Seventeen years ago Herndon entered a land agreement with Fairfax County that adjusted the boundaries of the town, allowing the county to control zoning and planning of the land area currently known as Worldgate.
Now, with the 17-year agreement running out, the town is scrambling to gather site plans, zoning agreements and other relevant documents from the county to ensure a successful transfer to Herndon's zoning regulations by Jan. 2, 2005.
"It's a pretty unusual occurrence, but in 1988 Fairfax County and the Town of Herndon agreed to a boundary line adjustment," said Dana Heiberg, senior planner for the town. "There were three chunks of land — the largest being Worldgate."
Heiberg explained the pieces of land granted to the county were disconnected from the bulk of what was becoming the town's center.
One of two 70-acre pieces of land granted to the county was an industrial area south of the Dulles Toll Road and the other was a small amount of residential property along the Herndon-Reston border.
The third piece of land granted to the county — and the largest at almost 100-acres — was what is now called Worldgate.
UNDER THE PROPOSED agreement, Heiberg explained, Herndon's mayor at the time, Rick Thoesen, and town officials had to promise certain conditions to the county.
For the developments to be completed under the county's ordinances, and not transferred mid-construction to new zoning regulations, the county asked for a 25-year agreement.
Instead Herndon officials agreed to 17-years.
"The agreement stated the zoning stayed to the county to control and the town could not seek city status or annex the land until 2005," said Bill Tirrell, planning commissioner. "But, the town's been involved in this thing the whole way ... we've been getting tax money from there, we police it."
Mayor Michael O'Reilly said although Herndon could technically file for city status now that the agreement is up, he does not believe it will happen in the foreseeable future.
"To my knowledge it is not on anyone's agenda or mind and not something anyone wants," said O'Reilly. "It is an option, but I don't think it's something that is in our best interest at this time."
O'Reilly said if the town filed and was granted city status, Fairfax County would lose control of some public entities.
"The county would no longer get our tax revenue, but then they wouldn't provide for the schools or supply us with fire and rescue personnel," he said adding a list of other county losses the town would experience if it became a city.
From what he understands of the agreement, O'Reilly said the developer at the time of the agreement was worried once he began developing the land it would change hands, halting his construction and causing him to conform to new zoning regulations.
Tirrell said although the town did not have the zoning rights to the Worldgate area's development, county development staff maintained communication with Herndon to ensure town staff had input as to what went into the rapidly developed area.
"Worldgate is interesting — originally they said the area would be commercial retail and then it changed to incorporate housing units," said Tirrell listing all the reasons town staff heard for why commercial development was the best designation for the land. "Then they changed their minds and turned all those reasons around to support the new designation."
Under the county's ordinance, Heiberg said Worldgate is designated as a Planned Development Commercial (PDC) district.
He added the area is 90-percent complete, with the last site in the process of being developed.
The entire area, which runs on Worldgate Drive from Elden Street to Van Buren Street, houses offices, retail and restaurants to hotels, apartments and condominiums.
The site also houses the Worldgate Center which is 229,000-square feet of retail, restaurants, an athletic facility, hotel and a movie theater.
"Although we asses taxes, conduct building inspections and manage the streets, we did not make decisions about planning development," said Heiberg of the area. "The various phases of retail, office, condos, those phases and land bays of development have been added over time through proffer amendments and plans."
BECAUSE THE DEVELOPMENTS were constructed under the county's ordinance, Heiberg explained that once the town obtains all necessary documentation for the developments, the next step will be to incorporate the mixed use so it will be legal under town regulation.
"All zoning that exists under the area is PDC in the county," said Heiberg. "We had a PDC in our ordinance, but it was very rudimentary and didn't compare to the county's."
Tirrell explained that the town "relies heavily on the Fairfax County Public Facilities Manual."
Because the town uses — almost verbatim — the county's manual, he said there won't be much done with the transfer of land other than accepting the land and existing agreements made by developers.
"We know though, that if the county were to change [the manual], we can amend our ordinance so that it does not refer to that section of the Fairfax County manual," he said. "We can make changes to put into our own ordinance."
In regard to the impact the transfer of land will have on Herndon residents, Tirrell, Heiberg and O'Reilly all agreed residents should see no significant changes.
"What we're doing is adopting the county's ordinance, we're not imposing an extra level of regulations," said O'Reilly. "It will be a seamless transition, there won't be any significant burden except for on our planning staff — they have the monumental task of learning Fairfax County's ordinances and transferring it."
AT THE NOV. 1 Planning Commission public hearing, members of the commission approved two ordinances pertaining to the land.
Heiberg and Tirrell said with this approval the staff and commission can begin the process of amending the town's ordinance to make the land legal under the town's conforming and non-conforming requirements.
But, before adopting the area, Heiberg said staff must acquire all documents pertaining to each development, including proffers — incentives offered by developers to make their land proposal more appealing.
According to Tirrell, because the amount of planning documents requested from the county is enough to fill a truck, the transfer is taking longer and placing pressure on staff to meet the January deadline.
Heiberg said they are working with the county to get the documents as soon as possible, adding staff should be the only people affected by the transfer.
"The biggest impact is going to be on staffing and just zoning administration because it's a large area," he said of the approximately 1.7 million-square foot transfer. "In sheer quantity that's a lot to cover ... we're trying to get the word out this is happening and hopefully it will be pretty seamless with the owners and tenants."