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The anticipated groundbreaking for the downtown Herndon redevelopment has been pushed back several times (via Comstock)

A groundbreaking date for downtown Herndon’s pending redevelopment has been as elusive as the regional transportation that’s intended to help activate it: the opening of phase two of the Silver Line.

Developer Comstock Companies is working with the town to transform 4.7 acres of land into a mixed-use town center with 273 residential apartments, 17,000 square feet of retail space, an arts center and a 726-space parking garage.

Comstock has submitted a new schedule for the project, which was expected to break ground this spring after being pushed further out from last year.

At a Herndon Town Council meeting on Tuesday (May 10), town manager Bill Ashton II said attorneys for Comstock and the town are negotiating the schedule and financing package.

“They are on the cusp of going to lending but there are some things they need to iron out before they can get there,” Ashton II said at the meeting.

The town is actively working on this issues, which were not publicly discussed. Comstock has also required some changes to a building permit based on site plan revisions that will be submitted to the town.

Comstock told FFXnow in a statement that no updates were available to share.

Ashton provided the update at a meeting following questions from Vice Mayor Cesar del Aguila.

“There’s a lot of rumor mill and conspiracies out there,” del Aguila said.

The cost of the $101 million project increased by $25 million due to issues related to materials, labor, and workforce restrictions caused by the pandemic.

When asked about the project, a spokesperson for the town deferred to the discussion at the meeting.

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Herndon government offices (file photo)

The Town of Herndon has held the line on its real estate tax rate as the council approved its $57.3 million budget for fiscal year 2023.

The budget, which represents a nearly 3% increase over last year, includes the first pay raises for the Herndon Town Council in nearly 15 years.

The real estate tax remains unchanged at $0.265 per $100 of assessed value, but property owners will see hikes in tax bills in the next fiscal year due to big jumps in real estate values.

The town also increased water and sewer rates from $6.28 to $7.16 per 1,000 gallons for sewer and $3.21 to $3.31 per 1,000 gallons for water along with an increase in fees for the Herndon Centennial Golf Course and Chestnut Grove Cemetery.

In response to some residents’ and councilmembers’ concerns that the increases were too high, Town Manager Bill Ashton noted that costs of maintenance for both systems have increased between 2011 and 2018.

“We weren’t covering over that period the money that would cover that operational capital expenditure,” Ashton said, adding that maintenance issues like pipe replacement are becoming more commonplace.

Not everyone was amenable to pay increases for the Herndon Town Council and mayor. Councilmember pay increased from $4,000 to $15,000, and the mayor’s pay increased from $6,000 to $16,000. The increases will go into effect in the 2023-2024 term.

The measure passed with Mayor Sheila Olem casting the lone dissenting vote Tuesday night (April 26).

“It’s too big of a raise…especially for this time,” Olem said, adding that she had hoped to examine more modest pay increases for all boards and commissions instead of a big hike for the council.

Others said the move incentivizes more candidates to seek office.

Councilmember Signe Friedrichs said that, while she was conflicted about her support, the raise simply “doesn’t look good in a time of inflation.” Still, she joined the rest of the council in voting for the proposal.

“Sometimes you have to make concessions to make sure that something gets done,” she said.

Former mayor Lisa Merkel said that, while the salary increase for the mayor was appropriate, councilmembers should not receive a similar raise due to the differences in the mayoral and council roles.

“I am aware that there is a considerable difference in time and responsibility between serving as a council member verses serving in the mayor role,” Merkel wrote in a letter to the council. “The mayor signs all leases and legal documents, contracts, plats, and many other legally binding documents.  While Councilmember’ records and emails remain on the record and FOIAable for 7 years after their final term ends, the Mayor’s records remain on record and FOIAable in perpetuity.”

The first proposal included more modest increases — $10,000 for council members and $12,000 for the mayor.

The council will approve the town’s Capital Improvement Plan next month.

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Town of Herndon government center (file photo)

Outdoor dining became a go-to option during the peak of the pandemic for downtown Herndon businesses, but it may not just be a thing of the past anymore.

The Herndon Town Council is considering a proposal to permit outdoor dining and seating in public areas. The move comes after temporary licenses to allow outdoor dining expired in November.

