Herndon Town Council to Host Community Roundtable This Month

The Herndon Town Council is hosting a community roundtable later this month.

The roundtable, which is set for Oct. 23 from 7-9 p.m., is designed to give councilmembers and residents a chance to engage in an informal way.

Councilmembers will be available to answer questions about the redevelopment of downtown Herndon and listen to feedback.

The event takes place at the Trinity Presbyterian Church (651 Dranesville Road). It is made possible with a partnership with the church and Cornerstones, a local nonprofit organization.

Image via Town of Herndon

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Land Acquisition for Van Buren Street Improvements Project Underway

Land acquisition is underway to make way for major improvements to Van Buren Street from Spring Street to Herndon Parkway. But permission from five property owners for necessary easements and land acquisition is pending to allow the $4.6 million project to proceed.

Planned improvements are envisioned as a critical link between downtown Herndon and the Herndon Metro Station ahead of its expected opening in July next year.

The Herndon Town Council plans to vote on plans to seize the properties through eminent domain. So far, property owners have rejected the town’s proposals to buy easements based on the unit price of the real estate:

Town planners attempted to use existing right-of-way as much as possible in order to minimize land acquisition needs.

Planning for the project began in December 2011. If land acquisition and utility relocation is completed by the end of this year, construction is expected to begin in spring 2020.

Construction, which is expected to cost $3.7 million of the overall $4.6 million price tag — would be complete by fall next year.

The project includes 11-foot wide travel lanes, on-road bike lanes in each direction from Spring Street to Senate Court, an off-road cycle track in both directions from Senate Court to Herndon Parkway, five-foot-wide sidewalks, and a new traffic signal at the Alabama Drive intersection.

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Council Approves First Bicycle Master Plan for Town of Herndon

With little fanfare and a nod to staff, the Herndon Town Council unanimously approved the town’s first bicycle master plan on Tuesday (August 13).

The plan, which was created by staff and the town’s Pedestrian Bicycle Advisory Committee, offers policy guidance for the town’s bicycle network planning and design, as well as a longterm plan for connectivity and network improvements.

The plan highlights the locations of mixed-use trails, cycle tracks, bicycle lanes, and sharrows —  including future connections. Areas in the center of the town are largely designated for further study.

Council members lauded staff for their work on the plan and the town’s efforts to promote cycling as a viable alternative mode of travel.

Councilmember Pradip Dhakal said the document — which is part of the town’s efforts to seek a national award for being a bicycle-friendly community — was a “step in the right direction.”

“This is a product that I think the town can be proud of,” council member Cesar del Aguila added.

The plan also ensures that connectivity is a priority, especially between new developments, said council member Signe Friedrichs.

Photo via Town of Herndon

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Town of Herndon to Appoint New Deputy Town Attorney

The Herndon Town Council is looking to appoint a new deputy town attorney at a meeting next week.

The position was created during the fiscal year 2020 budget cycle in order to help manage the workload of the town attorney’s office.

“The Town Attorney’s Office is extremely busy, as the town has grown and embarked on projects requiring legal review and consultation,” Anne Curtis, the town’s chief communications officer, told Reston Now. “This new position reflects a need for additional inhouse legal resources.”

At a Tuesday, July 9 meeting, the council will consider a resolution to appoint Lauri Sigler to fill the new position.

The position is effective July 22 to “serve at the direction and under the supervision of the Town Attorney,” according to the resolution. The salary range is between $85,000 and $115,000.

The current town attorney is Lesa Yeatts, who was hired in 2015 to replace Richard Kaufman, the town’s legal attorney of more than 20 years.

Photo via Town of Herndon

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Town of Herndon Drafts First Bicycle Master Plan

The Town of Herndon is in the process of drafting its first bicycle master plan, which lays out a longterm plan for bicycle route locations and a vision for the town’s bicycle network.

The plan, which was discussed by the town’s Planning Commission at a meeting earlier this week, intends to promote cycling as an alternative mode of travel and improve connectivity for cyclists.

The plan notes that Herndon’s population density is high in comparison to other suburban communities. As expected redevelopment around Metrorail stations and downtown Herndon continues, town officials say they will need to better incorporate bicycle facilities in the town.

The current plan builds on the 2012 Fairfax County Bicycle Master Plan, which was endorsed by the Town Council and the town’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee (PBAC).

Once approved by the Town Council, PBAC will evaluate the implemented of the plan on a yearly basis.

