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Proposed Police Station Raises Some Questions

Staff is recommending the Planning Commission approve a resolution declaring the proposed police station is in conformance with the Town of Herndon's comprehensive plan, but some commissioners think it could be hard to convince the public.

"You're proposing increasing the present size of the police [station] to 60,000 square feet. That's almost four times what they have now," said Commissioner Ted Hochstein, at a work session Monday. "It's a tough sell to continue to talk about government sprawl, when we're asking everyone else to tighten their belts and save. … I think where we're leaning with this new site, I wish we did a couple of years ago."

THE WORK SESSION was to discuss whether or not relocating the police station from 1481 Sterling Road to 397 Herndon Parkway is in accord with the town's comprehensive plan, however, discussion brought out concerns over the size of the building; the competition with the private sector if the extra space is rented out; and the impact on the town's capital improvements program.

"It's like we have the police out there and they're untouchable. We give them unlimited money, new cars," Hochstein said.

When fellow Commissioner Judith Downer said that the increased support was because of increased crime, Hochstein said, "I haven't seen it."

The purchase and upgrading of the one-story brick building is proposed to be paid for through an $8.5 million bond issue, which the Town Council is set to have a public hearing on Nov. 25, that was originally going to pay for a portion of the redevelopment of the existing police station site and the final phase of the Community Center expansion; as well as the $950,000 that was to be used to purchase land on Alabama Drive for a new Neighborhood Resource Center and $50,000 from the undesignated fund balance, said Mary Tuohy, the town's director of finance.

The original plan was to redevelop the Sterling Road site, enlarging it to 32,000 square feet, in phases. The new building is twice that size, and Tuohy estimates the additional space could be rented at a rate of $12 per square foot.

"That's $336,000 of potential revenue per year," Tuohy said. "That pays for about half of the debt service for the bond."

In addition, Steve Owen, the town manager, suggested the extra space could be used to relieve crowding in the Herndon Municipal Center, Town Hall and the Department of Parks and Recreation, especially since the Community Center expansion will have to be pushed back at least a year.

"[When the Municipal Center opened] we almost immediately took a conference space for office space. … That's what the police are doing … taking decent office space and chopping it up," Owen said.

"WILL WE BE, in effect, competing with an already stressed private sector?" Commissioner Jay Donahue asked when renting a portion of the proposed station was mentioned.

Tuohy said that since the police station would be on the property, the space would be attractive to the federal government, which requires secure locations, rather than the average business renter. Owen said the town has already contacted the county about renting the space, with the intention of contacting the federal government as well.

"The market is heating up. I don't have any [fear] we can't rent it out," Owen said.

Commissioner Robert Burk asked about the possibility of phasing the build-out of the new building, in order to save some money. Tuohy said the saving would be nominal, because the work would have to be done anyway. The town, however, will be losing about $18,000 in business, professional and occupational licenses, or BPOL tax, revenue by purchasing the building.

HENRY BIBBER, director of community development, said the Neighborhood Resource Center, could still find new life with a public-private partnership. The intent was to combine with the county either by having a private entity redevelop the land and lease it to the town and county, with an option to own or for Herndon to purchase the land out right with assistance from the county.

"[The public-private partnership] is still on the table," Bibber said.

However, he said response from the county has not been "positive" to purchasing the land, so it appears that wasn't going to happen anyway.

"This is going to create a challenge," Bibber said of the police station proposal. "The current capital improvements program is as much as the town can afford. You add an additional [expense], something has to be moved."

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed police station Dec. 1, at 7:30 p.m. Town Council will hold its public hearing on the purchase of the office building for the new police station on Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m. The town has until Dec. 23 to back out of the purchase agreement.