Lack of Affordable Housing in New Developments Near Future Herndon Metro Station Sparks Debate

Within the last five years, more than 500 residential units have been proposed at the door of the future Herndon Metro Station, which is on track to open by the end of 2020 In all three place-making projects that were recently approved by town officials, there are no affordable or workforce housing units.

Comstock’s downtown Herndon redevelopment project — which has 273 apartments — and Penzance’s mixed-use development less than one-tenth of a mile from the future station — which has 455 residential units — will not have any ADU or WDU units. Stanley Martin’s Metro Square project — which has 64 two-over-two condos — also has none. Prices for those units start at $679,990.

Newly elected town council members Cesar del Aguila and Pradip Dhakal are currently mulling ways to create more new affordable and workforce housing. They plan to discuss policy instruments with the county’s Board of Supervisors, the town’s legal staff, and other town and county officials to decide next steps. 

“If we do not interfere now and talk to builders, it will be very difficult to manage later. This is the time for the change,” Dhakal said. “We need to work with the county and work independently as a town to see what we can do.”

It’s unclear if the town has enough workforce housing to meet the demands of people who work within or near the town’s borders. The number of residential units in Herndon is expected to increase by 30 percent over the next 25 years, according to county data. Major growth is anticipated in Herndon’s transit station areas.

Unlike Fairfax County, the Town of Herndon does not the statutory authority to mandate the inclusion of workforce or affordable housing units. But now, as the Silver Line trains approach, some local elected officials are pushing for the town to explore ways to include workforce units in new developments at a critical juncture in the town’s history.

Policy options could include seeking state-enabling legislation to create an ADU and WDU program for the town — likely modeled after the county’s program.

Others are looking to dip more into the county’s penny fund — which includes tax dollars from town of Herndon residents and has historically been used to preserve and promote affordable.

But some caution that a WDU and ADU program managed by the town could be too cost-inhibitive.

Melissa Jonas, chairwoman of the Town of Herndon’s Planning Commission, said seeking such a change would likely require a town charter amendment, state-enabling legislation, the creation of a housing office, and other administrative requirements that could result in a “net zero” win for the town.

“It’s not easy and it’s not cheap,” Jonas said.

Jonas, who has worked with the county on numerous affordable housing initiatives, notes that affordable housing is a region-wide challenge that cannot be addressed in isolation of other issues and initiatives.

In the past, the town has leveraged its relationship with the county — which has the administrative and financial resources to maintain and preserve older affordable housings units — to ensure inclusion and housing affordability are a priority in the town. Town officials have also made an effort to educate the town’s planning commissioners about housing affordability issues as new applications cross their desk.

The town’s comparative advantage lies in finding other ways to ensure projects are affordable — including working with places of worship to pursue creative new projects on unused land, increased transparency about development approval timelines, and decreased the cost of doing business in the town.

The county currently provides most of the funding for the town’s housing rehabilitation specialist, who finds ways to preserve and rehabilitate current affordable and workforce housing units. The county also provides administrative support for housing vouchers and other federal programs.

Projects like the units set aside for lower-income households at Herndon Harbor House II are a good start to ensure housing affordable is a central part of community planning. That retirement community was partly financed by the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program.

Dhakal says that’s not enough and Del Aguila says that a town-led ADU or WDU program is “the right thing to do.”

“This initiative will provide several benefits: positively impact the future of many people [and] families by providing an option for home ownership in Northern Virginia,  improve the quality of life for people in our town… and create opportunities for financial security for more residents,”  he said.

Not everyone on the council is convinced of the need to enable the town to regulate affordable housing, including town councilmember Signe Friedrichs.

Friedrichs says there is a lack of consensus on whether or not there is enough affordable housing in the town and that the county is better positioned to manage housing affordability programs. Instead of managing its own program, the town should work with the county to maintain and improve affordable housing options.

“I moved to Herndon partly because it was affordable, and I hope it can stay that way while also improving its housing stock. But I also hope we can maintain, improve and possibly expand our workforce and affordable housing without also increasing our budget, the cost of which would cause people to move out of town,” Friedrichs said.

Photo via Town of Herndon Planning Commission
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Units in Herndon’s Metro Square are ‘Move-In Ready’

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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Town of Herndon ‘Crescent’ Eyes Remaking by 2035

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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