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Arts Center Moves Forward

The Town Council approved Tuesday night the redrafted version of the Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, between the town and the Foundation for the Arts of Herndon, with Councilman Steven Mitchell absent and Councilwoman Ann Null opposing.

Town attorney Richard Kaufman explained the redrafted MOU was "basically a policy and planned document that establishes a relationship between the town and the foundation for the construction of a cultural arts center at Center Street."

The agenda item had been deferred at the request of Kaufman at the council's Sept. 14 public hearing, so that he could hear further public comment while reworking the wording of the document.

The first draft of the MOU sparked concerns from citizens as to how the proposed cultural arts center would be funded. Many of the concerns dealt with whether or not tax-payer money would be used to fund the construction.

The council repeatedly tried to tell citizens that the document does not tie the town to any obligations regarding funding construction and operation costs of the building.

"The issue of funding will eventually be dealt with, but it will not be dealt with in this document," said Councilman Dennis Husch, adding currently there is no accurate estimated cost for construction. "This document does not — because it cannot — commit the Town Council for spending any funds for the cost of construction and operation of funds."

Dennis Baughon, a Herndon resident, presented the council with a petition, signed by 35 citizens, calling for referendum on the MOU.

Baughon asked the council to let the public vote on whether or not they want the cultural arts center, adding he would vote in favor of the center, but right now opposes the MOU because the public has no way to voice its opinion.

The general consensus of the council, with the exception of Null, was to move forward with the redrafted resolution to see how far the Foundation for the Arts is able to go in raising funds.

"This is simply a tool they need to go out and raise money," said Councilwoman Carol Bruce in support of the MOU.

In a rare turn of events, Husch, who originally was in opposition of the creation of an arts center, publicly stated that he would personally help the foundation raise the necessary funds for the center.

"Anything I can do to help the foundation raise money, I'll contest here in public, to help them do that," said Husch. "Sometimes you have to step up ... this is an opportunity to volunteer."

Husch encouraged concerned residents to help with the fund raising so that they will be able to get the building constructed based on public and private donations.

At the Oct. 5 work session, council members decided they wanted all specifics of money to be taken out of the MOU, so that they did not cap the foundation at raising only a specific amount, and then get stuck with the possibility of having to raise the rest.

Mayor Michael O'Reilly sent out a memorandum to council Oct. 1 that listed other areas of revenue the town could use to fund the project if necessary. He emphasized both at the Oct. 5 work session and the public hearing that the rumor that real-estate taxes would go up to fund the center's construction was not true.

THE TOWN COUNCIL voted unanimously, with Councilman Steven Mitchell absent, to defer three agenda items until the Dec. 14 public hearing.

The first item deferred was an ordinance that amends the "definitions" and general performance criteria for the land disturbance in the Chesapeake Bay Protection Area."

The amendment deals with the definition of a bioretention facility, more specifically a storm-water management facility, as well as clarifies the responsibilities of land owners to the maintenance of storm-water management facilities on their properties.

Judy Okay from the Virginia Department of Forestry presented the council with a slide show explaining the benefits of rain gardens in future developments, saying they were more aesthetically pleasing than dry and wet storm- water ponds and were more efficient at restoring the developed land back to a somewhat natural state.

The second ordinance the council deferred also dealt with landowner responsibilities of storm-water management facilities and was closely related to the prior deferred ordinance.

The last deferred item was an application for a preliminary subdivision plan for Elkins Heights, a proposed development at Madison Street. The item was deferred because the developers proposed using rain gardens as their major storm-water management, which depended on the approval of the two other deferred ordinances.

IN A 5 TO 1 VOTE, The Town Council, with Councilwoman Ann Null in opposition and Councilman Steven Mitchell absent, approved sections of a revised draft of the Herndon Town Code (2000) submitted by the Planning Commission.

The amendments dealt with changing the "statement of intent" portion of the code that designates land to be Planned Developed-Mix Use or PD-MU. This designation of PD-MU allows land areas to be more flexible to future development plans; and whether or not the area will become a mix of commercial and residential developments, or solely residential.

Connie Hutchinson, executive director of Herndon's Visitor Center, opposed the amendments to the code with specific concerns regarding the varied distance that could be allowed between houses on future developments.

Under the revisions, the regulations for how far a house has to be from the road, or setbacks, were revised from 20 feet from the front lot line to possibly 14 feet from the front lot line. This means houses could possibly sit closer to the street, as well as be closer together along side yards.

Hutchinson said if the council is going to designate areas as PD-MU to make them more flexible for developments, they need to specify what percentage of the proposed developments would be in the mix-use category, or commercial areas, and what would be single usage, or single-family homes.

Dennis Baughon, a Herndon resident, also spoke in opposition of the changes presenting the council with a petition signed by 50 members of the community who also disagreed with the changes.

Councilman Dennis Husch said there could be many philosophical arguments for what mix-use could mean, but the passing of this ordinance is primarily to encourage flexibility for future developments.

Husch added that once council was presented with a proposal they could lean heavily one way or the other as to how they see the land best developed based on the surrounding neighborhoods.

Councilwoman Carol Bruce echoed Husch's comments.

"This doesn't allow anything in of itself," said Bruce. "Flexibility is our main concern to allow a developer to come in and have leeway to give us the kind of quality we are looking for here."