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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Paul Olsen opened a second location of Weird Brothers Coffee at Worldgate Metro Plaza in October 2019.

The shopping center on Worldgate Drive was specifically marketed and named in anticipation of the Herndon Metro Station opening less than a quarter of a mile away as part of the Silver Line’s second phase.

Two years later, the Herndon station and the other Silver Line Phase II stops still won’t be operational for at least another eight months.

“At the time, we weren’t even considering expansion,” Olsen tells Reston Now. “We saw the Metro and…figured this is a great situation. But, then, obviously things changed. COVID hit a few months later. Then, we saw more Metro line delays.”

Weird Brothers Coffee on Worldgate Boulevard in Herndon (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Olsen’s situation isn’t unique. Many businesses specifically set up shop near a future Silver Line Phase II Metro station thinking it would provide a boost, only for Metro’s opening to be continuously delayed.

“We initially thought that the Metro would open, at the latest, early 2020,” said Don Lee, co-owner of Alo Vietnam Restaurant in Herndon.

The restaurant is about a five-minute walk from the not-yet-opened Innovation Center Metro station. Alo Vietnam is also expected to start a location in Reston at Faraday Park.

“We did invest in 2019…thinking that we will carry the load the first year until the Metro opens,” Lee said. “Then, we will have a good location with a lot of foot traffic with tourists and from all the businesses around.”

Seven years ago this July, the most expensive transportation project in the D.C. region’s history began operations. The opening of the Silver Line and its five new stops brought Metro into Tysons and up to the Wiehle-Reston East station.

However, the intention was always to extend the transit system further into D.C.’s growing Northern Virginia suburbs. Construction on five additional stations, including one at Reston Town Center and two in Herndon, began even before Phase I opened and originally had a completion date of 2018.

However, issues proliferated, from design changes and defective panels to flawed rail ties and bad concrete. Soon, the opening got pushed to early 2020, but the problems kept coming and coming. Read More

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Three left lanes on the eastbound Dulles Toll Road will be closed tonight so that construction crews can perform civil work near the Herndon Metro station.

The closures will start at 9 p.m. around the 3.3 mile marker by the rail station and extend past the Reston Town Center Metro station to the 5.2 mile marker just beyond Reston Parkway, according to a construction alert from the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.

“Drivers are asked to use caution and pay attention to all signage and barricades,” the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project says. “Traffic should be aware of the change in pattern.”

Traffic stoppages on the toll road could last up to 20 minutes at a time.

Christopher Beausoleil, a project manager for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, tells Reston Now that the lane closures are necessary to allow crews to repair a damaged safety cable on the roof of the pedestrian bridge connecting the Herndon station to the new Herndon-Monroe Parking Garage.

According to Beausoleil, the repairs needed are relatively minor, but the Dulles Toll Road lanes will be closed “out of an abundance of caution” to ensure the workers’ safety, since they aren’t allowed to be on the pedestrian bridge when there is traffic on the highway below.

While the lanes are scheduled to be closed until 5 a.m. tomorrow (Wednesday), Beausoleil says the actual repair work will likely not take that long. It could potentially be completed within half an hour.

“It will probably be shorter than advertised,” Beausoleil said.

A full list of lane and ramp closures scheduled for this week in the Dulles Toll Road corridor due to ongoing construction activities related to the Silver Line phase two project can be found on the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project website.

Image via Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project

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A new audit from the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission has found a dozen items that Metro needs to correct as soon as possible and before the opening of Silver Line Phase 2.

Many of the items are related to the lack of guidance and training for employees on a new structural inspection manual. Additionally, the audit also says Metrorail does not review contracted inspectors’ credentials or qualifications thoroughly enough.

In all, how Metro currently handles structural inspections creates “the risk that safety issues could be misidentified or slip through the cracks.”

Another issue is that Metrorail has yet to provide load ratings for its elevated structures, meaning it’s unclear the size and weight limit of trains and equipment that can safely traverse a bridge or station. This creates a risk that the structures “could be inadvertently overloaded,” according to the audit.