After the state and town declared a state of emergency, multiple downtown businesses took advantage of relaxed regulations — including those involving serving alcoholic beverages — to allow outdoor dining on sidewalks, parking lots, and on-street parking spaces.

Earlier this year, Vice Mayor Cesar del Aguila asked staff to look into the issue.

The proposal formalizes how businesses operated during temporary regulations. Outdoor dining could be allowed in the public right of way, on-street parking spaces, and off-street, public shared parking spaces once applications are approved by staff.

Dining would only be allowed on unallocated spaces in public parking lots and would be limited to two on-street spaces in front of the businesses.

The proposal also has a list of other requirements intended to minimize the impact on parking and traffic safety. The change would only apply to Lynn, Pine, Station, and Center streets.

An annual application fee of $100 is required, with the maximum permit term lasting from March 15 through Oct. 31.

At a meeting on Tuesday (April 19), Herndon Zoning Administrator David Stromberg said businesses would also be required to pay $10 per square foot of affected public space — a number selected based on how other jurisdictions have handled the issue.

Mayor Sheila Olem said some non-restaurant-related businesses are concerned about a possible shortage of parking spots.

Stromberg emphasized that the ordinance is written in a way that would not allow a large number of parking spots to be eligible for outdoor dining. On average, each business could utilize around two parking spaces.

Staff noted that the town must also consider what is the best use of public property — dining, rideshare, parking, or food pickup and deliveries. Businesses would have to reapply annually.

Del Aguila also encouraged town staff to step up enforcement of parking limits in the downtown area.

“We really need enforcement in the downtown area,” he said.

Councilmember Jasbinder Singh said he was concerned outdoor dining would impact pedestrian accessibility. He suggested considering further limits on outdoor dining, such as the time of day.

Others said that the ordinance — which may include design requirements like adequate drainage —  may be too cumbersome for businesses to follow.

“This is crushing them in regulation because it makes it a much more challenging decision for the business owner to do,” said Councilmember Sean Regan.

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Chestnut Grove Cemetery in Herndon (via Google Maps)

Chestnut Grove Cemetery, a historic cemetery deeded to the Town of Herndon, is poised to increase fees for burials, lots and other services.

As part of ongoing budget discussions for fiscal year 2023, the town is considering increasing fees by between 13.5 and 15% for most lots.

According to staff, that’s partly because of a decrease in the number of burial sites at the property, which was first formally recognized as a cemetery in 1872. The cemetery was deeded to the town in 1997 by the Chestnut Grove Cemetery Association.

The cemetery also needs “additional funding support to maintain enterprise fund operations,” according to a staff memo. The cemetery has roughly 200 traditional sites remaining.

The fee increases come as the town explores possibilities of developing 3.5 acres for more burial sites, according to cemetery manager David Roscue.

“We are currently satisfying the demand and have not had any families choose a different location due to availability issues,” Roscue told FFXnow.

Next year, the town plans to begin design and engineering for more sites at the cemetery, but no formal plans have been made yet, according to Town of Herndon spokesperson Anne Curtis.

Fees for cremation sites are expected to go up by around $300 with similar increases for interments. Fees for the perpetual care of infants and children are not expected to be impacted, according to the draft resolution.

Roscue added that services have generally resumed to normal pre-pandemic operations, noting that the cemetery currently has no limits on the numbers of people attending a graveside service.

If approved, fee changes would go into effect on July 1. The Herndon Town Council was scheduled to discuss the matter at a meeting last night (Tuesday).

Photo via Google Maps

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The Herndon Town Council is considering increases to water and sewer rates (file photo)

In an effort to shore up its water and sewer fund, the Town of Herndon is considering increasing water and sewer rates.

If approved, the quarterly service charge for water would increase by nearly 18% or roughly $10.54. For water rates per every 1,000 gallon used, the charge would be more nominal — a little over 3%.

The quarterly service charge would increase by $7.40. Billing schedules are determined based on the size of the meter.

There would be an additional charge of $5.64 per 1,000 gallons for all water used during peak periods — defined as July through November — and greater than the average use in the previous two quarters.

“If this rate increase proposal is not chosen, retained earnings will need to be used to cover the variance,” staff noted.

Councilmember Pradip Dhakal said the town should consider evaluating the industry standard definition of “peak periods.”

