Proposed Development Raises Questions

Proposed Development Raises Questions

Concerns expressed over proposal for 37 townhouses at Van Buren and Grant streets.

An application to rezone the land between Van Buren and Grant Streets, off Elden Street, in addition to generating its own share of questions, is also revisiting planning questions regarding an approved drive-through at Burger King that has yet to be constructed.

Proposed by Winchester Homes, Inc., the rezoning application is for 37 townhouses, dubbed Herndon Crossing, to be constructed on the available 4.65 acres.

But, before anything can begin, the Planning Commission has to approve the rezoning — which has been deferred twice.

"A majority of the property now, for the proposed townhouses, is currently zoned for commercial use," said Henry Bibber, director of community development for the town. "That includes office-type buildings and commercial use combinations."

Bibber said because of the commercial zoning, or Commercial Corridor District (C-2), the land behind Burger King could, in theory, be developed to house a restaurant or commercial shopping center.

"The land on Grant Street is currently zoned for mainly retail, office or a townhouse complex," he said. "Of those parcels several are zoned for single family homes that could be built, but they would be adjacent to commercial use, which we didn't see as compatible."

Bibber said because this did not fit with the town's comprehensive plan, planning staff agreed the proposed townhouses were a better fit.

But, neighbors disagree.

"This neighborhood has a majority one-story and some two-story homes," said Karen Anderson, a Madison Street resident, at the March 7 Planning Commission public hearing.

"These homes will tower over Burger King and the other [houses], especially with the sun setting behind them," she said. "It will be a dark canyon on Van Buren and Grant Streets."

In addition to height compatibility questions, concerns were raised about an increase in traffic at the corner of Van Buren and Elden Streets, the construction of two additional streets to improve traffic circulation, the possible overcrowding of schools — Herndon Elementary and Middle School — and a suggested 60-percent brick facade.

ANDERSON, ALONG with neighbors Lynn Schumaker and Connie Rambo — all who have attended prior Herndon Crossing meetings — came to the March 7 hearing prepared with alternative design suggestions.

"I would like to see upscale, beautiful, pedestrian-friendly developments," said Anderson after showing pictures of McLean, Leesburg and Fairfax Station developments.

Schumaker, after reviewing and questioning the traffic study, said she would like to see what else, by-right, could be developed.

In addition to traffic concerns, Rambo said she was concerned with losing Herndon's "small town" feel.

Grayson Hanes, attorney with Reed-Smith, LLP representing Winchester Homes, said he had already met with the three women and other neighbors regarding the development and will continue to talk to anyone with concerns.

But, he added, that does not mean changes will automatically be made to the proposal.

"It is our responsibility to have a development make sense, and we like to please as many people as we can," he said. "But, [the suggestions] don't entirely control what we do."

Hanes said the developer has already made a number of changes including reducing the units from 40 to 37, plans to alter architecture to meet the brick facade suggestion and has proposed donating money to Herndon Elementary School.

In addition, he said before the application was submitted, the developer voluntarily completed a "very expensive" traffic study of the area, as well as recently committed to constructing the continuation of Adams Street — adjacent to Van Buren Street — as well as offered to construct Baker Place — which Burger King's owner was previously required to construct and never has.

"These are all things that we did not have to do," he said. "When you think about it, this project will generate tax money to the town and the county."

Michelle O'Hare, town planner, said staff was most concerned with the increase of brick and the possible escrow of money for the construction of Adams Street and Baker Place if they are not completed.

She added staff was also waiting for transportation planner, Mark Duceman, to review the submitted traffic study.

"As previously stated, anything you put there is going to generate more traffic," she said. "Typically commercial business will generate more traffic than residential."

Bibber added currently any traffic problems in that area come only at rush hour.

"Traffic, in general, is caused by people going through town," he said. "It's not by the people who live in town."

PLANNING COMMISSIONER Bill Tirrell said his main concerns with the proposed development deal with compatibility.

"The density of housing, quality of housing, style of housing, that's what we're looking at," he said, adding the commission obviously wants something attractive to be constructed.

"If we're trying to transition, to me, looking at the walls of townhouses is not transitional," he said.

In response to the overcrowding of schools he added the commission is very aware that the "quality of life in Herndon is greatly affected by the schools."

"If we keep increasing the density in town and if the county keeps increasing the density in the areas these schools are served by," he said, "we're going to have to construct more schools."

Chairman Carl Sivertsen said although he thought residential was the best use for the land, he still had concerns.

"My concern is if the project is approved the way it is," he said, "I wouldn't want to see townhouses going much farther from what is described there."

Although there have been rumors that Winchester Homes plans to develop townhouses from Madison Street up to Grant Street, O'Hare said the town has received no application from Winchester Homes to develop the land.

Sivertsen said he sees the proposed development as a way to stabilize that neighborhood, adding the commission is responsible for what will be the "greater good to the community versus one person."

"Somebody's always going to be on the edge of somewhere," he said.

Although Winchester Homes could create a new plan to show residents what could be developed on the land by-right, Hanes said that's not on the agenda.

"We will continue with our case, but if [Winchester Homes] does not buy the property, the owner has the land zoned C-2," he said, adding 45-foot buildings could be constructed under that zoning.

"There will be a lot more traffic — that's what we call destination traffic," he said. "And it's going to be coming at peak hours."