Reston, VA

The Town of Herndon has officially closed on its transfer of 4.7 acres of town-owned land to Comstock Holding Companies, a move that sets the redevelopment of downtown Herndon into motion.

The public-private partnership between the town of Comstock will create “the centerpiece of Herndon’s revitalization plan for its historic downtown,” according to a recent press release.

“We are excited to have completed this important part of the process and look forward to redeveloping this key piece of downtown Herndon into a vibrant mixed-use development,” said Christopher Clemente, CEO of Comstock.

The mixed-use project was officially approved by the Herndon Historic District Review Board but had been delayed by nearly a year to a number of issues, including ongoing negotiations between the town and the real estate development company.

Once completed, the new mixed-use development, which is next to Herndon’s Old Town Hall, will include 273 residential apartments, 17,300 square feet of retail and cafe space, a new arts center, three public plazas, and a 726-space parking garage.

Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel, who is ending her eight-year term this month, noted that the closing was the “culmination of years of careful planning.”

“Dynamic living spaces, retail, restaurants, the arts – all will come alive in downtown Herndon as a result of our collaboration with Comstock,” she said.

The town will pitch in $3.6 million over the course of the project while the company will be able to take advantage of $2.5 million in tax breaks through a recently established ordinance. The land was transferred at no-cost but under rules governed by a comprehensive agreement signed by both parties. The town will receive public amenities and infrastructure as part of the project. 

Photo via Town of Herndon

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Vice Mayor Sheila Olem has officially been elected as the Town of Herndon’s Mayor, replacing Lisa Merkel, who announced she no longer plans to seek reelection after eight years in office.

Olem swept the election with roughly 61 percent of the total vote, according to election results that were formally released by the town today (Friday). She beat Roland Taylor, who secured 38 percent of the total vote.

The Town of Herndon formally announced results earlier today, but cautioned that Election results will be certified by the Fairfax County Electoral Board on Nov. 16.

Residents who served on past councils dominated the Herndon Town Council election, in which eight candidates sought six seats. Incumbents Cesar del Aguila, Pradip Dhakal, Signe Friedrichs and Jasbinder Singh will return to the council alongside newcomers Sean Regan and Naila Alam.

Olem will assume office on Jan.  1.  A swearing-in ceremony is planned for new officials soon.

The following is a breakdown of unofficial results, per the state’s department of elections:

  • Cesar del Aguila:  13.69. percent
  • Pradip Dhakal: 13.48
  • Sean Regan: 13.09
  • Naila Alam: 12.36
  • Signe Friedrichs: 12.14
  • Clark Hedrick: 11
  • Stevan Porter: 10.73

The certification of results could change the outcome of the town council race, which has traditionally been extremely tight.

Photo via Sheila Olem

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After long lines for early voting, Election Date is finally here. so far, the county has unofficially reported more than 399,600 votes cast. County officials say this is 70 percent of the total votes cast in the 2016 presidential election and 50 percent of registered county voters have already cast their ballots. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know before you head to the polls today.

Casting Your Ballot

All polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Reston. An acceptable form for identification is required. Voters are encouraged to wear masks or face coverings and remain socially distanced using markers placed outside polling places to help voters stand six feet apart. Note that several Fairfax County Park Authority polling sites will be open only to voters today, including Frying Pan Farm Park Visitor Center in Herndon.

Voters can return mail-in ballots at a ballot drop-off box, which will be available at every polling place today (Tuesday). A 24-hour box outside the Fairfax County Government will be available until 7 p.m. Ballots that are mailed must be postmarked by Nov. 3. If you plan to use a drop-off box, make sure the “b” envelope is inside your returning mail envelope. Further instructions, which will help the county process ballots faster, are available on the county’s website.

What’s On Your Ballot

The following is a breakdown of what to expect on your ballot. Sample ballots are available online.

