Comstock’s Downtown Herndon Plans Heading to Heritage Preservation Review Board

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.”

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Town of Herndon Continues Work with Comstock on Downtown Plans

Comstock’s newest redevelopment plans for downtown Herndon are moving forward.

Town Manager Bill Ashton told the Herndon Town Council at its public session last night (Feb. 26) that the staff has finished reviewing the fourth resubmission of the site plans. The staff began the review at the start of February.

Now, the staff is preparing to send a consolidated list of questions back to Comstock.

“It’s something we’re working on diligently, but it’s deep in the staff weeds right now,” Ashton said.

The next step will involve the Heritage Preservation Review Board, he said.

At the meeting, the Town Council approved a special exemption to increase the number of nonresidents from four to seven in a 24-hour period at a home-based business.

The change affects a hair salon at 767 Monroe Street. The salon’s website says:

The salon is located in an English basement on a private residence. Please park in the driveway.  On the left side of the house you’ll see a fence gate, if it is closed please let yourself in, then follow the concrete sidewalk all the way around back where you’ll find a staircase down to the salon.

“We really want to make it easier for home-based businesses to thrive in Herndon,” Councilmember Cesar del Aguila said, urging locals to share any advice they may have.

The Town Council also approved an amendment to the town’s Comprehensive Plan to create a design concept for improvements on South Elden Street between Sterling Road and Herndon Parkway.

“I know this is the first step, and we need to secure the funding so we can get into the nitty-gritty with trash cans and raised medians,” Mayor Lisa Merkel said. “As the Metro station opens, this does need to be a more walkable and friendly area.”

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Plans Move Forward to Revamp Herndon’s South Elden Street Area

The Herndon Town Council is moving forward with a planned makeover for an area of South Elden Street that currently has aging shopping centers and a mix of retail, residential and office space.

The area set for revitalization runs along Elden Street from Worldgate Drive to Sterling Road. Currently, the area includes the Dulles Park Shopping Center, Parkway Shopping Center and Elden Street Marketplace Shopping Center. 

The Town Council has been working since 2017 to create a plan for the area, which will serve as a guide for future land use decisions.

The plan is broken into five tiers.

The first tier, which is above Dulles Park Court, and the third tier, which includes the area surrounding Alabama Drive — excluding the Dulles Park Shopping Center, would have similar zoning.

The second tier, southwest of Herndon Parkway and above the Kohl’s, would transform from office space to two-over-twos and townhouses.

Meanwhile, tier four, which includes the Parkway Shopping Center and area east of Elden Street and south of Herndon Parkway, and the last tier — the Elden Street Marketplace Shopping Center — would keep some of the commercial space, with tier five adding up to 45 multifamily units per acre.

Ultimately, the Herndon Town Council wants the area to have greater connectivity to the Metro, add more residential units, provide a diversity of housing and incorporate sustainable design. 

Councilmember Jennifer Baker said the plan “has been a long time coming.” Baker stressed that this plan will set up an outline of what the Town of Herndon wants from businesses and developers.

The Town Council adopted the plan as a Comprehensive Plan amendment at its public hearing on Tuesday (Feb. 12).

Noe Flores, Jr, a Herndon resident and vice president of the Four Season Homeowners Association, told the council that he wants some clarification about the “super exciting” proposal.

Flores said during the public hearing that the two-over-twos should have a capped height stated and that more information is needed to get “an idea of what makes the land use more sustainable now under the proposed plan in the presentation than it currently it is.”

Jay Hadlock, a Herndon resident, said the plan needs to make sure that it balances retail and residential or “or you’re going to have one business after another fail and you’ll have empty storefronts.”

Councilmember Pradip Dhakal added that mixed-use developments can help lessen the impact of any future economic downturns. Still, Dhakal said the Town of Herndon is grappling with how to grow and build without losing what makes it unique.

“We are in a situation where we have to balance two things right now,” Dhakal said. “We are proud of having Herndon as a small town so we are in a continual pressure to maintain the small town presence. We have to be ready for increasing demand of people moving in with residential need and business need.”

