Reston, VA

Like other localities across Northern Virginia, the Town of Herndon is taking a cautious approach to its budget proposal for fiscal year 2022, which was made public this morning (Wednesday).

Requesting $55.7 million in total expenditures, the proposed FY 2022 budget calls for a 8.7% decrease in spending compared to FY 2021 and reflects the financial toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on local governments in a demanding, unpredictable year.

“The fiscal year we are now concluding has been, to put it succinctly, a year like no other,” Herndon Town Manager Bill Ashton said. “The COVID-19 pandemic upended all aspects of daily life. Town services and programs were significantly impacted, as were revenues across the board.”

According to the budget document, Ashton developed his proposal around a 1.7% uptick in assessed property tax values, including new construction and improvements. Gains in residential values, which account for 56% percent of the town’s real property tax base, were offset by dropping commercial real estate values.

The proposed budget maintains the town’s current real estate tax rate at 26.5 cents per $100 of assessed value.

While the town projects a “modest” increase in revenue from business and professional and commercial licenses, business closures and restrictions necessitated by the pandemic are expected to continue affecting revenue from Herndon’s meals and transient lodging taxes during the first half of the coming fiscal year, which starts on July 1.

Herndon saw a 20% year-over-year decrease in meals tax receipts during FY 2021 and a 75% drop in transient lodging tax receipts, according to the FY 2022 budget proposal.

Ashton says the budget “reflects the austerity under which we are still operating.”

“It focuses on core services — public works, public safety — as well as pandemic-related relief that is in the town’s jurisdiction to provide,” Ashton said. “It anticipates an improving economy, but any recovery will likely be gradual. This budget outlines a prudent response to a fiscal crisis that is very much still with us.”

While the town is anticipating “a mild recovery” in the second half of FY 2022 as COVID-19 vaccinations become more widespread and public health restrictions lift, Ashton says he asked town departments to submit budget requests at 5% and 10% reduction levels in recognition of the “fiscal uncertainty that still lies ahead.”

The proposed budget says “several essential items” had to be deferred to the next fiscal year to maintain a balanced budget, though the town council could authorize additional spending in the future depending on the town’s finances and the arrival of new federal stimulus funds.

Areas where the town plans to significantly cut back on spending include professional services, tree maintenance and removal, recreational programs, mowing, special events, and office supplies.

The proposed budget also decreases capital expenditures by 57.4% from the adopted FY 2021 budget. It suggests making no major capital expenditures until revenues are collected late in the fiscal year, unless there is an emergency.

The budget maintains a hiring freeze on non-essential staff positions and omits market-rate adjustments for town employees for a second consecutive year. Herndon still hopes to give all of its workers a 3% pay-for-performance increase, unlike Fairfax County, which has proposed freezing worker compensation increases.

“Though in a funding shortfall situation, it is critical for the town to recruit, retain and develop employees to remain competitive in the marketplace,” Ashton’s budget says.

Projects in the proposed FY 2022-2027 Capital Improvement Program include alignment of Center Street, Elden and Monroe Street intersection improvements, vehicular and pedestrian access to Metro and Van Buren Street improvements, according to the town news release.

The Herndon Town Council will hold public hearings on the proposed budget at 7 p.m. on April 13 and 27.

Photo via Google Maps

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As temperatures climb this month, the Town of Herndon is encouraging residents to enjoy its parks and trails.

The town’s Parks and Recreation Department launched March Into Parks, an initiative that encourages residents to explore the town’s 11 parks and three trails.

‘Staff has put together physically distanced activities to help you explore and embrace our natural resources. A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress and promoting healing,’ the town wrote in a statement.

Town officials note that every home in the Town of Herndon is within a quarter-mile from a town park.  For each week in the month of March, town staff have suggested several ideas and challenges.

Through March 7, residents are encouraged to find the rock tree on Folly Lick Trail. Between March 8 and 14, residents are challenged to cross the creek using stepping stones at Runnymede Park. Other challenges and options are listed on the town’s website.

A map of the town’s parks and trails is also available online.

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The Town of Herndon is considering plans to reconfigure a new traffic signal along Herndon Parkway at Sunset Park Drive in order to access Sunset Business Park.

In the town’s proposed capital improvement program for fiscal years 2022 through 2027, the town is considering realigning the current intersection to include new street lighting, signals for bikes and pedestrians, crosswalks, and cycle tracks.

