The Town of Herndon plans to close on selling nearly 4.7 acres of its land to Comstock in order to begin the redevelopment of downtown Herndon later this year.
Comstock, the developer of Reston Station, was selected by the town three years ago to redevelop the property into a mixed-use project.
The $85 million redevelopment project includes 273 apartments, 17,000 square feet of retail, a new arts center, public space and a new parking garage for public and private use.
Construction on the project is expected to begin in late 2019.
The town and Comstock have several hurdles to clear before groundbreaking. An application for building permits is pending and an additional agreement to “protect town financial interests” must be determined, according to the town’s website.
The project was approved by the Heritage Preservation Review Board in mid-May.
The town will provide $3.6 million for the project, which is described as a public-private partnership.
Photo via handout/Town of Herndon
Prior to the Democratic primary last month, a controversy over Comstock’s campaigning restrictions prompted local elected officials to push back against the developer’s longstanding policy at Reston Station Plaza.
But there has been little movement on the issue in recent days.
In a June 7 letter, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova threatened legal recourse against Comstock, which she said was unfairly restricting public access to the property and possibly infringing on First Amendment rights. The county’s Commonwealth Attorney and the local American Civil Liberties Union also stepped in.
Bulova’s chief of staff Clayton Medford told Reston Now that Bulova plans to meet with Chris Clemente, Comstock’s CEO, to discuss access issues.
“The county is committed to looking into public spaces issues countywide to ensure members of the public have equal access,” Medford said.
No meeting has been scheduled yet. Clemente did not return requests for comment from Reston Now.
The issue stemmed over access to Reston Station Plaza, which was built through a public-private partnership.
Two candidates running for the seat of Hunter Mill District Supervisor complained about Comstock’s policies.
The plaza is atop the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station.
Photo by Fairfax Connector
In anticipation of the Democratic primary tomorrow, Comstock Companies is now allowing campaigning and electioneering for two days at Reston Station Plaza after the county threatened legal recourse due to potential free speech violations.
Chris Clemente, Comstock’s CEO, told Reston Now that the company is inviting all candidates on the June 11 ballots to campaign at the plaza today and tomorrow “on their own schedules and without the need to coordinate schedules with Comstock.”
The temporary change comes after Comstock came under fire for its longstanding restrictions on soliciting, including campaigning and electioneering, at the plaza. The county says the forum qualifies as public space — even though Comstock leases the property from the county through a 99-year ground lease. Comstock disputes this claim.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova lashed out against the company when she learned about the policy late last week. Bulova accused the company of favoritism and civil rights violation after she said it allowed Maggie Parker — Comstock’s vice president of communications — to post campaign signs but barred her opponents from approaching voters.
“Allowing one’s own employee to engage in such highly protected activity in a public area, while excluding other candidates from doing the same, is clearly wrong and cannot be tolerated,” Bulova said in the letter, which threatened legal action.
Parker said that she never campaigned at the plaza and purchased large advertisements from the company at the plaza and on Comstock’s building — a possibility that she said is open to all other candidates.
Ads cost between $2,000 and $3,500 per week.
Claire Gastanaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Virginia chapter, said the lease to the private company does not renege individual’s free speech rights.
Ray Morrogh, the county’s commonwealth’s attorney, directed the Fairfax County Police Department to decline any requests to prosecute individuals for campaigning at the train station and the plaza above it.
“It would not be appropriate to prosecute anyone exercising their First Amendment rights in public areas,” Morrogh wrote in a May letter to the police department.
Clemente did not indicate what led to the two-day allowance for campaigning.
“Although we had hoped to provide the residents of the Hunter Mill District an opportunity to meet all the candidates in a casual setting during these last days of the campaign, we were unable to secure commitments from all candidates to participate in a coordinated event,” he said.
The debate over whether or not the plaza qualifies as a public forum was catapulted into the county spotlight after candidates running for Hunter Mill District Supervisor attempted to campaign at the plaza.
Over the past several weeks, candidates, volunteers for their campaigns, and a representative for a local advocacy group said they were kicked off the property and told to apply for permits.
Photo via Fairfax Connector
(Updated at 4 p.m.) Fairfax County Chairwoman Sharon Bulova is pushing back against Comstock’s restrictions on campaigning at Reston Station Plaza.
In a strongly-worded letter sent to Chris Clemente, Comstock’s CEO, today, Bulova said she was very shocked and disturbed to learn that Comstock was unfairly restricting public access to the property.
