Montessori School Still Breathing, but Barely

Montessori School Still Breathing, but Barely

Planning Commission hearing on the school's proposed conditional-use permit is continued for another month.

A controversial plan to build a Montessori School on Locust Street received a luke-warm reception from the Herndon Planning Commission, before the proposal, at the request of the applicant, was continued to the commission's August 4 public hearing. The application for a conditional use permit, which has already undergone significant changes in its second iteration, calls for conditional use permit to construct and operate a 5,000 square foot and 120 student school at 823 Locust Street, just down the street from the Herndon Middle School.

After concerns expressed at the commission's June 23 work session, the applicant, Tim Redmond, agreed to reduce his school's proposed capacity from 120 to 90 students. In addition, Redmond responding to the commission's concerns about traffic tie-ups on Locust agreed to make the entry and exits right-turn only. In hopes of placating anxious neighbors, Redmond also agreed to surround the site with a board-on-board fence.

Henry Bibber, the director of the Community Development, said it was the recommendation of town staff to deny Redmond's application because of concerns over traffic. According to staff estimates, the school, at a full capacity of 90 students, would generate 419 one-way trips each day. In comparison, a six-house townhouse unit would generate only 64 trips while a 12-unit apartment complex at the same location would produce 79 trips. "We believe this is a serious issue, serious enough to deny the application," Bibber said, adding that the school didn't seem to "really fit into the surrounding community."

Bibber told the commission that the staff's recommendation came before the applicant's most recent concessions, however. Bibber said staff had not developed a position based on the new proposal.

Grayson Hanes, Redmond's attorney, apologized to the commission for his client's "last minute" changes and he conceded that the application "needs more work," while asking the commission for a continuance.

Hanes said Redmond and his wife, Bonnie, have operated the Community Montessori School in a "temporary location" in the basement of a nearby church since 1995. "They want to have a better environment for their teachers, parents and students," Hanes said. "This is a school and not a day care center. It is good for the town to try and accommodate and keep it."

Redmond insisted that the concerns over traffic were overblown and that he wanted to be a good neighbor. "We're here for the children," Redmond told the commission. "We don't want to disturb the neighborhood."

NOT EVERYONE FAMILIAR with the application shared Redmond's outlook. Pat Voltmer, a former resident of Salem Village condominiums which neighbors the proposed school, said one of the reasons she, and other original residents, moved out was because of the possibility of a Montessori School moving in next door. Voltmer complained that Salem Village residents already have to "barricade" themselves from the Children's World Day Care center on the other side of their complex, and residents worried about the possibility of another commercial structure on Locust. "Wedging Salem Village between two commercial properties is not good for property values," Voltmer told the commission.

The lawyer for the neighboring International Apartments also expressed his concerns about potential traffic problems created by the school. "This is too small a site on a street that has some very particular nuances that drive congestion, and Herndon Middle School is not the only issue," Tom Thomas said.

Several parents of students at the Montessori School came to defend the school, but they were gently reminded by commissioner Judy Downer that the Planning Commission was not judging the school, only the proposed site. "We know it's a great school," Downer said. "The school isn't the issue. To us the traffic and impact on the neighbors is our primary concern."

In the end, the commission, voting six to one, agreed to give Redmond more time to work with the application. Bill Tirrell voted against the motion.