The audit makes the conclusion that all of these issues “demonstrates a separate significant, ongoing problem facing Metrorail: siloed departments that do not fully coordinate on work instructions, materials or procedures.”

All aspects of Metro are audited over a three-year cycle, but the structural inspection process was audited now “due to other othersight work that identified concerns,” a WMSC spokesperson tells Reston Now.

Metrorail has 45 days to submit corrective action plans for the issues to the safety commission.

Beyond that, the timeline isn’t clear of when these required changes will actually take place.

The WMSC spokesperson also tells Reston Now that while some of these items are “relatively straight forward” others, like proper training, could take more time.

When reached for comment, a Metro spokesperson wrote Reston Now via email that they are addressing the issues:

Metro appreciates the efforts of the WMSC in completing this audit, especially the acknowledgement of the substantial progress that Metro has made with our structural assessment and maintenance programs. We require inspection of bridges and related structures at least every two years, more frequently in some instances, to ensure structural integrity and the safety of the riding public.

In addition to inspection and maintenance programs, Metro is investing in an aggressive capital program to ensure the state of good repair of our elevated structures, including addressing priority projects. As we review the findings of this audit and develop our responses, we remain committed to continuous improvement of our program and enhancing the safety of the system.

All of this has left the status and timeline of Silver Line Phase 2, which includes the opening of Reston Town Center Station, Herndon Station, and four other stations extending into Northern Virginia, up in the air.

Over the last several months, a number of audits and reports have called out Metro and have threatened to delay the openings.

In the fall, a WMSC audit reported that Metro’s Rail Operations Control Center is a “toxic workplace” with “racial and sexual comments, harassment, and other unprofessional behavior.”

In September, a report from the Metro’s Office of Inspector General found 342 cracks in concrete panels at a number of Silver Lane Phase 2 stations. This was due to the use of faulty materials, read the report.

As of last month, Phase 2 could still open by the fall this year, but that’s at the earliest.

Reston Now followed up with the Metro spokesperson about an updated timeline for the opening of Silver Line Phase 2, but has yet to receive an answer as of publication.

Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

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Fairfax County is seeking public input on proposed Fairfax Connector changes that could dramatically alter bus service in the area as part of the county’s ten-year Transit Strategic Plan.

The proposed changes would impact a number of Herndon-Reston routes and create new ones, including Sterling-Herndon and Reston Town Center Metro station (when it finally opens) to Herndon High School.

The goal of the changes is to provide better access to destinations, improve travel times, increase schedule reliability and frequency, and increase overall services, according to the county’s press release.

The county is also looking to provide more access to schools, hospitals, and transit centers, decrease average travel times on popular routes, and to improve efficiency by cutting duplicating connections. Changes would be “initially developed as budget neutral,” according to the county.

There will be three virtual community input meetings next week (Jan. 12, 13, and 14) and public comments will be accepted until Feb. 21.

To increase participation, Fairfax County Department of Transportation is mailing out a brochure to every county resident this month that will direct people to the online survey. The brochure is also translated into nine different languages. The public has already had some chance to comment on a number of the subareas, including the Herndon-Reston routes, according to Robin Geiger, a spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.

Due to this, these particular route updates can go to the Board of Supervisors and will be implemented prior to the entire transit strategic plan. These route changes and updates are expected to be approved and ready to go for when phase two of the Silver Line, Geiger tells Reston Now, since it incorporates two Metro stations into the routes.

Silver Line Phase 2 is currently scheduled to open in the fall, at the earliest.

However, if residents would like to comment on the Herndon-Reston routes and how they will be incorporated into the county’s overall transportation plan, Geiger says they are welcome to do so.

“We want to hear from everyone,” she says.

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Walmart Labs is expanding its presence in the Reston area.  The announcement comes as a growing number of technologies — including Microsoft — expand their footprint in the community.

The company’s technology arm has signed to lease establish a new technology center at 2245 Monroe Street, according to the Washington Business Journal.

WBJ also reports that the company will take up roughly 162,300 square-feet of a building owned by an affiliate of Barings Real Estate.