Councilmember Cesar del Aguila reminded everyone at the public hearing that the plan is still a skeleton of a draft. With more work left to go, del Aguila urged residents to keep submitting comments and suggestions.

“The worst thing we can do is make decisions within an echo chamber, within a bubble,” he said.

Future steps include adopting zoning map amendments and holding Architectural Review Board hearings.

Construction could begin as soon as late 2020.

Image via Google Maps

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Comstock’s Revised Plans for Downtown Herndon Project Under Review

After hitting delays with multiple revisions, Comstock’s newest redevelopment plans for downtown Herndon are now back under review.

Town Manager Bill Ashton told the Herndon Town Council at its public meeting on Tuesday (Feb. 12) that the staff started reviewing the revised site plans on Friday (Feb. 8).

“The fourth revision of the site plan is back in staff hands as of late last week,” Ashton said, adding that the Town of Herndon has “gone back and forth” with Comstock to refine the proposal and site plan.

The proposed project for Herndon’s downtown has stalled several times since the Herndon Town Council and Comstock agreed to the mixed-use development in 2017.

Plans for the redevelopment were withdrawn and then resubmitted last summer after property owners next to the site of the redevelopment effort filed three appeals.

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Town of Herndon Boards Consider New Outback Steakhouse, Walls at Chestnut Grove Cemetery

Updated at 8:55 a.m. — Corrects Outback Steakhouse location.

The Herndon Town Council and two of its boards held work sessions this week, taking up proposals for a new restaurant building, a massive mixed-use development and more.

Possibly soliciting public comment during the development of the proposed budget for the fiscal year 2020 was discussed at a Town Council work session on Tuesday (Feb. 5). The Town Council is set to take up the resolution next week on Feb. 12.

That same work session also held a public hearing on a comprehensive plan amendment for plans to revamp the South Elden area.

The Architectural Review Board on Wednesday (Feb. 6) discussed plans for a new Outback Steakhouse. (There’s one currently at 150 Elden Street.) The plan calls for a new 6,525-square-foot single-story commercial building and 82 parking spaces on an undeveloped site with 1.46 acres across from the Herndon Centre.

The board also continued the conversation about Penzance Properties’ redevelopment project, which would add three buildings in three phases at 555 Herndon Parkway.

The Planning Commission and Architectural Review Board previously provided dozens of suggestions and areas that needed improvement for the project, which is the first of its kind for Herndon. The Planning Commission will continue its consideration of the development plan at its public hearing set for Feb. 25.

Penzance’s redevelopment isn’t the only proposal that has hit some snags lately.

The Heritage Preservation Review Board held a public hearing on Wednesday (Feb. 6) revised plans for Aslin Beer Co.’s planned tasting room and bar at 771 Elden Street, which has recently faced design hurdles.

According to a staff report, the original application for the tasting room had a proposed deck area on the second floor that would inadvertently cover a stormwater management easement. The revised design takes away the deck, yet adds new elements that the staff report says need clarification.

“The Town and the applicant are working collaboratively to resolve this issue and a revision to the previous HPRB approval is being required as a component of this effort,” the report says.

Ira Saul, an attorney representing Aslin Beer Co., sent Community Design Planner Christopher Garcia a letter on Jan. 14 saying that all of the required materials have been submitted for the application to move forward at the Feb. 20 HPRB meeting.

“My understanding with [the Town Attorney] is that we are in a position to proceed with the HPRB application in tandem with the building permit revision, so that construction can begin expeditiously,” Saul wrote.

Later in January, the beer company told Alexandria Living Magazine that it plans to open a production facility and a 3,500-square-foot tasting room in the city’s West End neighborhood.

The board also held a public hearing on a proposal to add new retaining walls around a mausoleum and create new garden seating walls at the Chestnut Grove Cemetery (831 Dranesville Road).

The proposed retaining wall with an iron top rail is meant to minimize erosion, drainage and aesthetic issues, while the garden wall is set to be two feet high and be constructed in three separate segments, according to the staff report.