President and Vice President

  • Joseph R. Biden, President and Kamala D. Harris, Vice President: Democrat
  • Donald J. Trump, President and Michael R. Pence, Vice President – Republican
  • Jo Jorgensen, President and Jeremy F. “Spike” Cohen, Vice President – Libertarian

Member, United States Senate

  • Mark R. Warner – Democrat
  • Daniel M. Gade – Republican

Member House of Representatives, 11th District

  • Gerry E. “Gerry” Connolly – Democrat
  • Manga A. Anantatmula – Republican

The Town of Herndon

Town residents will vote for a new mayor from two candidates: Sheila Olem and Roland Taylor. Eight residents are running for six seats on the Herndon Town Council. You can read their candidate statements in the links below, if they provided to Reston Now.

Constitutional Amendments

Amendment #1 proposes that the creation of a redistricting commission with eight General Assembly members and eight state citizens o draw congressional and state legislative districts. The General Assembly would vote on the changes without proposing any changes. If the commission fails to draw districts or the General Assembly fails to enact districts by set deadlines, the responsibility of drawing districts would fall on the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Amendment #2 is written as follows: Should an automobile or pickup truck that is owned and used primarily by or for a veteran of the United States armed forces or the Virginia National Guard who has a one hundred percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability be free from state and local taxation?

Bond Questions

Public libraries: Shall Fairfax County, Virginia, contract a debt, borrow money, and issue bonds in addition to the public library facilities bonds previously authorized, in the maximum aggregate principal amount of $90,000,000 for the purpose of providing funds, with any other available funds, to finance the cost to provide public library facilities, including the construction, reconstruction, enlargement, and equipment of existing and additional library facilities and the acquisition of necessary land?

Transportation bonds: Shall Fairfax County, Virginia, contract a debt, borrow money, and issue bonds, in addition to the transportation improvements and facilities bonds previously authorized, in the maximum aggregate principal amount of $160,000,000 for the purpose of financing Fairfax County’s share, under the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Compact, of the cost of constructing, reconstructing, improving, and acquiring transportation improvements and facilities, including capital costs of land, transit facilities, rolling stock, and equipment in the Washington metropolitan area?

Community health and human services bonds: Shall Fairfax County, Virginia, contract a debt, borrow money, and issue bonds, in addition to the human services facilities bonds previously authorized, in the maximum aggregate principal amount of $79,000,000 for the purpose of providing funds, with any other available funds, to finance the cost to provide community health and human services facilities, including the construction, reconstruction, enlargement, and equipment of existing and additional community health and human services facilities and the acquisition of necessary land?

Parks and parks facilities bonds

Shall Fairfax County, Virginia, contract a debt, borrow money, and issue bonds, in addition to the parks and park facilities bonds previously authorized, in the maximum aggregate principal amount of $112,000,000 for the following purposes: (i) $100,000,000 principal amount to finance the Fairfax County Park Authority’s cost to acquire, construct, reconstruct, develop, and equip additional parks and park facilities, to preserve open-space land, and to develop and improve existing parks and park facilities; and (ii) $12,000,000 principal amount to finance Fairfax County’s contribution to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority to acquire, construct, reconstruct, develop, and equip parks and park facilities?

Other Items of Note

Voters should call the Fairfax County Police Department’s non-emergency number at 703-691-2131 to report any disruptions to voting. The following activities are prohibited by state law:

  • Loitering, campaigning or congregating within 40 feet of a polling place’s entrance
  • Using a loudspeaker within 300 feet of a polling place
  • Falsely assuming or exercising the powers, duties or functions of any county, city, state, or federal law-enforcement officer.

Results will be available on the Virginia Department of Elections’ website. Absentee ballots may be accepted until noon on Friday, Nov. 6.

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Herndon will welcome a new mayor-elect on Tuesday to follow Lisa Merkel’s eight years as the town’s mayor.

Merkel announced in January that she would not run for a fifth term as the town’s mayor. She will spend the next few months with her husband and two kids while she decides on her next steps, though she says she has “no intention” of running for higher office right now.

“Several people have pitched some ideas my way, and I’d like to still volunteer,” Merkel told Reston Now in a recent interview.

“We’ll be doing college visits hopefully with my son. And I’m going to take at least a few months to just sort of settle in and figure out what’s next. But I’m not going anywhere. I live in downtown Herndon. I still love it just as much as the day we moved here.”

