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Planning Denies Montessori School Permit

The word of the applicant's attorney was not enough to save the proposed Montessori school on Locust Street, so based on previous plans that were submitted, the Herndon Planning Commission unanimously denied a conditional-use permit for the facility Monday night.

Grayson Hanes, representing the school, told the commissioners the applicant had agreed to some changes to the original plan, among them reducing enrollment from 120 to 90 students and reducing the square footage of the facility from 5,000 square feet to 3,200 square feet, but was unable to revise the plans in writing before Monday night's hearing. Hanes said due to contractual issues, the matter had to be voted on by the Town Council by October, making it impossible to ask the Planning Commission for a deferral. The lack of a written commitment helped doom the permit.

"I feel very badly ... that the contract is a problem, but we have to look at what is before us tonight. You have verbally agreed to reduce the students and size, but that's not what is before us," said Commissioner Judith Downer in making the motion to deny the application.

THE PROPOSED PLAN to build a school at 823 Locust St., drew fire from nearby residents who had issues with the size of the facility, the traffic it would create, the impact it would have on the residential community and the general way the issue was handled by the applicant, Tim Redmond, who is currently operating the school in a nearby church basement.

"I wanted to tell you how I found out about the school. I had received a few business cards with 'please call me' hand written across the top and with no other information attached. I assumed it was advertising and since I don't have any children, I discarded them," said Paula Fletcher, who lives across the street from the proposed school. Another resident said he contacted people listed on the Redmond's petition circulated more than a year ago when the application for the permit was first filed and the residents didn't know their names appeared on the document.

For many of the eight speakers, only one spoke in support of the proposal. The proposed Montessori school would have been located on a street that already had a day-care center, condominium complex and Herndon Middle School close by.

"Because of the day care and the other school, if you put another school in, I may as well not go home at night," said Justin Hise, an Elden Street resident, about the difficulties for residents during peak traffic hours. "I work in a park with a bunch of screaming kids and I don't want them at my house. ... The only ones paying for this are the people in the neighborhood."

THE COMMISSIONERS also agreed that the plans, as presented, were too overwhelming for the neighborhood. "It's just not the right place for this use. It's too small," said Commissioner Ted Hochstein.

Commissioner Paul LeReche said he had no doubt the school would be a benefit to the community and hoped the Redmonds could find another site, but said the current location on Locust Street was simply not appropriate for the facility.

Commissioner William Tirrell, also agreeing the site was inappropriate for use as a school, warned the neighbors to be careful what they wished for, however.

"It's a nice treed lot now, but it's going to be developed. Mr. Hanes is right, it's the fear of the unknown," Tirrell said. "Someone will come in and build by right and we have to be prepared for it."