unanimous.
Photo via handout/Town of Herndon