The building, which is located near the Herndon Metro Station, was recently renovated. The company already leases spaces at 10780 Parkridge in Reston.

The move would bring more than 100 jobs to Reston.

Photo courtesy Transwestern

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Developer Comstock and the Town of Herndon have yet to announce when construction will begin on long-anticipated redevelopment of downtown Herndon into a mixed-use center.

As the opening of the Herndon Metro Station is pushed deep into 2021, the town’s attorney says the project is still “advancing and is within the time periods” stipulated in an agreement signed by both parties in 2017.

“At this point, the majority of the ‘to do’ items are on the Comstock side and they are working through them with assistance from town staff as necessary,” according to a statement issued by the town attorney’s office.

A spokesperson for the town declined to comment on what remaining items must be worked out.

The project was expected to break ground last year.

So far, the only estimate of anticipated groundbreaking is early 2020.

The project, which includes a $3.6 million contribution from the town, would create a cultural arts district in the town and a multi-family development with around 273 apartments, 17,000 square feet of retail, an arts center, an arts plaza, and a 787-space parking garage.

The project, which includes a $3.6 million contribution from the town, would create a cultural arts district in the town and a multi-family development with around 273 apartments, 17,000 square feet of retail, an arts center, an arts plaza, and a 787-space parking garage.

Photo via Town of Herndon/handout

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More delays are expected before the 11-mile extension of the Silver Line, which includes stations in Reston Town Center, Herndon, and Innovation Center.

According to a report by NBC 4, officials say its possible trails will not be rolling until 2021.

Service was expected to begin over the summer, but due to delays with electronic testing and deficiencies in concrete panels and other structural components, opening day was pushed to December 2020.

Metro has not yet indicated when it plans to accept the project from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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As Lisa Merkel wraps up her final term as the Town of Herndon’s mayor, she took a moment to reflect and talk to Reston Now about her experiences in office.

Merkel made town history as the first woman elected into the position in 2012 after serving as Herndon’s vice mayor during the 2010-2012 term.

According to Merkel, her decision to not seek re-election wasn’t based on any specific motive, besides a wish to spend time with her family and dedicate more time to volunteering around the community.

“I still plan on being involved in the town,” she told Reston Now.

Merkel told Reston Now her accomplishments include implementation of the Metrorail Expansion Project, the ongoing development of downtown Herndon and the establishment of the Economic Development Department.

“I’m really proud we’ve embraced the business community,” Merkel said, adding that — due to her efforts — the tax rate is now split evenly between residential and commercial incomes.

Many of the local businesses even give back to the community by acting as sponsors for official events like the annual holiday parade, which Merkel said is the largest event of the year.

In a press release, Merkel said her other key achievements include marking June as LGBTQ Pride Month, adding Circulator buses to Herndon Station, providing online and on-demand Town Council meeting access and approving construction plans for a new fire station.

“Sometimes it’s really the smaller things that get attention,” Merkel told Reston Now, adding that small projects make a huge difference in the town and help to develop a sense of place.

She gave examples of adding tables and umbrellas to the Town Square, lights on the W&OD Trail and gateway signs to announce entry into the town. The tables and umbrellas, especially, gave people a fun and welcoming place to gather, she said.

Merkel has faced some roadblocks, though, during her time in office.

She said she had trouble communicating with the public that development projects in the town won’t threaten the small community feel, which she said is at the heart of Herndon’s identity.

“There was a fear that if we started building like that at the Metro station, it would trickle into downtown,” Merkel said. “We had to reassure people that Herndon won’t be a bunch of highrises.”

During her final months in office, Merkel said she hopes to oversee the groundbreaking on the downtown Herndon project and continue to work on installing underground utilities around town.

Going forward, Merkel said she won’t endorse any particular candidate for the upcoming election. But she hopes the next mayor will be an effective listener, willing to consider other perspectives on topics and won’t be afraid to seek counsel on issues they aren’t familiar with.

She encourages anyone passionate about their community to run, regardless of their political experience.

