Although the Town of Herndon staff recommended the denial of a recent proposal to build six high-end townhouses at 851 Locust St., at the Dec. 6 public hearing the planning commission voted 4-2, with Commissioners Ralph Beard and Robert Burk opposing and Ted Hochstein absent, to move forward with the proposal.
"We'd always like to have everybody," said Grayson Hanes, attorney for the developer Lawrence Doll Homes LLC, adding that at least four of the commissioners made the right decision by voting in favor of the proposal.
In their proposal the applicant requested the 0.67 acres of land at 851 Locust St. be rezoned from its current Commercial Offices (C-O) district to Townhouse Cluster Residential (RTC-10) district to move forward with development plans.
Michelle O'Hare, comprehensive planner for the town, said the town recommended denial of the application primarily because the plan does not provide enough distance from Locust Street to the townhouses and does not compliment the other structures in the area.
"We're recommending denial because of the issue with the setbacks," said O'Hare Dec. 1 after receiving the final list of proffers from the developer.
Although the developers provided changes to the proffers — incentives offered by developers to make their land proposal more appealing — in accordance to staff and commission recommendations, they did not change the setback distance as much as staff had hoped.
"We'd like to stay with 13 [feet] because we like the size of the units and we don't think it will have the impact across Locust Street as the staff thinks it will," said Hanes before the commission Dec. 6.
Although staff has expressed their views on the setback, O'Hare said the ultimate decision is up to the Town Council.
"The other terms were minor and can be resolved," she said. "It's up to them to convince the Town Council that a 13-foot setback is acceptable."
THE PROPOSED development is for six, upscale townhouses that would be accessed by a private drive off of Locust Street.
The four middle townhouses will be 26 feet wide with two-car garages and the two houses on the end are proposed to be 31 feet wide with three-car garages.
In her staff report O'Hare states that "staff does have concerns about the compatibility of this development with the single-family and heritage preservation district across the street. The proposed townhouse row is too close to Locust Street and does not complement the single-family residential neighborhood."
Under the current proposal the townhouse row is shown at 13 feet from the property line. Town staff suggested if the applicant were to make one of the side houses a two-car garage with a side entrance as opposed to proposed three-car garage structure, the new configuration would add six feet, creating a setback of 19 feet — which the town would accept.
"The staff wants 20-feet and we're just in disagreement about that," said Hanes, adding he hopes the commission and council look at the whole development, not just the setbacks. "I would hope they would see the significant benefit of this project."
Hanes explained the proposed high-end town homes — suggested to run around $700,000 or more by the developer once complete — are the "first of their kind anywhere."
"These are large units that were designed for Herndon and for the site," said Hanes. "It is my understanding that this is what the Town Council wanted — a higher-end townhouse."
Commissioner Jay Donahue voted in favor of the proposal, saying the developer made numerous accommodations at the town's request and he does not think the compatibility issue should be a hang up.
"This project looks like a very good one and the fact is there are compatibility concerns on the part of the staff that I don't share," he said. "I don't see much of anything worth stopping for in moving forward with this."
Commissioner Robert Burk, who voted against the proposal, said the setback issue was important to him, adding the commission has the power to do something about this.
"You can't use the fact that the developer, by-right, had 10-foot setbacks down the street," he said about the neighboring land with a 10-foot requirement based on previous land use designations. "At the time we didn't agree with that but we had no choice — here we have the choice to say no and I recommend denial."
IN ADDITION to the setback dispute, town staff had asked Hanes and the developer to look into the impact the homes would have on the school system, with the theory new homes can produce more children.
Because the developer does not want to give money to the county school system only to have it go to schools outside of Herndon, Hanes said they hope to work out an agreement on their own with the schools.
"My clients met with the principal to the intermediate school that is most immediately affected on Friday [Dec. 3]," said Hanes about Herndon Middle School. "The principal said he would meet with the PTA. The intent is to do something for the Herndon schools rather than have funds sent to the Lee district or Springfield areas of the county."
Although changes to the initial proffers, created before the Nov. 22 work session, were made before the Dec. 6 hearing, Hanes said, other than minor wording changes brought to his attention by commissioners, he has no plans to change or add to the current proffer list.
The current list identifies six proffers that include making sure on site parking is used exclusively for vehicle parking — no recreational vehicles will be permitted and garage use is solely for vehicles and not storage or living space.
There will be an annual inspection and certification of inspection by a licensed engineer of the storm water detention facilities on the property with a report sent to the town and any architectural and building materials are subject to the recommendation of the architectural review board. In addition the developer will contribute $2,000 to the town's parks and recreation costs at the time of obtaining each building's permit to begin construction.
Hanes said they were pleased with the commission's approval and await the upcoming Town Council work session Jan. 4 and public hearing Jan. 11.