The Town Council is set for a public session next Tuesday (Feb. 12).

Images via Google Maps and Town of Herndon

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Independent Candidate Jumps Into Race for 86th District Seat

Connie Haines Hutchinson, a former vice mayor of the Herndon Town Council, is joining the race for the 86th District seat, which represents Herndon and parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

Hutchinson is running on a campaign to improve education, revamp transportation, lower medical costs and ensure Northern Virginia gets support from the Commonwealth.

Ever since she ran for the Herndon Town Council in 1990, Hutchinson said she is dedicated to “give my time and talents to improve the quality of life in my hometown,” according to her website, adding that her seven terms on the council gave her the background and knowledge to represent the area in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Hutchinson, who claims that her main issues are nonpartisan, decided to run as an Independent for the 86th District seat because elected officials in Herndon run as Independents “in order to allow cooperation and collaboration without divisive party politics,” her website says.

Currently, Hutchinson is the general manager at The Borenstein Group, according to her LinkedIn. She is also the treasurer of the Herndon Hospitality Association, a nonprofit she founded to assist Herndon’s hospitality industry.

Previously, she has served on the Virginia Municipal League’s Legislative Committee and was the president of the Dulles Area Transportation Association.

In 1992, she became a member of the Herndon Town Council, and she served as vice mayor during the 2008-2010 term and again in 2012-2014. Prior to that, Hutchinson served on the town’s architectural and heritage preservation review boards.

She has also been involved with the Optimist Club of Herndon, Herndon Recreation, Inc., Herndon Youth Soccer and the parent-teacher associations for Herndon Elementary School and Herndon Middle School.

Hutchinson is a Herndon native, and her four children attended Herndon schools, according to her website.

Hutchinson will face Republican Gregg Nelson and Democrat Ibraheem Samirah in the special election set for Feb. 19.

Photo via Connie Haines Hutchinson/website

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Herndon House Concert Set to Challenge Zoning Citation Next Week

A Herndon house concert series that features independent artists is set to challenge a zoning violation at the Board of Zoning Appeals next week.

Chris Devine, the host of The Crib, received a violation notice taped to his front door from the Town of Herndon for a concert on Nov. 17 in his home, the Herndon Connection reported last week.

Dated Dec. 13, the citation says that 44 people were observed entering the home between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. for a Gina Venier and Lexie Hayden concert.

“[This] activity constitutes an Indoor Entertainment use and is not a permitted use on the subject property pursuant to the Town of Herndon Zoning Ordination,” the citation said. It gave Devine 15 days to resolve the violation to avoid incurring fines.

Instead, Devine decided to appeal the violation.

“We firmly believe The Crib house concert does not meet that definition, and further believe the citation arose from a lack of understanding of the house concert concept,” The Crib’s blog says.

At the public comment period during the Town Council public session last night (Jan. 15), Devine said that he met with town staff after receiving the citation.

“In that meeting, I learned that the town had very little understanding of that activity, which is house concerts, and as a result were very vague on how my activity tripped the wire as a commercial use,” he said.

Devine slammed Town of Herndon’s leadership, saying that he was denied access to basic information about the situation after he tried to ask follow-up questions after the meeting.

A Herndon town attorney told Mayor Lisa Merkel that the appeal never goes to the Town Council. Instead, it goes to the Board of Zoning Appeals and then to the circuit court.

“There is a role in the Town Council in looking at our code if there were a change to be made in the future,” Merkel said.

As Devine tackles the appeals process, a GoFundMe page created on Dec. 20 is helping to cover the fines.

The campaign says the following:

It will take a while to work through the appeals process — possibly as long as three months — and we don’t know at this point what the outcome will be.

During this time we have five fantastic artists already scheduled to perform and we will incur fines for each event we choose to hold, but we want to continue with the events in order to keep our commitments to both the artists and our guests who have made advance donations.