“Don’t mix national policy issues with town issues because we don’t have jurisdiction over those things,” Merkel said. “You don’t want to alienate any of your constituents with issues that don’t relate to the job. That’s been my philosophy.”

Photo via Lisa Merkel

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It’s official: the Herndon Metro Station is nearly complete.

This week, a sign marking the station was installed by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority officials.

Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel met with WMATA officials on Monday, August 5 as part of a Silver Line bus tour.

The station is expected to open in July next year.

The town is working with the county to determine new bus routes with the Fairfax Connector once Metro trains are up and running.

Photo via Town of Herndon/Facebook

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a plan Tuesday (July 16) to scale back residential development at Woodland Park Crossing.

The mixed-use development, which has been proposed by NVR, Inc., is located near the future Herndon Metro Station. The developer sought to break up a previously approved 148-unit residential building into four condominiums.

The multi-family building, which had been approved for 210,715 square feet of development, would be divvied up into four, five-story condominiums with 185,000 square feet.

The county board first approved the project in March 2017. The site borders the Dulles Toll Road to the north and Monroe Street to the east. It is owned by Tishman Speyer.

Woodland Park Crossing is currently under construction.

Photo via handout/Fairfax County Government

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Todd Hitt, the CEO of Kiddar Capital, a Falls Church asset management firm, will serve a 6 1/2 year prison sentence for securities fraud.

His family will pay $20 million to investors Hitt defrauded, including $17 million he secured from investors to purchase a five-story office building next to the future Herndon Metro Station.

Earlier this year, Hitt admitted that he lied to friends and investors to secure investments for his firm and other Northern Virginia real estate projects.

Here’s more from the office of U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger:

The investments included Hitt’s solicitation of approximately $17 million from investors in order to purchase a five-story office building adjacent to a planned future stop on the Silver Line in Herndon. Hitt made false statements and material omissions to investors by failing to disclose that a significant portion of the monies raised were commingled with other unrelated investment projects, used for personal spending to support an extravagant lifestyle and new investor’s funds used to pay off old investors in a Ponzi-like scheme. Hitt’s fraudulent conduct resulted in investor losses of approximately $20 million.

According to the Washington Post, Hitt acknowledged that he used money from new investors to pay off earlier ones while “buying himself jewelry, sports tickets and vacations on private jets.” He donated money to charities in “hopes of boosting his image as a developer,” the report stated.

Hitt has forfeited his Arlington home as part of his plea deal.

Photo via Kiddar Capital

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It’s official: Herndon’s Metro Square development at 23 Silver Drive next to the planned Herndon Metro Station is now complete.

All units in the project, which includes four buildings with 64 total condo units, are move-in ready, according to Soledad Portilla, Stanley Martin Homes’ land acquisition manager.

Portilla told Reston Now that the company expects to be completely sold out next month.

The developer still needs to complete infrastructure improvements like installing a final layer of pavement on the roads, some pavers, final touches on pocket parts, and some sidewalks, Portilla said.

Photos via Stanley Martin Homes

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A 4.2-square mile town once blanketed by dairy farms is poised for remaking as the oncoming train approaches next year. And much of that remaking is in the hands of eight property owners whose nine parcels eclipse to create a crescent at the door of the future Metro station on 12530 Sunrise Valley Drive.

So far, the parcels, which have slowly slipped into suburban malaise, are relics of what town officials hope will soon be a bygone era. But if the pace of development thus far is any indication, it’s no surprise that Stanley Martin’s residential project, called Metro Square (625 Herndon Parkway), was the first to break ground. It is now nearing completion and prices for two-to-three bedroom condos start from $519,000.

It wasn’t until earlier this month that the kind of project that planning officials hoped will help remake the town got the necessary approvals to move forward by the county.

A major development came this week: Nearly four years after Penzance first submitted plans, the company is moving forward with redeveloping a stodgy office building into an urban block with retail, a garage, a mid-rise residential building, a high rise residential tower and a high rise office tower. A total of 475 residential units will be built.

