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Council Reviews Major Town Projects

No downtown development proposals received from potential investors.

Herndon's Town Council reviewed the town's future Capital Improvement Program (CIP) budget last week on Tuesday night, assigning higher priority to the maintenance of existing structures over the construction of new ones.

Further considerations had to be given to funding of several downtown improvements; just hours before the work session a deadline for private investors to submit proposals for a joint development project passed without any proposals received.

Reviewing the CIP budget items, the council placed a level of priorities to each project that totaled more than $500,000 in a fiscal year. Town council member Harlon Reece was not present at the meeting, due to illness.

The council labeled projects such as Station Street and South Elden Street improvements, major maintenance of town buildings, drainage concerns for Herndon's Historical District and a downtown parking garage as high priority. Projects such as changes to downtown streetscape and improvements to Herndon Parkway and Monroe Streets were given medium priority.

The more than $2 million that had been removed from this year's CIP budget for a nature center and improvements to Runnymede Park was tentatively assigned for fiscal year 2012 and given medium priority with a note to "seek grants."

This process is done every year as a way of updating priorities as they are reflected in the desires of the sitting Town Council, said Herndon town manager Steve Owen.

COUNCIL MEMBERS unanimously stated that funding for the establishment of new structures would have a lower priority to additions and the maintenance of existing town property.

"That's what a lot of people who voted for us came to expect," said Mayor Steve DeBenedittis, in a phone interview after the meeting. "We're going to make sure that what we already have is maintained before we look to new developments."

"But I think it's important to remember that this is only a planning document, so depending on how things change it can always be amended."

Now that the council has outlined its CIP budget priorities, the town staff will work to draft an outline for the next five fiscal years before sending the proposal to the town's Planning Commission for a recommendation before being sent to the council for approval.

The amended budget will not be voted on by the Town Council until next year, according to town staff.

THE ABSENCE of proposals from the two local developers for a downtown partnership complicated the outlook for the town's long-term CIP process. The investors had originally sought a public-private partnership to develop downtown land owned by the Town of Herndon in exchange for the creation of public structures like a cultural arts center and a parking garage.

The inability to reach agreement on the sale of a key piece of land and changes made to density zoning requirements altered the parameters of the original offers, resulting in the lack of downtown proposals last week, according to representatives of the developers and town officials.

"Now we're going to have to look at the town's funds or other possible options to develop these [downtown] projects," such as an arts center and parking garage said Owen. "The concept isn't dead, we just didn't get any proposals and we're not going to sit here and wring our hands and say 'oh well.'"

THE TOWN IS still committed to finding a viable public-private partnership for downtown development, but a variety of possibilities and influences will need to be reviewed due to the evolving marketplace and needs of the town, according to DeBenedittis.

"Since we own the land and we know the value of the land downtown, I'm sure that we can work towards a [partnership]," he said. "We just need to give the developers a good idea of what we want done downtown and in keeping in mind the changes in the [real estate] market ... so that this is beneficial for everyone."

DeBenedittis added that a public-private partnership agreement in the next few years is not assured.

The stall in receiving proposals for downtown development might be remedied by the creation of a parking garage funded by bonds issued by the town, said council member Dave Kirby.

"What I see coming down the path for the future is that there are not a lot of proposal opportunities," Kirby said. "But if a parking garage is constructed it might brighten the situation up downtown ... and start a domino effect to initiate development."

For Mike O'Reilly, the former mayor of Herndon who worked closely in arranging the original partnership development proposals, all of the downtown developments are interdependent of each other and would be most beneficial if established as a unit.

"We don't need to build a stand-alone parking garage or any single unit," O'Reilly said. "It wouldn't make sense unless it were part of a broader development plan ... there's no need to have a place to put extra cars unless there is something there to attract those cars."

"We had the ability under the [partnership proposals] to tap into resources at really no cost to the town, and we need to keep working for that."