The changes are expected to improve the safety of the area and traffic circulation between Herndon Parkway and Sunset Business Park.

So far, roughly 75,000 in funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority has been allocated for preliminary engineering and administrative tasks. The project is expected to cost at least 700,000.

Future funding will likely be received through the Virginia Department of Transportation’s revenue sharing program. Construction is expected to be completed in fiscal year 2025.

Because of limited funding due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the town has preliminary identified four priority projects for funding, including minor sidewalks, trails and bicycle facility improvements, the replacement of a fuel tank in the town shop, and the expansion of a police service room.

The town’s Planning Commission is set to review the proposal at a meeting on Feb. 22. 

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Due to uncertainties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery, the Town of Herndon is taking a precautionary approach as it develops its capital improvement program for the next six years.

In a memo to the town’s Planning Commission, staff noted that the latest plan prioritizes a handful of projects and delays others, noting that there are “major uncertainties” facing the plan.

“It may be viewed as a best-case scenario and the commission should recognize that the Town Council could face a decision to sequester all or part of the project funding,” staff wrote in a memo to the commission.

Town Manager Bill Ashton has suggested prioritizing three or four projects in case funding sources fall through. Projects were prioritized based on legal or contractual obligations, whether or not the project served a public safety priority, or if federal, state, and local timelines required the project to move forward.

This year’s plan includes the following new projects

  • Herndon Parkway and Sunset Park Drive intersection improvements
  • Police parking lot expansion
  • Replacement of roof and four HVAC units for the building located at 1481 Sterling Road
  • Design and construction of energy conservation measures at Herndon’s four major buildings
  • Town Shop underground fuel storage tanks

The Town’s Capital Improvement Program becomes a part of the town’s annual operating budget. It is a planning document used to detail funding sources through major project stages from design to construction.

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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An empty auto repair building, formerly the home of Herndon Auto Care and Dulles Shell Service Center, will flip into a restaurant later this year.

Pollo Campero, a fast-food restaurant that serves fried, grilled and crunchy chicken, plans to move into the 2,900-square-foot building at 1131 Elden Street. The business is expected to relocate from its current location at 496 Elden Street.

The company is seeking a special exception from the town to redevelop the property into a restaurant with a drive-thru and parking.

The car shop moved from its Elden Street location to a new building just two miles away at 45410 Holiday Drive in Sterling, according to its website.

The front of the building will open up to the parking lot and connects to the town’s sidewalks. A walk-up window to pickup orders is also planned. A drive-thru is located at the back of the site, according to Shaghayegh Osipov, a project manager for the company.

Pollo Campero is excited to join the Elden streetscape and looks forward to working together to bring this new Pollo Campero location to life, he wrote.

In a Jan. 29 memo, town staff noted that the company should reconsider the company’s ‘somewhat festive theme’ in order to ensure the building is inviting. Town staff noted that most of the building’s windows are confined to the front of the building.

The town’s Architectural Review Board is set to discuss the item at a virtual meeting tomorrow night.

Image via Pollo Campero/Town of Herndon

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With Christmas just around the corner, many government offices and services will be closed for the remainder of the week, as employees take Thursday and Friday off for the holiday.

Fairfax County government offices will officially close at noon on Thursday (Dec. 24), and they will be closed for the entirety of Christmas Day.

All county parks and recreation facilities, including golf courses and RECenters, will be closed on Christmas.

However, all RECenters will be open until noon on Christmas Eve, and other facility hours vary that day depending on the specific location.

Reston Association offices, including the Central Services Facility and the Nature House will be closed Wednesday through Friday. No RA news will be distributed on Friday.

Fairfax County libraries will close at 1 p.m. on Thursday for the holiday weekend.

The Town of Herndon is also implementing a new trash and recycling collection schedule through the beginning of the New Year. Government offices in the town will also run on an abridged schedule. Offices will close at noon on Thursday and remain closed on Friday and Jan. 1.

Fairfax County will not provide any trash and recycling collection services on Christmas Day. Customers who typically have their waste collected on Fridays will instead get service on Saturday (Dec. 26). In addition, the county’s recycling and disposal centers at the I-66 Transfer Station (4618 West Ox Rd.) and the I-95 Landfill Complex (9850 Furnace Rd.) will close at 1 p.m. on Dec. 24 and stay closed throughout Dec. 25.