The company has allowed Maggie Parker, its vice president of communications and also a candidate for the Hunter Mill District Seat, to campaign on the plaza, Bulova said.
“Allowing one’s own employee to engage in such highly protected activity in a public area, while excluding other candidates from doing the same, is clearly wrong and cannot be tolerated,” she wrote.
But Parker says that she has not campaigned at the plaza because of Comstock’s policies.
“I think the letter is unfounded because I don’t think the chairman has all of the facts,” Parker said. “I am doing nothing that the other candidates are not able to do. I am tired of being bullied and I’d like to step forward with the elections and the people’s business.”
The free speech issue has sparked recent debate on the legality of the developer’s longstanding policy to bar soliciting, including electioneering and campaigning, at the plaza.
Bulova has directed the county’s attorney to evaluate legal remedies against Comstock, noting that the plaza may constitute a public forum. As a result, free speech rights may be violated.
“As the county attorney completes her research and the board evaluates its legal remedies, I ask Comstock to do the right thing without necessity of legal action,” Bulova wrote.
Several candidates running for the seat of Hunter MIll District Supervisor and residents have told Reston Now they’ve been told to leave the plaza after attempting to distribute campaign materials or campaign.
Laurie Dodd, a candidate who was concerned about the policy after friends campaigning for other candidates were told to leave the property and apply for a permit, pushed state and local officials to take a stance on the issue. Although the state and county’s election bodies said the issue was not within their jurisdiction, Dodd said Bulova was open to discussing the matter. At her request, the American Civil Liberties Union took the matter to Bulova’s office.
Walter Alcorn, also a candidate running for the seat, also expressed concerns about restrictions on campaigning at the plaza.
In previous days, county officials told Reston Now that state election law allows campaign activities on the property, but declined to discuss the issue further. The plaza was constructed through a public-private partnership and Comstock leases the plaza from the county through a 99-year ground lease, according to the county.
Clemente told Reston Now that its policy is out of respect for Metro commuters and others who come to Reston Station. He previously noted that he was open to scheduling a candidate meet-and-greet on the plaza as an exception to the policy.
Here is the text from my letter: pic.twitter.com/4vW5kGc49x
— Sharon Bulova (@SharonBulova) June 7, 2019
This story will be updated.
Some residents are concerned that restrictions on political campaigning at Reston Station Plaza raise free speech issues. But local and state officials versed in state election law say the question of whether or not campaigning is allowed on the plaza is a gray area.
That’s because Comstock Companies, the developer of Reston Station, leases the plaza from Fairfax County through a 99-year ground lease. The county says that state election law still allows campaign activities, including voter registration, on the private property.
Several residents who have unsuccessfully tried to campaign and distribute leaflets on the plaza say they’ve been told to request permits from Comstock before distributing materials.
But Comstock’s CEO Chris Clemente says that Comstock has no such policy for requesting permits.
“I cannot respond to the reports you have received about a days-long permit process since that is simply not true,” Clemente told Reston Now in a statement.
He clarified that Comstock has not revised its policy prohibiting soliciting on its private properties “out of respect for the privacy of residents, visitors, and commuters.” Instead, Clemente said Comstock’s policy revision was restricted to scheduling a candidate meet-and-greet for a few hours at the plaza. Candidates would get the chance to meet with voters and distribute campaign materials with no cost.
“To date, we have not seen any indication of interest from any of the campaigns (except Maggie Parker’s) to participate in such an event. What we have seen from some of the candidates is public criticism of Comstock for not allowing random soliciting of Metro commuters. It makes me think that the candidates, with the exception of Maggie Parker, have no interest in discussing their vision for the Hunter Mill District with members of the public,” Clemente said.
Parker, who is Comstock’s vice president of communications, is a candidate for the Hunter Mill District seat and has campaign signs on the property.
Other candidates can purchase advertising space for either $2,000 or $3,500 per week on two plaza locations. Parker said she paid for her ads on Comstock’s property. Comstock and Comstock-linked entities have filled up more than half of her campaign coffers — which exceeds all of her challengers’ fundraising for the latest reporting period combined.
Joanne Collins, a representative for Herndon-Reston Indivisible, said Comstock’s security told her to leave the plaza after she tried to hand out leaflets about Tuesday’s primary. Collins said she requested a permit from Comstock, but was told the process would take several days — possibly after the June 11 Democratic primary.
