Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Notes on the Town of Herndon Meeting with Developers on Herndon-Monroe, January 21, 2011, John Lovaas

This morning's meeting of the Herndon Town planning group focused on redevelopment of the Herndon area abutting the Dulles Toll Road, with the Reston West (formerly Herndon-Monroe) station area at the center.  The meeting was set up as a dialogue of Herndon planning staff and redevelopment study consultants with property owners and mostly (or all?) commercial developers and property owners.
Observers, including Herndon Mayor and Town Council members and press were sent to the back of the room--no kidding. There were no observers from the Herndon-Monroe Committee of the Reston Task Force, but there was one developer named Mike ____ who has been frequent participant in H-M meetings.  (Mike participated actively, seemed to have a land interest near the station on the Herndon side and clearly that's where his heart was.)  Patty Nicoson sat in the way back and, like other observers, did not speak. 

 The discussion focused on:
    Summary of preliminary plan----basically two alternatives: Plan 1 calling for F.A.R.s of 2.5 in the main TOD area (rectangle in shape radiating around 1/4 mile out station area, continuing at slightly less beyond that (no number below 2.5 was specified); and,
Plan 2 calling for F.A.R. of 4.5 in TOD core, 2.5-3 in transition area beyond it.
Staff said they were thinking of building heights up to 15 stories--in addition to garage levels--nearest the station entrance area.  Beyond the transition area, there is to be a buffer area with 0.7 F.A.R., buildings not in excess of 4 stories, preference for residential abutting existing single family residential areas north and NW or TOD core.
Staff announced that public comment period on the preliminary plan had been extended to January 28th (from original mid-December date).
    Major Transportation Issues (as defined by Town transportation planner Chris___)--Two main "portals" to the study area are "already congested intersections" at Herndon Pkwy/Spring Street/Fairfax County Pkwy on NE of study area and Herndon Pkwy/Van Buren on NW of study area.  Formidable problems, esp on NE, unlikely to be resolved at above a failed level of service without additional portals on north side---or, the unthinkable, redevelopment intensity at less than 4.5--in order to restrain overall volume in absence of additional access points to study area.
   -One developer suggested that (since lower F.A.R.s not doable!) solution he would opt for  coming from east of Herndon would be to take Fairfax County Parkway to Sunrise Valley, drive west to Monroe and over the bridge to enter Herndon study area from the west!
[It would be OK if more traffic goes thru Reston side--this was only the beginning of this theme!].
    F.A.R.s, density alternatives and adequacy of incentive for landowners to redevelop:
Jim ___ of Lerner led the charge.  2.5 was a joke, certainly insufficient.  4.5 was closer to what was needed, but would be "bare minimum" esp. for parcels in the TOD central area.  One developer said, in fact, some sites might not be able to achieve quite the 4.5, but 2.5 clearly inadequate.  
    Staffer (Kay ___) leading the meeting asked developers what they thought about F.A.R.s in terms of being sufficient incentive for them to redevelop.  Imagine the responses....which came, as did nearly all comments during the 2 and 1/2 hours I was present, from 7 developers, or about 1/3 of those sitting in seats reserved for developers.  Jim ___ of Lerner led the charge.  2.5 was a joke, certainly insufficient.  4.5 was closer to what was needed, but would be "bare minimum" esp. for parcels in the TOD central area.  One developer said, in fact, some sites might not be able to achieve quite the 4.5, but 2.5 clearly inadequate. 


    Access to the station and what area should look like-  While nothing other than a possible plaza is shown near the entrance to station area on north (Herndon) side of the DTR, Staffer Kay noted that the existing town comp plan in fact allows for a "Kiss and Ride" at the entrance.  She said that negotiations are ongoing with WMATA for [unspecified] improvements.  WMATA designs and is responsible for station operations, the staff is currently thinking of a kiss and ride for cars to drop off passengers for rail and a "bus pull-over area".   She allowed that while there were some who wanted Herndon to provide absolutely nothing to facilitate station access, she thought they were in a minority.  Some might like an area to park, but that was definitely not going to happen, but there seemed to be good support for a kiss and ride, she said.
This caused the uproar of the morning--largely among the same 6 or 7, with property nearest station. Mike _____, who is active in Herndon-Monroe Committee of Reston Task Force, kicked it off. He said Kiss and Rides become "bus staging areas, a bus depot".  "I'm alarmed!"  This will change our area for the worse. Kay assured the now upset developer band that the kiss and ride will only be for buses to stop and pick up, let off passengers. She said, " any feeder buses will go to the south side." [via Sunrise Valley Drive].  The Lerner rep and a couple of other developers chimed in:  "You said 'accomodate' buses, not 'encourage'.  That is very different." In a back and forth with Mike and a couple of others, acceptable Kiss and Ride bus activity was defined as buses which come no more often that like every 10-15 minutes and DO NOT WAIT.
Then, one fellow in developer area piped up that there were tradeoffs here--noting that given earlier references to failing intersections and TOD objectives of reducing number of cars, weren't buses something to be encouraged!?  The only voice from the staff/planning side was a muted comment in support from one of the consultants. Jim of Lerner responded, "they've got a big multi-modal transportation facility on the south side, let them use that." Kay tried to calm the angry little group, reminding them that the town will commission a complete transportation study as in fact required by the Commonwealth (528?) to look at all transportation-related questions.
There was a brief discussion of Kay's earlier reference to Herndon's use of "form-based planning" vs. planning based on preferred uses.  Developers seemed mystified by it.  Here we had some common ground!
A break was announced (after 2 and 1/2 hours!).  After hearing that the staff was going to give the group one more opportunity to comment on the overall plan after the break, I decided I had heard all I needed to hear.  I noticed that the Mayor and at least a few of the developers seemed to be leaving as well.
On the way out, I chatted very briefly with Mayor Steve DeBenedittis, asked him how he felt about the last part of the discussion--on facilitating access to the station.  He said something like, "With all the capacity they are going to have on the south side, I don't think we need much if anything on this side."  For me, this was some worrisome stuff. 
I wish that there had been representation from the RTF  Herndon-Monroe Committee.  In my view, there should be continuing contact by those directly interested on the Reston side--that means the H-M Committee, others if they continue to show no interest. 

I was glad to see Richard Lambert from Fairfax County DPZ in attendance, although I did not get a chance to talk with him.

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