Herndon cements vision for development of transition zone near Metro station

Herndon has finalized its vision for mixed-use development in the Transit-Related Growth Area (via Town of Herndon)

In the future, Herndon hopes to see a vast swath of land near its Metro station transformed from aging, auto-centric commercial lots into a mixed-use, interconnected neighborhood.

That vision solidified last week when the Herndon Town Council adopted a plan on April 23 that will guide the redevelopment of the 94-acre Transit-Related Growth Area (TRG), culminating about two years of planning, meetings and community discussions.

“The town has been talking about this for a very long time, but until we got the Metro out here, it was definitely not going to totally happen,” Herndon Mayor Sheila Olem said just before the unanimous vote. “So, this is a very exciting step for Herndon indeed.”

Focused on 25 privately owned, mostly office or industrial properties, the TRG Small Area Plan will create a transition zone between the more intense Herndon Transit-oriented Core (HTOC) directly outside the Metro station to the south and the Downs of Herndon’s single-family homes to the north, Ahmad Zaki, the town’s long-range lead planner, told the council.

About 5.4 million square feet of development, including 2,789 residential units, are proposed for the TRG, according to a final draft report dated Feb. 12. With height limit of 12 stories, the tallest buildings would be allowed in a mixed-use core along the section of Herndon Parkway facing the Metro station, anchored by a central, retail-lined arrival plaza.

The plan calls for townhomes topping out at three to four stories adjacent to the existing single-family neighborhoods, which will be separated from the TRG by a 50-foot-wide forested buffer. Multi-family buildings with five to eight stories are proposed along Herndon Parkway west of the Spring Street intersection.

Development in the TRG would taper down in height and density closer to existing residential neighborhoods under the adopted plan (via Town of Herndon)

The Sunset Business Park east of Herndon Parkway will be “revamped” as a new Sunset District, retaining its role as a retail center while adding outdoor amenities and landscaping to encourage pedestrian activity.

“A reduced roadway and widened sidewalks with street trees and outdoor seating would bring to this area the ‘small town feel’ that Herndon residents are so enamored with, but with the industrial (and funky) vibe that brings about the unique identity of the Sunset District,” the report says, likening the district to D.C.’s Union Market.

The plan also includes options for the Reston-Herndon Business Park off of Spring Street to stay as it is or redevelop as housing. That language was added at the request of the property owner, who “prefers to continue with the existing” self-storage and industrial uses, according to Zaki.

Kenwood Management Company, which manages the business park, doesn’t oppose the plan, as long as it can maintain its current operations, general partner Hank Bowis testified at the public hearing last week.

However, he questioned whether low-density townhouses would be the best use of the 16-acre property, should the owner decide to pursue a redevelopment in the future.

“I understand you’re trying to protect the single-family [neighborhoods], but that would not encourage anyone in the real estate development business to tear down all that industrial and build townhouses,” Bowis said. “So, I would say if you’re serious about encouraging residential in the town, increase the density, and maybe developers would be tempted someday to convert it.”

Reflecting the plan’s goal of improving mobility and promoting non-vehicular transportation, different sections of the TRG will be connected by a series of publicly accessible open spaces, including a gateway park to Sugarland Run and a central Triangular Green that could support recreational facilities.

A revised grid of streets would also add sidewalks and bicycle lanes throughout the site, while providing a new “parallel” connection from Spring Street to Herndon Parkway and Van Buren Street.

“As you all know, there is not a network of transportation in place that could effectively connect the parcels in the TRG,” Zaki told the council. “Currently, most of the area in the TRG is covered with parking spaces, and there’s not sufficient green and open spaces.”

In the works since spring 2022, the TRG plan was developed by town staff and the consultant Skidmore, Owings, Merrill (SOM) based on extensive community engagement, including three online surveys and meetings with an advisory committee, property owners and other stakeholders.

Town council members and a land use attorney representing Shorenstein, which owns the Monroe Business Center (560 Herndon Parkway), lauded staff for the “quality and extent” of public outreach.

“To see the plan at this phase compared to where it started, you can see the expertise that came from the community and how it was respected and very richly embraced,” Councilmember Donielle Scherff said. “The diversity of housing types, the connected public spaces, pocket parks and green spaces, making this human scale, is going to be an asset to our community.”