Residents say that the Fairfax County Board of Elections and the Virginia Department of Elections are mum on the issue. Laurie Dodd, a candidate for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisor’s Hunter Mill District seat, lodged a complaint with the state’s elections department, but was told the issue wasn’t within its jurisdiction.
Dodd said she was told the department only addresses issues within 40 feet of voting machines. The Attorney General of Virginia’s office offered the same statement, she said.
Others said they would file complaints with the county’s election board after the election in order to spend more time campaigning in other parts of the Hunter Mill District.
Dodd also noted that the cost of purchasing signage at the plaza was too high, especially since the election is just days away and the process would require Comstock’s approval.
The Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney is looking into whether or not free speech rights are at risk of being violated.
According to the Washington Business Journal, Comstock Companies retained Jahn to build the second building across the Dulles Toll Road opposite from the first building at 1900 Reston Metro Plaza. The building is part of Comstock’s development plan for Commerce Metro Center.
Although the buildings are similar, the new structure is expected to be more of a parallelogram than a trapezoid.
Here’s more from the May 31 story:
“He wants to sort of match the angles. He likes the direction of that design,” said Tim Steffan, executive vice president of development and asset management at Reston-based Comstock (NASDAQ: CHCI). “There’s an angular similarity to it.”
The building, still in the concept stage, could be 17 to 23 stories and between 375,000 and 500,000 square feet. 1900 Reston Metro Plaza is 16 stories and 365,000 square feet.
Jahn and his firm, Chicago-based Jahn Architecture Inc., originally submitted a proposal for a residential concept at Reston Station as part of an international design competition but were not selected. Comstock later commissioned him to design the 1900 Reston Metro Plaza office building.
Comstock does not expect to break ground on the building for at least another year, according to the report. Two buildings at 1902 and 1906 Reston Metro are currently in progress with a delivery date of mid-2020. No major leases have been announced for the office buildings.
Photos via Comstock/Washington Business Journal
Two new restaurants are coming to Comstock’s Reston Station by early 2020.
Matchbox will take up a 6,000 square feet in Comstock’s Helmet Jahn building at 1900 Reston Metro Plaza. Big Buns will occupy 3,000 square feet in the BLVD apartment building at 1908 Reston Metro Plaza.
The latest tenants join other businesses like Starbucks and Founding Farmers in what Comstock is now calling the “Metro Plaza District.”
Comstock issued the following in a release today (Monday):
“We are delighted to add matchbox and Big Buns to our best-in-class merchandising at Reston Station,” said Tim Steffan, EVP/Asset Management at Comstock. “In choosing Reston Station, these popular brands will benefit from the high-traffic and upwardly mobile demographics of one of the largest mixed-use, transit-oriented developments in the Washington region.”
Strategically located midway between Tysons Corner and Dulles International Airport, Reston Station is among the largest mixed-use, transit-oriented developments in the Washington, D.C. area. Covering nearly 40 acres spanning the Dulles Toll Road and surrounding the Wiehle Reston-East Metro Station at the terminus of Phase I of Metro’s Silver Line, Reston Station is already home to more than 1,000 residents, numerous corporate headquarters, multiple retail establishments, and several restaurants. Comstock recently announced that Google has leased several floors in the Helmut Jahn designed office tower and anticipates additional announcements regarding additional leases in the near future.
The restaurants are expected to open later this year or by early 2020.
(Updated at 5:45 a.m. on May 31 to state candidates did not receiving ad pricing information from Comstock).
Comstock Companies, the developer of Reston Station, will allow political campaigning and electioneering at Reston Station Plaza following a recent debate over the legality of the company’s longstanding policy to bar soliciting on its properties.
In a letter to Reston Now’s editor regarding the May 24 article, Chris Clemente, the company’s CEO, clarified Comstock’s position on the issue. His company’s vice president of communications, Maggie Parker, is running for Hunter Mill District Supervisor, and her campaign signs are plastered on the property.
“Given the local nature of the Hunter Mill District race, which is the first contested race since Reston Station existed, and the significant number of Hunter Mill District residents using the commuter facilities at Reston Station, it was decided that it would be appropriate to allow such activities for this political contest,” Clemente wrote.
A spokesperson for Fairfax County has stated that campaigning at the property is allowed by state election law, noting that Comstock leases Reston Station Plaza from Fairfax County under a 99-year ground lease.