Town officials and developers hope the Penzance project will set the stage for an unprecedented volume of high density development. A revised application by Quadrangle, the owners of the land to the east of Metro known as Fairbrook, is also expected in the coming weeks. The low-intensity project would bring a mixed-use center to the greenfield area. Not much of it is developable due to the presence of flood plain and resource protection areas.

Still, even as phase two of the Silver Line opens next year, the development contemplated by the Town of Herndon’s transit-oriented plan will live its full glory on paper for now. Dennis Holste, the town’s economic development manager, says the area slated for major transit-oriented development — the Herndon Transit-Oriented Core (HTOC) — will likely be built out by 2035.

Given the stagnant demand for office space — a woe whisking its way down phase two of the Silver Line — Holste says residential development is likely to go in first. He predicts the office sector will pick up as new tenants enter the market. Big names like Google — which recently announced plans to move into Reston Station — would be major game changers.

Bracing for impact

The slow place of development could mean more time to manage growing pains. Already, congested roads and overcrowded schools are a concern. A major $105 million renovation of Herndon High School is nearing completion.

Most public amenities are planned on the Fairfax County side of the station, which has an entrance between 575 and 593 Herndon Parkway. The other side is privately owned. The Virginia Department of Transportation is leading an effort to redesign Spring Street between Fairfax County Parkway and Herndon Parkway. Planning officials are now looking into buying the right-of-way needed to make the project possible.

Following that project, a redesign of Elden Street is planned. Though off the path of Metro, officials hope pedestrian connections and the reputation of a redeveloped downtown will bring riders to the area. Pull-off areas are also planned along Herndon Parkway near the Metro station to allows cars to pull off from traffic and pick up or drop off commuters.

The town is also working with the Fairfax Connector to add bus routes to “make certain that as many people as possible have access to bus service to Metro.” said Lisa Gilleran, the town’s director of community development.

‘Not another Tysons’

In county meetings, town officials often stress that the Town of Herndon will not be another Tysons or another Reston after the Silver Line weaves itself into the town’s fabric.

So what will the character of the area surrounding Herndon’s Metro station be? Most officials hope the area’s small town vibe will remain preserved.

“Unique in Northern Virginia, Herndon has an historic downtown with an authentic “sense of place” within one mile of the metro station; this complements the higher density alternatives available around our metro station. Factor in other parts of Herndon, such as our vision for the South Elden area, and Herndon is uniquely positioned to offer existing and prospective businesses several options for growth and development,” Holste said.

Much of that character could come from a wide promenade that will greet riders as they exit Metro and extend up to Herndon Parkway. The pedestrian-friendly gateway hasn’t been designed yet. Town officials hope to pay tribute to Herndon’s history by including signs about the area’s significance.

Gilleran also says that much of Herndon’s uniqueness could come from having a mix of developers create an urban block.

“Individual developers will build each of these blocks, whereas in some cases, one developer will own more than 38 acres,” Gilleran said. “We’re trying to weave independent development into a fabric that gives you a sense of wholeness. We’re creating the pallet.”

They also plan to put in a raised cycle track along Herndon Parkway in lieu of putting bike lines in the street.

Much remains up in the air. The town is planning to jumpstart discussions about an area slated for transit-related growth – also known as the TRG – beyond the auspices of Metro. That process, which would set development goals for around 100 acres north of the downtown core, could begin as early as the summer.

Photo via Town of Herndon/Handout

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Thursday Morning Notes

Reston Association Volunteer Service Awards Next Week — “Two individuals were named as Volunteers of the Year. Doug Britt, who has been instrumental in collecting environmental data, and Cindy Metcalf, who coordinates and leads class instruction on how to start a garden, both won the top honor.” [Reston Association]

Penzance’s Plans for 555 Herndon Parkway — The District-based developer is out with new renderings for its planned development just one tenth of a mile away from the entrance of Herndon Metro Station. [Town of Herndon Government]

Community Emergency Response Guide — The new guide offers tips on how community partners and neighbors should collaborate during an emergency.  [Fairfax County Government]

Photo by Joe Heflin

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