During normal times, each house show we hold costs The Crib between $100-$200; we do this because we have a passion for connecting incredible artists with deserving and appreciative guests.

But we can’t absorb the fines on top of the costs we already incur as part of our mission to the arts and the community.

Our fundraising goal will allow us to pay the fines over the next several months ($200 for the first event and $500 per subsequent event). We are also seeking a small amount to cover any legal fees we may incur during the appeals process.

Any residual funds will be used to create an even better experience for artists and audiences and/or donated to our non-profit partner, The Warrior Music Foundation.

The campaign has already hit its fundraising goal of $3,200. In 26 days, 32 people donated $3,335.

Since launching in 2015, The Crib has hosted nearly 50 house shows with 28 different artists, according to its website.

Each show lets the artist perform two 45-minute sets of original music. Seating is on a first-come basis with a capacity of roughly 40 people. Attendees are encouraged to make a donation in advance — all of the donations go to the artist.

A public hearing notice indicates that the Board of Zoning Appeals will take up the matter next Thursday (Jan. 24) at 7:30 p.m. at 765 Lynn Street.

Photo via The Crib/Facebook

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Virginia Tire and Auto to Replace Closed Bank Branch in Herndon

Virginia Tire and Auto may open next year at 199 Elden Street — the former Cardinal Bank branch spot.

The Herndon Town Council approved on March 13 the construction and operation of the vehicle service center nearly one year after Cardinal Bank closed its branch there during its merger with United Bank.

The vehicle service center aims to open next summer, an employee told Reston Now. Phoenix Steel Erectors’ work on the site is scheduled to begin in February, according to a Facebook post.

Virginia Tire and Auto has been expanding recently, with two other locations set to open in Richmond and Vienna. The new locations will bring the total number of dealership locations to 16.

Maps via Google Maps

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Civil Lawsuit Dropped Against Herndon Town Councilmember

Two current and one incoming Herndon Town councilmembers have dropped their lawsuit against Councilmember Grace Wolf Cunningham.

Cunningham, who lost her seat in a narrow and highly charged election, was replaced by newcomers Cesar del Aguila and Pradip Dhakal.

Del Aguila and current councilmembers Sheila Olem and Signe Friedrichs, who both won re-election, filed a civil suit on Sept. 24 against Cunningham for allegations of malicious prosecution. The trio ran a unified campaign.

John Farrell, the attorney for the plaintiffs, told Reston Now that his clients directed him to file a nonsuit last Tuesday, which the judge has not yet signed off on.

Farrell said his clients decided to drop the case “since they won the election quite handily.”

The lawsuit alleges that the four-term councilwoman engaged in malicious prosecution over when she filed campaign law violations against the trio. The Virginia State Board of Elections dismissed the three complaints lodged by Cunningham.

The first complaint against Friedrichs stated a grip card that said “Herndon’s Future is Happening Now: Let’s plan it together” contained no identification about the campaign committee that paid for the card. The second complaint against said del Aguila did not form a campaign committee and did not file any campaign finance disclosure reports. The final complaint against Olem challenges a grip card that stated “Moving Forward Herndon.”

The judge in the case rejected Cunningham’s attempt to dismiss the case.

While re-election of four incumbents maintained much of the board’s composition, the lawsuit signals a changing dynamic of the new town council.

“I think it is a shift in who is the dominant voice of Herndon,” Farrell said. “I think my clients would hope that the people who supported Ms. Cunningham will support the interest of the voters.”

Cunningham declined to comment to Reston Now because the case is still pending.

Photo via Town of Herndon

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Thursday Morning Notes

Official Herndon Town Council results are in  — Pradip Dhakal came in fifth place for the election, taking off Joe Plummer from one of the six candidates to take a seat on the council and sliding incumbent Bill McKenna to sixth place. [Reston Now]

Sharing mental health battles — Local first responders share their mental health battles in an effort to help others. [NBC 4]

Get your skates on — The Reston Town Center ice skating pavilion opens tomorrow at 11 a.m. for public ice skating and daily skate rentals. [Reston Town Center]

Herndon High School Theatre presents The Diary of Anne Frank — A performance of the play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett begins tomorrow. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults. [Herndon High School]

Photo by Tina

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Updated: Incumbents Return but Cunningham Ousted from Herndon Town Council

 

(Editor’s note: This story was updated Thursday at 7:30 a.m. to reflect official results). 