“Comstock leases the Wiehle garage plaza from Fairfax County pursuant to a 99 year ground lease. State election law doesn’t prohibit campaign activities including voter registration on private property,” according to the county.
Clemente said the company has barred all types of soliciting “out of respect for the thousands of daily visitors’ time.” He also noted that the county has not raised any issues with Comstock’s policy.
A county spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request from Reston Now about why this was the case.
Parker pushed Clemente to give other candidates running for the seat the opportunity to erect signs at Reston Station, Clemente said. Requests to have signs were submitted by Walter Alcorn‘s campaign on May 25 and Laurie Dodd on May 28. Parker also requested permission to use Comstock’s property for an all-candidate meet and greet event, which Clemente said Comstock fully supports.
Clemente, a former Reston resident and parent of current Reston residents, is backing Parker for the seat. In a 19-point letter to Reston Now, Clemente expressed his support for Parker, who he called a “champion of affordable housing” and a “strong proponent of limiting significant development in the Hunter Mill District.”
In a statement, Clemente wrote the following:
This is why I support Maggie Parker in this important race, because she has the skills needed to create solutions to complex issues that can sometimes be divisive, build consensus, and put the interests of the Hunter Mill District residents first, rather than hurling misleading accusations for political purposes. It’s refreshing to see a political candidate take the high road!
Parker said that she organized the forum because she wants to have all five candidates campaign in a safe and open environment and meet some candidates’ interest in coming to the plaza.
“A free-flowing meet and greet is one way to accomplish both,” Parker said. “I am confident that my message and experience will win out.”
Her campaign manager pitched the meet and greet idea to other candidates running for the seat on May 28. A date has not been set.
Alcorn, whose volunteers were recently barred from distributing campaign materials at the plaza, says the gesture comes too late:
Comstock responded to our community pressure with a token gesture that is too little, too late as Comstock’s candidate has enjoyed weeks of unlimited and exclusive advertising. Democracy does not happen in 3 hour windows. Comstock is attempting to buy a seat on the Board of Supervisors for developers. Voters should also be alarmed that Comstock is using a public private partnership with the County to limit freedom of speech for all candidates but their own.
Both Dodd and Alcorn stated that they have not yet heard back from Comstock regarding requests for the pricing of advertising on the plaza.
The Hunter Mill District primary is set for June 11.
Conflicting stances on the permissibility of political campaigning at the plaza has piqued some concerns about the privatization of public spaces in Reston.
A spokesperson for Fairfax County told Reston Now that state election law “doesn’t prohibit campaign activities including voter registration on private property.”
Comstock leases Reston Station Plaza from Fairfax County under a 99-year ground lease. This public-private partnership does not prevent political campaign activities, the county says.
The company, however, has adopted a longstanding policy that political campaigning is not allowed at the plaza, according to Maggie Parker, Comstock’s vice president of communications.
“It would be like me setting up shop on Walter [Alcorn’s] front lawn,” Parker, who is also a candidate in the race for Hunter Mill District Supervisor, said.
Alcorn, who is also running for the seat vacated by longtime Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, said volunteers from his campaign were recently barred from campaigning outside of the Starbucks on the plaza.
He says a security officer told campaigners that political activity was not allowed at the site.
“It’s unfortunate that what should be publicly usable space is being operated as private space,” Alcorn said. “This is one of the challenging and frustrating things about where we are as a community. We’ve really privatized our public spaces.”
Parker, who has campaign signs plastered along a fence near the entrance to the garage at Wiehle-Reston East, said she is seeking Comstock’s approval for all candidates to campaign at the plaza before the primary election on June 11.
“Given the interest in the campaign, I would like an opportunity to challenge our management and have one day — maybe the Thursday before the primary — for all candidates to come out. I would love to work on that,” Parker said.
Jubal Thompson, general counsel for Comstock Companies, noted that Reston Station Plaza’s unique public-private partnership sets it apart from other Metro stations, which may allow political campaigning.
“Comstock has a 99-year leasehold interest for the exclusive use to the land and the improvements it makes to the property. So effectively Reston Station Plaza is private property with public access rights,” Thompson wrote in an email to Reston Now.
Alcorn also took issue with Parker’s campaign signs on Comstock’s property, which he says muddies the line between private and public interests.
Parker noted that her signs are on private property.