On Nov. 3, a successor will be elected to the role Merkel has maintained since she won a three-way race for mayor in 2012 by just 38 votes.

Sheila Olem, Herndon’s current vice mayor, and Roland Taylor are running to be the town’s next mayor. Merkel is not endorsing a candidate for the election cycle, but she did have some words of wisdom for the candidate that will take the reins as mayor.

“When I came into the office, I was a mom and a teacher. I was not a land use expert or lawyer or never studied political science,” Merkel said.

“I truly was a citizen that managed to get herself elected mayor. So there was a lot I did not know, and I think it’s important that when you don’t know something, find an expert and listen and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

She also advised the next mayor to focus on the jurisdiction that they can control in the town and not to focus on national policy issues. She specifically advises a focus on public works, land use, and building planning while helping cultivate the community.

Merkel says focusing on the town helped her move into policies and successfully secure a town council seat in 2010. That same year, she was elected vice major. It is also what continued her motivation when she was voted in as the town’s first elected female mayor in 2012 and the subsequent three elections after.

During her time as mayor, Merkel helped implement large-scale plans for the Metrorail Expansion Project, negotiate a deal with Comstock Partners for the ongoing downtown project and working with the Chamber of Commerce to establish an Economic Development Department.

She can also tout a number of projects such as approving the installation of lights along the portion of the W&OD Trail that runs through Herndon and installing gateway signs at each of the entrances to town.

Merkel recognizes that there have been challenges along the way. Among them have been getting the news of plans for the town out to the community effectively, and ensuring that Herndon retains its sense of community and the core of downtown while growing into a more urban area.

“It took several election cycles, but I’ve knocked on doors on every single street in Herndon,” Merkel said.

“It’s one thing to drive around town, another to walk up and down the street or ride your bike, but to walk up to people’s doors, you really get a glimpse for how people are living, and we have a very diverse town with a lot of needs. I’m really glad that I’ve gotten the chance to experience that.”

Photo courtesy Lisa Merkel

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Monday Morning Notes

Cornerstones Chats with Town of Herndon Candidates — The Reston-based nonprofit organization interviewed candidates for the Herndon Town Council and Mayor. Interviews were conducted by Stephen Smith Cobbs, a member on the Board of Directors and a pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Herndon. [Cornerstones]

Volunteers Build Reston Girl with Leukemia a Playset — Volunteers from Dominion Team Energy team u with the ROC Solid Foundation to build a four-year-old Reston girl with leukemia a playset in her backyard. [WJLA]

Around Town: Judge to Hold Trial on Plans to Remove Lee Statue — “A lawsuit seeking to prevent Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam from removing an enormous statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond is scheduled to go to trial Monday.” [WTOP]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Campaign contributions to the Town of Herndon’s mayoral and town council races have been relatively sparse with Election Day just over a month away.

Campaign finance reports filed with the Virginia Department of Elections on Sept. 15 show that Sheila Olem and Roland Taylor, the two candidates seeking to replace outgoing Mayor Lisa Merkel, have received $925 and $957, respectively, in total contributions since January.

According to her latest campaign finance report, which covers the period from July 1 to Aug. 31, Olem received a $250 donation from Fairfax City Councilmember Janice Miller on Aug. 1. She also loaned $500 to her campaign in July and has gotten $175 in small cash donations since January.

Taylor, a public servant in local law enforcement, is responsible for all of the financial donations to his campaign.

By contrast, Merkel, who announced in January that she will step down at the conclusion of her fourth term as Herndon’s mayor, received more than $17,500 in contributions for all three of her reelection campaigns, topping $20,000 in both 2014 and 2016, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

Olem, who currently serves as Herndon’s vice mayor, attributes the sluggish rate of donations to the town’s mayoral contest to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, which is driven by close contact between people and, as a result, has limited candidates’ ability to interact with voters in-person.

Olem says she tries to keep supporters updated through email and Facebook, but she is aware that not everyone uses social media, and emails will not reach people unless they are on her campaign’s mailing list.

