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Making Good On Promises

Council continues to move forward with ribbon cuttings and ground breaking.

After reviewing projections for 2005 made by Mayor Michael O'Reilly and fellow Town Council members in 2004, one might question if some of the members have psychic abilities.

Of the seven items O'Reilly listed as major projects he would like to see initiated or completed in 2005, almost all of them have been put in motion.

While some of those promises were easier said than done, everyone stayed on track to ensure at least a foundation was laid for 2006.

"If I had to pick one [word] that describes 2005, I would say 'progress,'" said O'Reilly. "We made progress on so many different levels and in so many different areas and issues that we have been waiting to address for some time."

WITHOUT A DOUBT, the most publicized issue of 2005 was the Town Council's August approval of the Herndon Official Worker's Center, or the regulated day-labor site.

During the site's approval process, more than 100 residents testified for or against the creation of a regulated site within the town's limits.

"We all expected [a center] would open this year," said O'Reilly about last year's projections. "But I don't think we anticipated there would be the national attention and the opposition, which just made it more cumbersome."

Many of those against the site's approval listed the use of taxpayer money to assist potentially undocumented citizens as their reason for opposition. Opponents also said they did not like the location of the site, at the former Herndon Police Station building on the Herndon-Loudoun County border. Workers walking to the site each day would have to pass through residential neighborhoods. Many of these residents are concerned the workers would cut through their yards and trespass on their private property.

As a direct result of the council's approval three community groups formed. The first was Help Save Herndon, a group comprised of Herndon, Fairfax County and Loudoun County residents against the day-labor site.

The second community group, formed at the end of November, was Herndon Embraces All with Respect & Tolerance, or H.E.A.R.T. This group supports the day-laborers and the new site.

The final group took a hands-on approach by attempting to stop the regulated site's success. In October, Herndon resident George Taplin began to monitor the unofficial day-labor site through a Herndon chapter of the national Minutemen association. Now approximately 100 volunteers have offered to photograph, videotape and record vehicles entering the worker's center to hire laborers. Taplin's ultimate goal is to discourage contractors or potential employers from hiring the workers. By doing so, Taplin believes the site will be unsuccessful and the workers will leave Herndon.

Since the site's opening on Dec. 14, no major problems have occurred on site, and on average more than 100 workers sign up for employment each day, according to Bill Threlkeld, site coordinator.

TO START 2005, O'Reilly said it would be a year of ribbon cuttings and ground breaking.

One of those ribbon cuttings included the move of the Herndon Police from the building at 1481 Sterling Road to the newly renovated space at 397 Herndon Parkway.

"The move should be credited to [former Mayor] Rick Thoesen," said O'Reilly. "When the opportunity came up to buy the building at 397 Herndon Parkway, he said this is an opportunity we cannot pass by."

Because a renovation of the former building was estimated to cost approximately $4 million up front, with an additional $4 million later, it was decided purchasing the current building at $7.1 million was the better choice. The entire building is 60,000 square feet, although the police only use 32,000 square feet. The remainder of the building was leased by the town to outside businesses, including Fairfax County Public Schools.

"They were cramped, overcrowded and they didn't have rooms to interview suspects in," said O'Reilly about the former building.

"We were able to meet a 20- to 30-year project plan at once," said Steve Owen, town manager. "It also enabled us to consolidate our operations, and being able to consolidate things under one roof is huge."

"The new station is safer because we are around everybody else," said Sgt. Jerry Keys during the move into the building. "It's easier because we're all at the same place and it saves time and money."

One of O'Reilly's projected ground-breaking was the September 2005 gathering to kick-off the renovation of the Herndon Community Center's phase four construction.

The eight-year, $4.3 million renovation and construction plans include creating 17,896-square feet of new program space. That space will feature a warming and catering kitchen, an enlarged fitness room, two multi-purpose rooms, expanded preschool space, a dedicated baby-sitting room, additional parking, a teen room, a larger game room, an arts and crafts room and a unified entrance to the building. The projected completion date is tentatively set for fall 2006.

"Phase four, if we can get it open by the end of the year, is going to be great," said Owen.

OTHER RIBBON CUTTINGS included the completion of the maintenance facility at the Herndon Centennial Golf Course, and although no ribbon cutting has happened yet, the completion of trail renovations at the Sugarland Run Trail.

The $1.2 million improvement project, which first began in 1998 with conceptual designs, was completed in October 2005.

Taking just under one year to complete, the project encompasses 6,000 square feet, just under one mile long, said Herndon’s Public Works Director, Bob Boxer.

Included in the improvements were the replacement of the existing bridges that ran over the Sugarland Run stream with four new manufactured pedestrian bridges, said Boxer. The Sugarland Run streambed was also stabilized to counteract any erosion that could cause the pathway to crumble into the stream over time. Drainage improvements were also put in place along the path. After passing over Elden Street and through the Stuarts Woods apartments — at the north end of the trail —a boardwalk was put in for pedestrians to cross over the wetlands in the area without detriment to the natural habitat, said Boxer.

A state grant was used to help fund the project, first recommended by Art Anselene, director of Herndon's Department of Parks and Recreation.

“There will be a ribbon cutting event for the trail improvement completion in the spring when the weather is warmer,” said Boxer. The trail runs behind the new Herndon Police Station, across the intersection of Elden Street and the Herndon Parkway, behind the Stuarts Woods Apartments and into Runnymede Park.

THE SUBMISSION of two downtown redevelopment plans in 2005 offered council the opportunity to envision a ribbon cutting in the next three to five years.

The plans, submitted by Clark Ventures LLC and Herndon Station LLC, propose to develop the land along Elden, Center, Vine and Station Streets near the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. While the two proposals are drastically different in proposed design and financing options, both offer a cultural arts center, a public parking facility, retail and office spaces and residential units.

Council conducted a number of public hearings and work sessions to discuss the plans and is scheduled to hear additional comment in January before making a decision to move forward.

"This is an important enough project that we need to get it done right, rather than get it done quickly," said O'Reilly.

While dealing with development and zoning, the other major accomplishment of 2005 is not quite as glamorous, joked Owen. At the start of 2005, Herndon's Planning Commissioners began meeting with Kay Robertson, senior planner with the town, to review the town's zoning ordinance. In its review, the commission has attempted to simplify the detailed town zoning ordinance.

"The zoning ordinance is always a work in progress and is amended from time to time and will be amended in the future," said Owen. "After so many years of amendments you have a document that is inconsistent. At some places it contradicts itself."

Town Council members began reviewing commissioners' recommendations in late 2005 and are scheduled to make final approvals in March 2006.