Incumbent Grace Wolf Cunningham, a four-term councilwoman, lost her seat on the Herndon Town Council following a narrow and highly charged election.

Cunningham was replaced by newcomers Cesar Del Aguila and Pradip Dhakal. Incumbents Jennifer Baker, Sheila Olem, Bill McKenna and Signe Friedrichs were also elected to the council, maintaining much of the composition of the board. After official results were certified, Dhakal came in fifth place, moving McKenna to the sixth spot and booting Joe Plummer, another candidate who was previously projected to win, off the council.

Ten candidates ran for six open seats and margins between candidates remained characteristically narrow, as in previous years. Although Olem, Aguila and Friedrichs were separated by relatively comfortable margins, votes separating other candidates were minimal. Plummer lost to McKenna by 22 votes.

At around 11:30 p.m. on election night, it appeared the newcomer would secure the final seat on the board and that McKenna, a one-term councilman, was off.

Internal conflict that boiled over in the public arena was common in this year’s election. Olem, Friedrichs and Del Aguila — who ran a unified campaign — filed a lawsuit against Cunningham alleging she engaging in malicious prosecution over when the four-term councilwoman filed campaign law violations against the trio. The violations were squarely dismissed by the Virginia State Board of Elections.

The lawsuit is pending a decision following the election. The judge in the case rejected Cunningham’s attempt to dismiss the case.

Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel was re-elected as mayor, continuing a position she has held since 2012. The election was not contested. New council members will assume office on Jan. 1.

In Focus: Fairfax County

In other local and county election news, Fairfax County voters approved a $182 million bond to fund public safety improvements for a number of facilities, including fire stations, police training buildings and the renovation of civil and criminal justice facilities.

The measure was approved with just under 70 percent of total votes. As of 9:45 a.m., one precinct has not reported results, but the absence of that data will not alter results.

Meanwhile, voter turnout was high this year in Fairfax County. The Fairfax County Office of Elections estimated a voter turnout of nearly 70 percent, including absentee ballots. That number is up from nearly 46 percent in 2014.

This story has been updated.

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Poll: Should Voters Select Six Candidates for the Herndon Town Council Race?

Town of Herndon residents will be asked to select candidates for the Herndon Town Council on the ballot tomorrow. But language on the ballot states that voters are only required to select up to six candidates, leaving voters with the option to select candidates they feel particularly passionate about without filling out all available slots.

The option, which has garnered questions from voters, prompted Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel to address the issue earlier today. Merkel, who is running unopposed, is backing only four candidates: Jennifer Baker, Bill McKenna, Grace Wolf Cunningham and Joseph Plummer.

There are several ways to look at that. Voting for just the candidates you believe in may make sense in this kind of election when the top six vote getters are the winners. Recent elections have been very close. (Even the Virginia House of Delegates was essentially decided by one vote in one house district!) At times in the past Council seats have been decided by as few as 4 votes. What if you voted for the four or five candidates you really believe in, but then felt like you had to use up your last vote or two, and cast votes for candidates that you weren’t 100% behind? And then one of the “second choices” manages to beat one of your top choices by a vote or two? In essence you contributed to your favorite actually losing the seat. Sounds crazy, but it could happen. Food for thought, I guess.

Town of Herndon residents, take the following poll to indicate how you plan to handle the issue on Election Day. 

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Town of Herndon Candidates Gear Up for Final Stretch Ahead of Council, Mayoral Election

Candidates for the Herndon Town Council are gearing up for election day on Nov. 6.  Over the last month, fundraising totals for Grace Wolf Cunningham, a current councilwoman running for reelection, surpassed her opponents who are also vying for seats on the Council.