“Does it make sense to only apply that for summer uses and remove that for, I would say, the latter three months? Dhakal said at a council meeting on Wednesday (April 6).

The proposal was discussed at an April 5 work session as part of the town’s deliberations on the budget for the next fiscal year.

If approved, all changes would take in effect on or after July 1 of this year.

The town is expected to continue discussion at a work session on April 12. Town manager Bill Ashton expects to examine the issue, including how to define peak periods.

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The Herndon Town Council wants to bring DMV services to the town (staff photo by David Taube)

The Herndon Town Council is considering ways to bring Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles services to the town.

At a quarterly strategy meeting on Thursday (March 24), a majority of council members said that Town of Herndon residents need DMV services.

Councilmember Naila Alam, who proposed the initiative, said the service is needed for low-income residents and those unable to travel long distances.

“It’s like a thief that comes at night to steal your sleep,” Alam said of the challenges those residents face. “I want to catch that thief.”

Most council members agreed with the suggestion, which was made at a meeting intended to flag the council’s priorities.

The DMV provided monthly mobile services to the town in the past, but the effort dissipated once the pandemic hit in the area. The nearest DMV center is located on Sterling Boulevard.

Managing cut-through traffic in the town also ranked high on the council’s priority list, but council members noted that it may be difficult to address that issue, particularly because of legal restrictions.

At the meeting, the council simply directed town staff to research the issue, its feasibility and overall cost.

The council will review the staff’s research at its next strategy meeting in roughly three months. A formal proposal is not under consideration at this point.

Other issues — like managing community noise and developing restrictions to single-lot family development — did not rank high on the council’s overall priorities.

Some members raised the possibility of making records related to Comstock’s redevelopment of downtown Herndon public.

Vice Mayor Cesar del Aguila said that many residents often inquire about improving the accessibility of public records.

“Let’s make it easy,” del Aguila said, adding that he would like to see if closed meetings can be recorded.

The council also refined its process for sifting through identified priorities at the meeting with an eye for expediency and clear identification of issues and solutions.

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The reconstruction of the intersection of Elden and Monroe streets is nearly complete (via Town of Herndon)

Major updates to the intersection of Elden Street and Monroe Street have neared substantial completion.

At a Herndon Town Council meeting last night (Tuesday), Town Manager Bill Ashton said the project is mostly complete. Signals have been installed and are expected to be fully functional in the coming days.

The project, which started late last year, reconstructs the intersection and includes a new traffic signal, brick crosswalks with ADA-compliant curb ramps, brick sidewalks, and an updated curb return in the southeast quadrant of the intersection.

Concrete-encased conduits for Cox, Verizon, and Dominion Power are also planned on the site.

“We are hopeful that in the coming weeks we’re able to complete that project in earnest,” Ashton said.

The project has changed traffic flows for several months in the area, particularly in front of Anita’s. Once the traffic signal goes live, much of the “ugly hardware” in the area will be removed, according to Ashton.

Ashburn Construction Corporation beat out one other bidder last spring to win the $1.1 million contract for the project.

The project is expected to officially close out by the summer.

Streetscape improvements to Elden Street — running in front of Aslin Beer Co. — are also nearly complete, Ashton said.

A sanitary sewer installation has also been added in front of Aslin in order to support Comstock’s anticipated redevelopment of downtown Herndon.

Comstock plans to ensure the infrastructure was installed properly. The company anticipates breaking ground this spring on the mixed-use project.

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A small portion of Sterling Road will be reconfigured (via Town of Herndon)

The Town of Herndon is gearing up to seek federal funding for a reconfiguration of Sterling Road.

The project would reconfigure the existing road between Herndon Parkway and Elden Street from three undivided lanes to two lanes with a middle lane for turning. A landscaped median is also planned for the project.

Staff is currently seeking the Herndon Town Council’s permission to incorporate the project in the 2030 Comprehensive Plan in order to secure funding for the project. The project was discussed at a meeting last week.

Town Mayor Sheila Olem noted that the project is in its early phases. A design concept has not yet been proposed.

“This is exciting. We have been working on this for a few long time,” Olem said.

The amendment would also incorporate the town’s bicycle and pedestrians plans — both adopted in 2019 — into the comprehensive plan.