For transit users, Fairfax Connector will operate on Christmas Day according to its Sunday service schedule. Information about specific routes can be found here.

With students on winter break since Monday (Dec. 21), Fairfax County Public Schools has put its meal distribution services on hold starting today through Jan. 1. Yesterday, FCPS offered four days of breakfast and lunch to students who picked up meals at bus stops, and students who used Grab & Go locations or meal kits sites received 14-day meal kits.

Bus route meal distributions will resume on Jan. 4, while distribution at Grab & Go locations and meal kits sites will return on Jan. 5 and 6, respectively.

Photo via Reston Farm Market website

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The Town of Herndon is planning to shine a light on the best holiday decorations in the area this month.

The initiative, “Lights on the for the Holidays,” seeks to recognize noteworthy holiday decorations in the Town of Herndon. A walking map of festive holiday deadlines will be published once the town finishes gathering location details.

Residents and businesses can submit locations to highlight for the map. Both residential and commercial addresses will be featured in the Google Maps. Entries are due by Dec. 18.

The submission form also includes a field for information that can be publicly shared.

The Town of Herndon describes the project as a “community spirit enhancer” and not a contest. Names or contact information of participants will not be published.

Photo by Bob Ricca/Unsplash

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Outback Steakhouse is coming soon to the Town of Herndon with a new address, according to plans submitted to the town’s Architectural Review Board.

Kimley-Horn has submitted building and site design plans for the new restaurant, which will be located at 365 Elden Street. The 6,525-square-foot structure will be located on a nearly 1.5-acre site that is currently undeveloped.

Another location is under a mile away at 150 Elden Street. The company did not immediately indicate when it planned to move its current location.

The board will review the application at a meeting today (Wednesday). So far, staff has withheld a recommendation on the application to allow the board and the applicant to “further discuss the exterior materials” of the property.

In addition to the single-story building, an outdoor seating patio and new landscaping is planned on the site.

Outback Steakhouse offers casual American dining and is based in Florida. The chain has more than 1,000 locations around the world.

Image via Google Maps

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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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In the 2020 presidential election, Fairfax County voters cast a record number of votes — 600,238 — but the overall turnout was not record-breaking.

This year, 78.8 percent of the county’s 761,753 active registered voters took part in the election,  down from the 2016 presidential election when turnout was 82.5 percent and roughly 563,000 votes were cast. 

In the 2012 general election, the turnout rate was 80.5 percent

“This election year was unlike any other we have ever seen,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “Our turnout throughout the process was truly encouraging and spoke to our residents’ faith in the democratic process.”

Fairfax County voters strongly favored Democrats in this year’s election, supporting Joe Biden over incumbent President Donald Trump and reelecting Sen. Mark Warner, Rep. Don Beyer (8th District), Rep. Jennifer Wexton (10th District), and Rep. Gerry Connolly (11th District) to Congress. Precinct-level reporting offering some variation.

It’s important to note that while turnout did not break records, the number of registered voters went up significantly from around 683,000 in 2016 to 761,573 this year. More than two-thirds of votes cast were absentee votes due to no-excuse absentee voting.

The county expects to officially certify election results on Nov. 16.

The Hunter Mill District boasted the highest turnout for the election. More than 81 percent of the Hunter Mill District’s 93,193 active registered voters cast a ballot in the Nov. 3 election, either in person on Election Day or absentee. The district is also the only one in the county with over 90,000 active registered voters as of Oct. 30. Springfield District had the second highest turnout at 80.8%

In the Town of Herndon, Vice Mayor Sheila Olem swept up the Mayoral election with a resounding 61 percent of total votes. Roland Taylor took. 38 percent of the total vote.

The winners of the Herndon Town Council election were separated by a handful of votes. Town spokesperson Anne Curtis said the town is expected to announce results once they are certified by the county. On election night, early election results changed dramatically due to a data entry error.

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The Town of Herndon and Comstock Companies are set to close on the redevelopment of downtown Herndon on Dec. 15, bringing a long-anticipated project mired by nearly a year of delays to fruition.

In a memo to the Herndon Town Council, which will discuss the matter on a Nov. 10 work session, staff attributed delays to a “significant rise in labor and material costs” in the DC construction market since 2016, an issue that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This week is a lesson in patience for Americans….  and for Herndon patience is paying off,” said Mayor Lisa Merkel, whose eight-year time as mayor has revolved around the redevelopment project.