Cunningham reeled in nearly $7,000, moving her ahead of funds raised by other candidates — even after factoring in a $3,000 loan she took from herself. Ten candidates are vying for six town council seats: Cunningham, Jennifer Baker, Cesar Del Aguila, Pradip Dhakal, Signe Friedrichs, W.J. Sean Kenis Jr., Bill McKenna, Sheila Olem, Joe Plummer and Roland Taylor. Baker, Cunningham, Friedrichs, McKenna and Olem are incumbents.

Mayor Lisa Merkel is running unopposed and reeled in $4,374 between Oct. 1 and Oct. 25, including donations from Cunningham, and State House Rep. Jennifer Boysko, Fairfax County Board of Director John Foust. She had roughly $2,345 cash on hand.

Most other Council candidates brought in roughly $1,000 in contributions over the past month. Baker raised around $2,519 and was left with $1,542. Dhakal received more than $4,000 over the last reporting period through 51 contributions, largely from the Indian community.

Del Aguila raised nearly $900 and was left with $677 in his campaign coffers, a number similar to Kenis Jr. who raised nearly $2,000 but was left with around $692. Friedrichs received nearly $610 and was had roughly $1,200 in his coffers. McKenna received around $1,528 and was left with a little over $1,000. Olem held on to most contributions, with around $1,015 raised and $3,682 in the bank. Plummer raised $1,161 and had just $390 remaining.

Data for Taylor was not available because he is a self-funded candidate and is only required to file campaign finance reports at the conclusion of his campaign.

Donations across campaigns were common. For example, Merkel donated to the several council candidate committees, including that of Cunningham, McKenna, and Plummer. 

Alliances have also emerged during a recent civil suit filed by Olem, Del Aguila and Friedrichs against Cunningham alleging she engaged in the malicious prosecution against them. A judge is likely to make a decision on the civil suit following the election.

Cunningham’s legal representative, State Sen. Chap Peterson, called the lawsuit a “distraction.”

 “My client, the Honorable Grace Wolf Cunningham looks forward to Election Day and continuing to represent her constituents and achieving results. Once Election Day is over we will deal with whatever legal issues remain,” Peterson wrote in a statement.

File photo

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‘Meet the Candidates’ Night Set for Town of Herndon Race

On Nov. 6, Town of Herndon voters will cast their ballots for the Herndon Mayoral and Herndon Town Council candidates.

A few days prior to the vote, town residents can chat with candidates on Oct. 22 from 6-8 p.m. in the lobby of the Herndon Municipal Center (777 Lynn Street).

Each candidate will have a display table on-site and will be available to answer questions.

Lisa Merkel, the town’s current mayor, is running for reelection. No other candidates are running.

Five incumbents are running for six seats on the Town Council for one-year terms. Those candidates are Jennifer Baker, Grace Cunningham, Signe Friedrichs, William McKenna and Sheila Olem.

In the race, five newcomers are hoping to challenge incumbents for their seats: Cesar Del Aguila, Pradip Dhakal, W.J. Kenis, Jr., Joseph Plummer and Roland Taylor.

The event is sponsored by the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Photo via Facebook

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Nominations Sought for Herndon Good Neighbor Award

If the person next door is always ready to lend a helping hand or make your day better, Town of Herndon officials want to hear from you.

The town is accepting nominations for its Good Neighbor Award. The deadline for submissions is Oct.15.

Only town residents can nominate a family member, friend or neighbor how “makes noteworthy contributions toward the quality of life” in local neighborhoods, according to the town. Recipients must be residents of the Town of Herndon and cannot have performed acts of good neighborliness for paid employment.

The town mayor and council will recognize Good Neighbor Award recipients at a future public meeting and all recipients will receive a commemorative gift.

Nominations can be submitted online and forms are also available at the Herndon Municipal Center and the Herndon Community Center.

The award is part of the town’s Cultivating Community initiative, which aims to encourage beautification and the enrichment of quality of life in the town’s neighborhoods.

Photo via Town of Herndon Government

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