The proposal also includes meshing complete street policies — a design approach that requires streets to be designed and planned to enable safe travel for all users — into the comprehensive plan.

The town’s Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed change, followed by a public hearing by the Herndon Town Council. Dates for both hearings have not been determined yet.

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Outdoor dining (via Melissa Walker Horn/Unsplash)

Outdoor dining could be here to stay in downtown Herndon.

Town Manager Bill Ashton is exploring ways to permanently implement outdoor dining, which was initially approved to help businesses survive during the pandemic and minimize COVID-19 transmission — a process that he says requires more research into legal and logistical ramifications.

Vice Mayor Cesar del Aguila kickstarted a public discussion to encourage restaurants to continue outdoor dining at a Herndon Town Council meeting Tuesday night (March 15).

“The rumor mill is we aren’t doing outdoor seating,” del Aguila said at the meeting. He asked the council to add the item for discussion at the meeting, prompting Town Mayor Sheila Olem to note that the agenda was otherwise full and that rules of decorum must be observed by all council members.

Del Aguila asked the town to determine a target date for a decision on outdoor seating, noting that at least four businesses are waiting for answers from town staff on how they can continue outdoor dining for their restaurant.

Ashton noted that the legal implications of opening town property up for private outdoor dining must be considered prior to pursuing a permanent shift. The decision carries zoning, parking and safety considerations.

He said the redevelopment of downtown Herndon — which Comstock is expected to begin this spring — will make parking a highly limited commodity in the area.

“This spring, that entire parking lot is going to go away,” Ashton said, adding that parking on some parts of Elden Street is going to be at a high “premium” from a symbolic standpoint.

In the past, the town has let restaurants use town property — including parking areas — to pursue outdoor dining. But with Fairfax County currently in low COVID-19 transmission and public health restrictions lifting, the discussion on outdoor dining has taken a different flavor.

Del Aguila pushed town staff to come up with a permanent solution, noting that some businesses were frustrated by conflicting information from some town staff about the issue.

Ashton said businesses can be considered for minimally intrusive outdoor dining allowances before the town establishes a more robust program. That method could help the town avoid legal and logistical issues.

“All businesses aren’t created equal in this,” Ashton said.

Olem also said the town must balance the public’s desire for the redevelopment of downtown Herndon with the push for outdoor dining.

“It’s not an either/or,” del Aguila responded, adding that outdoor seating will drive business into downtown.

The meeting took occasional forays into points of contention — particularly between Olem and del Aguila — who sought to determine if town council members should be seated by vote totals from their election.

Olem said she had hoped del Aguila would have brought up the issue at a previous council roundtable.

Photo via Melissa Walker Horn

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The Hendon Town Council could increase its pay for the first time in 15 years (via Town of Herndon/Facebook)

The Herndon Town Council is considering its first pay increase in nearly 15 years.

If the proposal is approved, the next town council would see its annual pay switch from $4,000 per council member to $10,000 and change from $6,000 to $12,000 for mayor.

Town spokesperson Anne Curtis told FFXnow that the current town council authorized exploration of the pay increase.

“A review of the council pay policy was requested by the town council as one of their strategic initiatives,” Curtis said.

The council is set to discuss the proposal with staff at a meeting tonight (Tuesday) at 7 p.m.

The proposed change would impact the budget by increasing the compensation for the elected body from a current annual amount of $30,000 to a new amount of $72,000 per year.

The town, which has a population of roughly 24,000, lags behind the average pay for mayors and governing bodies, even for smaller jurisdictions.

If the proposal is approved, the changes would bring the town’s pay policy in line with the City of Fairfax, which has a comparable population. The city’s governing body receives $12,000 per council member and $13,000 for its mayor; that’s the most allowed for a city of its size under Virginia law.

The Town of Vienna, which has a population of 16,000, pays $5,000 to council members and $7,500 to its mayor. The City of Manassas, which has a population of 41,000, offers the highest pay of municipalities sampled: $20,000 for mayor and $15,759 for council members.

Herndon Town Council’s consideration of a pay increase is in early planning phases. A public hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Changes would not be instituted until the next council is seated on Jan. 1, 2023.

Photo via Town of Herndon/Facebook

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