Currently, the town has nine active bicycling-related projects, including:

  • Bicycle lanes and a cycle track between Fairfax County Parkway: The project is nearing design completion. Construction is expected to begin in 2023.
  • A mixed-use trail on Chandon Park to connect Worldgate Trail to Van Buren Street: Construction is expected to begin this year as the project goes to construction biding.
  • A cycle track from Spring Street to Van Buren Street: The project is partially under construction and will be built in phases depending on the pace of private development.
  • Bicycle lanes on Van Buren Street from Spring Street to Herndon Parkway: Construction is expected to begin in late 2019.
  • Bicycle lanes on Sterling Road from Elden Street to Herndon Parkway: Funds were allocated in the town’s capital improvement plan and the project is in the early planning phase.
  • A mixed-use trail from Worldgate Drive to Herndon Metrorail Station: The project is fully planned and designed. Construction will likely begin in late 2019.
  • Folly Lick Regional Trail from Herndon Parkway to Center Street: Construction is expected to begin in late 2019 since the project is fully designed and planned.
  • Sharrows from Park Avenue to Van Buren Street — Construction is expected to begin this year.

The plan also suggests exploring guidelines and policies to ensure residents safely use personal transporters like electric scooters, Segways and pedal-assisted bikes.

Much of the plan’s success will depend on whether or not bicycling is seamlessly incorporated into the county’s existing and future infrastructure, as well as a balanced approach to transportation infrastructure improvements for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers. The plan suggests adopting a “complete streets” policy in order to guide decisions on the planning and design of infrastructure projects in the town.

Image via Town of Herndon

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Herndon Town Council Passes FY 2020 Budget

The Herndon Town Council adopted a $53.9 million budget this week for fiscal year 2020, representing a 10.4 percent decrease over last year’s budget.

Although real estate taxes were unchanged this year, the town’s meals tax increased from 2.5 to 3.75 percent — a move that town officials said was necessary to fund capital improvements, the Herndon Police Department’s operations, an assistant town attorney position, and restoration of parks and recreation programs.

Fiscal year 2020’s recurring expenditures increased by 2.2 percent over last year from $35.2 million to $36.3 million. Overall, expenditures increased nearly 3 percent over last year.

Other taxes like the cigarette tax and business professional and occupational license tax remained unchanged. The water service rate increased from $5.87 in FY 2019 to $6.19 per 1,000 gallons of water consumption in FY 2020.

Recycling fees doubled from $16 to $32 per year. Personnel costs also increased by $805,359 over last year, totaling nearly $28.1 million of the overall budget.

Town officials said that this year’s budget continues to prioritize Metro planning, downtown redevelopment, the efficiency of town operations and capital improvements.

“We appreciate everyone who called, emailed, and provided in-person comments throughout the budget deliberation process,” said Mayor Lisa Merkel. “The newly-adopted budget funds the programs and service our citizens have told us are important to them.”

The next fiscal year runs from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2020.

Photo via Town of Herndon

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Herndon Town Council Votes to Increase Meals Tax


Restaurant-goers in the Town of Herndon will likely see their total bill go up this year after the Herndon Town Council approved an increase in the town’s meals tax Tuesday night.

In a 5-2 vote, the council increased the meals tax — which covers all meal purchases at food establishments — from 2.5 to 3.75 percent. Town officials said the hike is necessary to meet a revenue shortfall for capital improvement projects in the town. Councilmembers Bill McKenna and Jennifer Baker voted against the increase.

Some business owners and Town of Herndon residents criticized the measure for putting local businesses at a competitive disadvantage. Others said the tax unfairly singles out one industry and could regressively impact people with low incomes who rely on prepared meals.

Kristen Murphy, the general manager of the Washington Dulles Marriott Suites in Herdon, said her business was being “unfairly signaled out again.” She said she has lost business because clients looking to book the hotel have expressed concerns about the town’s occupancy and meals taxes.

Although the decision was tough, Mayor Lisa Merkel said the increase was the best way to boost revenue by minimizing the impact on Town of Herndon residents and property owners. The tax would apply to anyone who purchases meals in the Town of Herndon — including the 17,000 people who visit the town.  Meals taxes are also a “predictable and stable source of revenue,” Merkel said.

“I don’t anticipate its something that will become a trend,” Merkel said, noting that other towns and cities in Virginia also levy meals taxes.

The meals tax has not gained traction in Fairfax County. Voters rejected a referendum to institute a meals tax in 2016.

Photo by Melissa Walker Horn

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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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