The Town of Herndon will sell 4.7 acres of town-owned land for $10 million to Comstock, which will develop the area into a mixed-use neighborhood with 273 apartments, a 787-space parking garage, an  18,000-square-foot arts center, and 17,000 square feet of retail space.  The town purchased the land for $5.8 million and will pitch an additional $3.6 million for the project to cover the following:

  • Environmental remediation:  $500,000
  • Transitional public parking: $500,000
  • Arts center relocation: $250,000
  • Culvert repair: $100,000

The Herndon Town Council will consider the matter at a work session on Nov. 10.

To close, both parties negotiated a new comprehensive agreement that was finalized after months of deliberation and few answers on why the project was stalled. The previous agreement was signed by the town in 2017. The council will vote on the proposed agreement.

In the interest of the continued forward movement of the project the Town and Comstock now desire to amend the Comprehensive Agreement in order to better address the changes in the market, unforeseen effects of COVID-19 and to provide both parties maximum advantage,” the memo states.

Per the agreement, Comstock must begin construction of the project by Dec. 31 of 2021 after a closing date of Dec. 15. The company will also pitch in $10 million instead of $5 million to cover costs associated with the arts center and parking. Among other changes, appropriation for the project will be required before closing and Comstock will be allowed to pause construction due to market conditions and other delays caused by the pandemic.

Additionally, Comstock will receive several tax breaks, which were recently established by the Herndon Town Council.

The company will have to pay $2.5 million less in fees for water, sewer, and building permits than typically allowed. At the time, the town declined to indicate if the recently-passed tax rebates were designed for the redevelopment project in downtown Herndon.

So far, the town says that it’s very confident the agreement will result in a big return for the town.

All together the financial investment plus development incentives for the project are approximately $16 million and the town anticipates the value of its capital return on the project to be over $16.6 million,” according to a memo by town manager Bill Ashton and town attorney Lesa Yeatts.

Image via Comstock

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The Town of Herndon’s Department of Public Works will begin its annual collection of leaves next Monday (Oct. 5).

Residents should rake leaves as close to the curb as possible without blocking storm drains, sidewalks or mailboxes. Grass, shrub clippings and weeds must be placed in 30-gallon recyclable bags only on regularly scheduled trash days.

The schedule is as follows:

North of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail

  • October 5-9
  • October 19-23
  • November 2-6
  • November 16-20
  • November 30 – December 4

South of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail

  • October 12-16
  • October 26-30
  • November 9-13
  • November 23-27 (No collection on Thanksgiving (Nov. 26)
  • December 7-11

A map showing areas north and south of the trail is on the town’s website.

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Public Safety Input Set Set for Today — Fairfax County public safety officials will hold an input session today at 6:30 p.m. Residents and organizations will offer testimony on various public safety issues. [Fairfax County Government]

Urbanist Issues in Town of Herndon Elections — Silver Line development issues are at the forefront of what most candidates are talking about, including two candidates running for mayor and eight candidates running for all of the six seats on the council. [Greater Greater Washington]

Cool Green Bags of Food for the Need — “Sixty-one volunteers will be fanning out over Northern Virginia this Saturday with one simple mission — to pick up green bags packed with food donations to help people experiencing food insecurity.” [Reston Patch]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Friday Morning Notes

Candidate Forum for Town of Herndon Election This Weekend — Candidates for the mayoral and council elections will take part in a panel moderated by Brian Tumulty, who covers finances and taxes for The Bond Buyer. The event is hosted by the Dulles Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 27 at 4 p.m. [Dulles Chamber of Commerce]

County Grant Programs Expands Eligibility Criteria — “Expanded business sectors are now eligible to apply, including small hotels and bed and breakfast lodging facilities, along with film industry companies supporting production in the commonwealth.” [Fairfax County Government]

Virtual Career Fair Set for Oct. 8 — “The Hiring + Reskilling Virtual Career Fair will welcome job seekers of all backgrounds, especially those unemployed due to COVID-19. The open positions will span a variety of industries, and not all require a college degree. Open positions include store clerks, construction laborers, security guards, program managers, information security analysts, and more.” [Fairfax County Economic Development Authority]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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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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