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Yesterday's Issues Flow into 2005

2004 included public disputes over recurring issues as well as the finalizing of major projects.

Day Labor site disputes, immigration laws, a new mayor and council members, a proposed cultural arts center, censuring a council member, gang violence, and the reelection of president George W. Bush — a lot happened during the celebratory year of Herndon's 125th birthday.

2004 WAS an election year at all levels for Herndon with the re-election of George W. Bush as well as new Mayor Michael O'Reilly and three new council members.

Although those visiting the polls for the local election at the Herndon Community Center did not have to wait in two- to three-hour lines like they did for the presidential elections, this year's polls drew more residents with 2,053 votes overall compared to 1,600 in 2003.

This year's mayoral race featured Michael O'Reilly, William Tirrell and Connie Hutchinson vying for the open seat and 12 residents seeking six council slots.

In the end, O'Reilly won the race with 960 votes, while newcomers Darryl Smith — elected as Vice Mayor — Ann Null and former councilman Steven Mitchell were elected to council joining incumbents Dennis Husch, Carol Bruce and Harlon Reece for the two-year term.

In addition to new faces on council, Herndon politics saw the new face of political action committees being formed for what residents believed was the first time in history.

AFTER ELECTION, council members had little time to relax before being pressed with public comments about issues that date back to when some of the incumbents were new to council.

One of the most pressing issues the council faced was the day labor site debate, which sparked arguments over immigration and loitering laws.

Differences on the council and the community resurfaced in late August when the El Salvadorian consulate visited the Neighborhood Resource Center to renew passports and update identification documents.

Council member Null voiced her opposition to the event saying the town was not informed of the visit — several residents also voiced concerns — but O'Reilly and Smith clarified the visit was not town sponsored.

From this event, day labor site and loitering debates regarding the 7-Eleven at Elden Street and Alabama Drive grew and soon became a common topic at council's public hearings.

Certain council members began defending views through public forums — resulting in the censure of council member Null.

In a few letters to the editor, Null stated her opinions and signed the letters as a member of the Herndon Town Council.

Because of this, the council reaffirmed its 1988 nondiscriminatory policy clarifying Null's opinions were not the views expressed by the town or council.

NOT ALL DAY labor site debates were negative.

In September, at the invitation of the Foundation for Appropriate and Immediate Temporary Help (FAITH), Del. Tom Rust, O'Reilly, members of religious organizations and area residents joined for the first meeting of a new group — Project Hope and Harmony — to discuss what they could do to solve the debates.

Although they have only met twice as a large group, Hope and Harmony made an impact on the community after receiving $10,000 in two-hours from the Muslim community to buy and donate winter coats and a thanksgiving dinner to men at the unofficial site and their families.

GANG VIOLENCE was another topic for residents and law enforcement this year after the May 16 shooting death of Herndon High School student Jose Sandoval, 17, and wounding of a 16-year old female.

Following the shooting there were other gang-related crimes committed throughout Northern Virginia prompting politicians and law enforcement at all levels to get involved.

At a May press conference in Herndon, Gov. Mark Warner (D) announced his approach to reduce gang activity in the region.

From there law enforcement has worked closely with the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force — headed by Herndon Police Chief Toussaint Summers, Jr. — to combat gang activity.

During a Nov. 30 press conference in Herndon, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10) announced the most recent allocation of $2 million to assist with anti-gang efforts.

Summers said at the conference since the task force's inception 18 months ago regionally it had conducted 618 gang-related arrests, of which 400 led to felony charges and there had been 1,287 suspects monitored due to gang involvement.

Summers said the group entered the third phase of Warner's plan — intervention — in August.

AFTER A YEAR of forming ideas, researching other towns and cities and finally writing — and rewriting — an agreement, Herndon's Foundation for the Cultural Arts' dedication was rewarded with the signing of an agreement offering the town's backing for fundraising.

O'Reilly's signature allowed the group to formally raise funds for the construction of a cultural arts center — something residents expressed concerns about.

In the months prior to the Nov. 3 signing, members of the community questioned if the real estate tax would increase to fund the multi-million dollar center — resulting in name calling and more disagreement throughout the town regarding the eventual construction.

Now the group is working toward private financing for the center, hoping to begin construction in the next few years at the Center and Vine Streets location.

IN AN ATTEMPT to crack down on overcrowding violations the Town Council and Planning Commission altered a zoning ordinance that the council hoped would clarify and strengthen occupancy limitations by amending the definition of family.

The redefinition allowed the council to control overcrowded dwelling units and to help reduce the associated increase of vehicles, noise, traffic, overwhelming of public utilities and the result of impairment of the quality of life in the neighborhoods that are designed for family use and enjoyment.

In addition the town also hired two new community inspectors to find overcrowding violations and assist in resolving the issue.

THE CONCEPT of rain gardens as storm water management practice also sparked questions by council and residents.

A proposed Elkins Heights development off Madison Street suggested the use of rain gardens for the planned 15-lot subdivision to meet state requirements.

At the time, Henry Bibber, director of community development, said the town did not know much about the process.

"Rain gardens seem to work as well as ponds as far as the cleaning of storm water from residential sites in general," he said. "The hope is to incorporate it into sites in a manner that is me successful than open storm water ponds — it's a more attractive alternative."

Since the proposal, the site plan has been deferred numerous times and town staff has attempted to gather more information about rain gardens to answer council's questions.

At the Dec. 14 town council public hearing the Elkins Heights plan as well additional amendments regarding rain gardens were deferred until the Jan. 25 public hearing.

THE TOWN ALSO put a stop to the Rail to Dulles project that would have hurt local businesses due to what was seen as an inequitable business tax.

Since their denial of the first tax district, a new plan has been created that will include two tax districts and better fit the businesses involved. O'Reilly said the town should see the new plan in 2005 and that he believes council will pass it.

CONSTRUCTION has begun at numerous sites around town including the new Safeway off of Elden Street; phase four of the Herndon Community Center has been approved and construction will begin soon; demolition began at the site for the new police station at 397 Herndon Parkway in late December; the Fortnightly Square developments are almost complete and more construction will follow with the recent contract of land at the neighboring Park Avenue Apartments.