“That’s the most difficult part of it, and I don’t think that’s good for the voters,” Olem said. “I usually have several events, and then people will come and chat with me, and they’ll give donations. It’s just really hard this time.”

Sean Regan leads candidates for the Herndon Town Council in terms of campaign contributions.

A member of Herndon’s Planning Commission since 2012, Regan is one of 10 people vying for a seat on Herndon’s six-member town council.

The $6,710 in campaign contributions that Regan has reported to the state since January is more than twice as much as what any other candidate has accumulated, though much of that money comes out of his own pocket.

In addition to receiving $700 in cash donations, Regan has given $6,000 to his campaign in the form of a $2,000 direct donation and two separate $2,000 loans.

While Regan has the highest cumulative total of contributions, rival town council candidate Stevan Porter has attracted the most donors, receiving $2,583 from 18 different contributors as of Aug. 31.

Financial support for Porter’s campaign has mostly come from individual donors, but the IT professional and paramedic has also reported two separate $100 in-kind contributions from the Libertarian National Committee for the use of an eCanvasser campaign management system.

Total contributions to the other Herndon Town Council candidates’ campaign include:

Naila Alam, Bessie Denton, Pradip Dhakal, and Syed Iftikhar have not reported any campaign contributions as of Virginia’s Sept. 15 filing deadline for candidates who will be on the ballot for this November’s election. Denton and Iftikhar withdrew their candidacy after the results of the local Democratic caucus.

Virginia law requires that candidates seeking public office disclose all campaign contributions and expenditures to the state.

Full campaign finance reports for Herndon’s mayoral and town council candidates are available on the Virginia Department of Elections website.

Image via Town of Herndon

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Reston Now is running statements of candidates running for mayor of the Town of Herndon. With longtime Mayor Lisa Merkel stepping down, two candidates are running for her position. Featured here is Sheila Olem, the town’s current vice mayor, who is running against Roland Taylor.

What is the top challenge the town faces currently and how do you aim to address it? 

The COVID pandemic is our biggest challenge for staff and council, as well as our local businesses until a vaccine is available.  We have been addressing this crisis since March and it looks like we may have another year. Town Manager, Bill Ashton, has been the General in charge of our town staff, our troops, since the shut down in March.  Having a professional town manager that is charged with the day to day operations is a gift in good times.  During this crisis it has been a blessing.  My background in public health has helped me understand the “why” of our new normal.

What would your top three priorities be as mayor? 

  1. Continuing our leadership as the environmentally focused leader in urban Northern Virginia.
  2. Continuing and improving our great town services and quality of life for residents, visitors, and businesses.
  3. Bringing home county, state, and other regional dollars to benefit our town.

How does your background uniquely position you for mayor? 

For over twenty years I have been involved land use issues and served on numerous committees, including the Dulles Toll Road Task Force (2000-01), Hunter Mill Task Force (2005),  Herndon’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA)  (2000 -07), and the Virginia Municipal League’s (VML) General Laws Policy Committee.  Having a good working relationship with our County elected officials is an asset when projects such as the New Fire Station in Herndon and the need for funding to build an Arts facility in our redevelopment area of the downtown.  I have had a working relationship with every Dranesville Supervisor since 1990, three Republicans and one Democrat.  My goal is to do the best for Herndon and work with all elected officials.  As a homeowner and business owner in town since 1990, I have also worked with staff on numerous occasions for building and business permitting. Improving our process is always on the table. Legislating and bringing home dollars is the job.

The Town of Herndon is poised for transformation as Metro and the redevelopment of downtown Herndon is underway.  What is your current assessment of progress made so far? 

The size fits with our community’s desire to keep a hometown feel in our downtown.  The current project has been underway since 2009. My tenure on council started in July of 2010 so I have been there for this long process.  It has been thoughtful, vetted by the community with focus groups, public hearings etc.  Once complete the project will generate tax revenue for the town, new customers for existing businesses and the new residents will see why we enjoy having a walkable vibrant community. 

How do you hope to continue ensuring the development occurs in a timely and productive manner?  