“My company is very enthusiastic and support of the campaign and the signs are all on private property,” she said. “I wouldn’t go stick my signs in someone’s yard without them agreeing.”
Comstock’s marketing team is open to selling sign space to any candidate, she added.
Photos by Fatimah Waseem
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
Heritage Preservation Review Board Dives into Downtown Legislation — The Town of Herndon’s board will hear public feedback on Comstock’s proposal to develop downtown Herndon. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Herndon Council Chambers Building. [Town of Herndon]
Lunch with the Four Mrs. Hemingways — Hear each of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives tell their story about a man who changed literary history. The performance is set for noon today at Reston Community Center Hunters Woods. [Reston Community Center]
Volunteers Needed for Taste of Reston — The Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce needs to fill more than 300 volunteer positions for the event, which is set for June 14 and 15. Each volunteer gets a free T-shirt and 12 taste tickets. [Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce]
Reston Hospital Center Helps Sterling Teachers Make Their Dream Classroom — The local hospital and Stone Springs Hospital purchased $5,000 in supplies to help teachers at Sterling Middle School afford their dream classroom. [WUSA 9]
Flickr pool photo by vantagehill
Comstock has hired Mike Daugard to lead acquisitions of new properties as the real estate company moves forward on major projects near Metro sites.
Before joining Comstock, Daugard worked with the Washington Real Estate Investment Trust, Rubenstein Partners, JLL, Lowe Enterprises, and The Mills Corporation.
“We are thrilled to have Mike Daugard on the Comstock team,” said Christopher Clemente, CEO of Comstock. “Mike is a seasoned industry professional with deep market knowledge and insight that enhances Comstock’s ability to identify attractive institutional investment opportunities, increase assets under management across asset classes, and drive bottom line results.”
Daugard graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a B.S. degree in Finance. He has been an adjunct professor at the school for the last six years.
He will probe ways to expand Comstock’s properties in the area, negotiate transaction details and identify acquisition opportunities.
Comstock announced his hire on Monday (May 13).
Comstock’s redevelopment plans for downtown Herndon are headed to the town’s Heritage Preservation Review for a possible vote this month.
The HPRB dove into details of the proposal on May 1, setting the stage for a May 15 public hearing.
At the May 1 meeting, HPRB members encouraged Comstock to ensure it provides proper notice of public events and activities to residents neighboring the property as the development proceeds.
Members also asked Comstock to look into the visibility of shafts from public streets and the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.
Staff have recommended approval of the project. A public hearing is set for May 15 at 7 p.m. in the Herndon Town Council Chambers.
Comstock’s redevelopment plans for downtown Herndon are heading soon to the town’s Heritage Preservation Review Board.
“A few weeks ago the council asked me at every public hearing to give an update on the downtown even there is nothing to report,” Herndon Town Manager Bill Ashton told the Town Council on last night’s public session. “Tonight is not one of those nights.”
Ashton said that the site plan has been approved following months of engineering and zoning reviews.
He added that staff is currently looking at Comstock’s applications to appear before the HPRB, which may happen as early as May.
“That is a major milestone,” Ashton said, adding that he applauds the engineering and zoning staff for their work. “We are on to the next step.”
Comstock’s plan wasn’t the only development on last night’s agenda. The Town Council approved a development plan to change the zoning at 555 Herndon Parkway to allow for Penzance Properties’ proposed mixed-use project, which would create an urban block with residential, office and retail space in three buildings.
“This is the first real transit-oriented development that has come to our 38 acres,” Mayor Lisa Merkel said. “Eight years later, we finally have our first plan.”
In a few months, Google employees will start occupying their new office space at Comstock’s Reston Station development.
“The global technology company has had a longstanding presence in Reston and will start moving its current employee base into Reston Station later this summer,” Comstock said in a press release.
Building permits last month indicated that the tech giant has been busy fixing up its top floors of 1900 Reston Metro Plaza.
“Google first opened a small office in Reston back in 2005 and we’ve since grown to close to 200 employees, working on major projects across engineering, sales and more,” Liz Schwab, the head of external affairs for Google in Virginia, said in the press release. Its current office is at Reston Town Center.
The new Reston location fits into the company’s larger expansion as part of a $13 billion round of investment in new offices and data centers across the U.S., along with plans to double its workforce in Northern Virginia.
“We’re confident that Reston Station will be a great new home for us and will provide room for future growth,” Schwab said. “We’re proud to call Reston home.”