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Work Session Tackles 3 Issues

Planning Commission reviews two housing applications, proposed formal day-labor site.

Planning Commissioners addressed three items during a work session Monday night after spending an hour on the zoning ordinance text amendment rewrite.

The hour-long rewrite session was scheduled to discuss district regulations, the floodplain overlay district, historic landmarks and heritage preservation overlay districts, Chesapeake Bay preservation area overlay district, supplementary district regulations and home-based businesses.

THE OLD HERNDON lumber site was the first item on the agenda. The applicant, Stanley Martin Companies — called Herndon Neighborhoods, LLC for this application — proposed a rezoning for the site. The site, which runs along Monroe and Van Buren Streets, is currently zoned Industrial-General (IG). The applicant is requesting it be rezoned to Planned Development-Mixed Use (PD-MU), so they can construct 19 single-family homes and 57 townhomes on the 8.91 acres. In its proposal Stanley Martin has offered to include a separate lot for the Yellow House, a historic house bordering the land. Because the house is historic, town residents do not want to see it torn down, although no one lives in the house and no one offered to buy it when put on the market more than a year ago. Stanley Martin has offered to supply running water and electricity to the house. A committee has been formed to address the house, hoping to not tear it down.

Staff concerns with the proposal included streetscape improvements along Van Buren Street and the connection of a waterline under the street, architectural elevations and visitor parking.

Michelle O'Hare, planner with the town, said planning staff was concerned with the applicant’s suggestion to label newly created parking spaces along Pearl Street as "visitor parking." She said the town cannot label or restrict parking spaces along a public street.

Commissioners questioned the density of the site, saying they would like to see a proposed 10 townhouse block divided and more land for the proposed side yards. Currently six-foot yards, on average, are proposed.

Jay Donahue, vice chair Planning Commission, said he was pleased with the amount of trees and shrubs proposed along the exterior of the site, but questioned the interior.

"I am very concerned about Pearl Street," he said. "I would like to have paths or walkways from visitor parking on Pearl Street into the development."

"Too often you hear we meet the minimum requirement," said Commissioner Bill Tirrell, "and that's just not good enough here."

Grayson Hanes, attorney representing Stanley Martin, said the developer would not break the 10 townhouse units fronting Van Buren Street, but because of varying height elevations and unit size, they would be broken up in a "different manner." Additional issues he said would be cleared up or addressed by the Aug. 1 public hearing.

THE FORTNIGHTLY II rezoning was another development that sparked questions about parking and open space.

Submitted by Carrhomes, LLC, the application asks for a rezoning of the land along Park Avenue that currently houses the Park Avenue Apartments. The requested rezoning is from Townhouse Cluster Residential District (RTC-10) to Planned Development-Mixed Use (PD-MU).

Proposed to be constructed in coordination with the existing Fortnightly Square development, the application calls for 21 townhouses and 48 condominium units to replace the current two apartment buildings.

Commissioners were concerned with the displacement of the current tenants, saying by tearing down the apartments some of the last affordable housing in town will be lost.

Through the application the town has required the applicant be responsible for helping residents find new housing with the assistance of the Neighborhood Resource Center.

"I think the site is too intense," said Donahue about density.

Tirrell said he thinks over time visitors or even residents may park in the municipal parking lot and the lot next to the library. He said the town needs to potentially think about ways to prohibit that.

THE FINAL ITEM on the agenda was the proposal for a formalized day-labor site to be located at the existing Herndon Police Station.

Commissioners heard public testimony on the issue at a July 11 hearing, although because of notification complications to surrounding residents, no action was taken on the application. During the hearing more than 50 residents offered an almost even split of opinions against or in favor of the site. Commissioners offered no public comment at the time.

Submitted by Project Hope and Harmony — a community group formed in September 2004 comprised of concerned residents, local faith-based and non-profit organizations — the application proposes using a portion of the police station as a worker pick-up site.

Because Commissioners are familiar with the application and public concerns through public testimony and through local and now state-wide media attention, they focused on what they wanted presented at the next hearing.

Lisa Gilleran, senior planner with the town, asked the group if they had any concerns or questions they would like addressed before the scheduled Aug. 1 and Aug. 3 public hearings.

Gilleran said a town representative will present the commission with an accurate count of crime and arrests reported in and around the current informal day-labor site at 7-Eleven on Elden Street and Alabama Drive.

Issues of enforcing laws against the solicitation of work and loitering will also be officially addressed by the town, she said.

Tirrell said he would like a correct financial figure regarding funding for the site. He said three funding estimates have been rumored ranging from $400,000 supplied by the county, $170,000 supplied by the town and a $37,000 grant to be given Reston Interfaith in connection with the site.

Commissioner Robert Burk said he wanted clarification on state law being discussed and where the formation of a formalized site would fall if the law was enacted. He also wanted to know about any legality issues regarding the formation of a site that could potentially house undocumented or illegal workers.

As a subcontractor in the area, Commissioner Theodore Hochstein said he has been informed he will soon have to sign an affidavit that "states I don't employ illegal immigrants." If he signs it, which he said it sounds like he will be required to do, he could lose his license and be required to give back any money obtained in a business deal if he breaks the agreement. This is the "wave of the future in Northern Virginia," he said.

"People will be happy to hear that because the employers that hire the workers are seen as the cause for the [workers] being here," said Henry Bibber, director community development. "They say they wouldn't be here if they weren't employed."

The town presentation before the commission Aug. 1 will address the town's position on solicitation from informal sites if a formalized site is approved, clarification on the town adopting an anti-solicitation and anti-loitering law and ways to work with commercial and private property owners to encourage a "no hire" policy of workers standing off site as a means to enforce an anti-solicitation law, said Bibber.

Public comment will be taken Aug. 1 at 7:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers on all items on the commission's agenda. Because the July 11 public hearing did not conclude until 1:30 a.m., commissioners discussed setting a time limit on comments received. Although they will not prevent anyone from speaking, they are considering concluding the meeting by 1 a.m. if it has not ended before then. Because a special meeting on the day labor subject has been scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 3 at 7: 30 p.m., commissioners said additional comments could be made at that time.