I support the current project; we do have a meeting to determine the final finances of the project.  We have been planning and investing for this project for the past ten years.  Once the final agreement papers are signed and ground breaks the project will be completed in twenty-four months!

Photo via Sheila Olem

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Reston Now is running statements of candidates running for mayor of the Town of Herndon. With longtime Mayor Lisa Merkel stepping down, two candidates are running for her position. Featured here is Roland Taylor, who is running against Sheila Olem, the town’s current vice mayor.

As your mayor, I will be focused daily working to lowering your taxes, utilities, and fees. Herndon needs a commonsense candidate, with no bias divisive partisan political agenda. Local level government works best without bias parties involved. Roland has no compromises from campaign contributions from developers, real estate companies, or political parties. No parties should put local Town elections on their ballots.

My wife Kathy and I have lived in Herndon with our four children for 16 years. Their youngest graduated from Herndon High in 2019, and now we are eager to take the next step in their service to our community.

My twenty-year career as a public servant in local law enforcement provides me extensive experience working with citizens and government leaders. As a United Nations’ senior rule of law leader and while supporting the U.S. Department of State in international locations, Roland gained experience living and working with diverse international populations, respecting all cultures and focusing on human rights and protecting endangered population groups.

Now as a federal government program manager, Roland has eighteen plus years of extensive experience with managing large budgets and personnel supporting federal government contracts both domestic and international. For over ten years he has been a certified project management professional and experienced in risk management. 

Based on Roland’s law enforcement background and his Masters in Criminal Justice Administration, from Loyola University in New Orleans, he has served as both an Associate and Adjunct Professor of transnational and organized crime for two universities. Roland understands public safety.

As both a parent and grandparent, Roland Taylor wishes to continue giving back and offers his service to the Herndon community as its Mayor. Roland has never avoided a crisis when help and leadership were required. Herndon requires proven executive management and leadership during the COVID-19 crisis and our recovery. I am that candidate and asks for your support and vote on or before November 3rd, 2020.

Top Three Priorities as Mayor

Density Zoning

Town of Herndon, voters have to decide why they selected to live in Herndon and if that quality of lifestyle will continue with a higher density rezoning model the current Town Council is supporting. With rapid growth, there are equal impacts on increased traffic congestion and school overcrowding. We need a diverse Council and not yes votes across the board, as with current party ticket slates. There are some very big projects on the table that will have long term impacts on Herndon. Real conversations have to be had, with all views expressed and listened to in a respective manner. Developers and realtors should not lead the discussions with crony politicians, that are accepting their biased contributions to their campaigns. 

Meals Tax Impacts

In the 2016 General Election, Fairfax County put a Meals Tax on the ballot, and it was defeated countywide. All three Town of Herndon precincts voted “no” to the Meals Tax, however, in April of 2019, my opponent and all seeking re-election to Council, voted to increase Herndon’s Meals Tax, without putting to the Town Citizens for their vote. Long ago the Town put a Meals Tax on the books, to protect the Town from a County Meals Tax. Clearly, the citizens have expressed their desire against a Meals Tax in 2016 and our elected officials ignored the citizens. This was very disappointing and another reason, I am running for Mayor. 

Be assured, I am opposed to Meals Tax as it unfairly affects Seniors, low-income and middle-income families, and negatively impacts tourism. It causes decreased tipping, devastating waiters who rely on tips to make a living, which has already been badly impacted by COVID-19. Sadly, many restaurants only make 3-4% in profit, and the Meals Tax hurts our small business owners.  I am a strong small business supporter and these measures are putting our local businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

COVID Economy Impacts

Due to COVID-19 and its negative impacts on our economy, all levels of government will be required to make budget cuts as all the prior budget forecasts were incorrect. We know after COVID-19, many business models will change. Office space may reduce, lowering commuters, and impact lunch traffic. These and others will reduce taxes paid and Town revenues.

The next two years will be difficult and requires someone with extensive government and business experience like Roland’s, to lead Herndon to recovery. This requires selecting the best candidate for leadership, and not just voting down a party ticket. Roland sincerely asks for your support and vote as the Town of Herndon’s next Mayor on Nov. 3, 2020.

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