Herndon seeks to mix up office-heavy Metro area, but questions about how to pay for it loom

Slide from presentation about redeveloping the Transit-Related Growth Area in Herndon (via Town of Herndon)

(Updated 7/19/21) The Town of Herndon and developers eyeing land near the soon-to-be opened Metro station agree that the area could be better prepared for the transit system’s arrival, but funding for an effort to determine what that future should look like remains a question.

The Herndon Town Council dipped a toe into that debate during a work session on Tuesday (July 6) with a discussion about redeveloping what’s known as the Transit-Related Growth Area (TRG).

That’s the area located between Herndon Parkway and the Dulles Toll Road. Just north of the immediate Herndon Transit-Oriented Core (HTOC), it sits within a walkable distance of a quarter to half mile away from the Herndon Metro station.

Currently, the area is made up of aging office flex space with lower density. There’s no mixed-use or residential development, and it’s all car-dependent.

“The uses there don’t match the arrival and benefits of mass transit,” Herndon Director of Community Development Lisa Gilleran said.

Recently, the town council was approached by the property owners seeking to assist in redeveloping this area into something more transit-oriented.

“They want to see what they can or can’t do,” Town Manager Bill Ashton said. “Property owners are hungry to know what they can see happen there.”

This could include the introduction of higher-density, mixed-use development as well as more housing and a greater focus on transit. Redevelopment would generate more revenue for Herndon, help cut dependence on fossil fuels, and make it more equitable for people without cars.

According to the town, the first step in the process is to conduct a TRG small area plan study to determine the best and most practical use of the area. The study will factor in current constraints (like the single-family homes that abut one side of the TRG), what traffic would look like, how it would impact infrastructure, and equity needs.

Consultants would need to be hired due to the town’s lack of capacity and staff to conduct such a study.

This could cost a “significant investment” of between $450,000 to $550,000, according to town staff.

There are a number of ways that this study could be paid for: out of the town’s reserves, by the property owners in a “blind system,” or a hybrid of both.

The “blind system” would have the property owners and developers pay for the study, while enabling the town to select and direct the consultant. This would give the town some say in the process, but allow the developers to stop payment if development doesn’t happen on an agreed-upon timeline.

“[The developers’] limitation is tied to the timeline. It’s not ‘oh, we don’t like what the design is,'” said Gilleran.

Both Alexandria and Arlington have used this system with success, according to town officials.

Ashton admits that this process should have started “two years ago,” but other priorities, like planning and improvement efforts on South Elden Street, and the pandemic got in the way.

The town council didn’t make any decisions Tuesday night, but members asked for more information about how neighboring jurisdictions used the “blind system” and ways to ensure that whatever development happens remains in the best interest of Herndon.

The council seemed to lean towards supporting a blind system and having the property owners pay for the consultant.

As of the moment, the plan is to proceed incrementally, start developing a request for proposals for consultants, and circle back on the discussion (and a decision) on how to cover the costs when the council meets in August.

The Herndon Metro station and the rest of Silver Line Phase 2 was initially supposed to open in 2018, before eventually getting pushed to early 2022. Now, even that opening date could be delayed again.

Screenshot via Town of Herndon

Updated the story to reflect it was Lisa Gilleran, Herndon’s director of Community Development, who spoke. 

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