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Town Initiates Changes to Downtown

Additional trees attract some business concerns.

The woman drove the small coupe west down Elden Street on a sunny afternoon and spotted the bicyclist stopped on the W & OD Trail at the intersection with Lynn Street. She slowed down slightly, tapping her horn as a warning as she passed.

"Do you see what that lady just did?" said Henry Bibber, director of Community Development for the Town of Herndon as he stood watching the interaction from a neighboring sidewalk. "That's the right thing to do, to be careful. But not everyone does that."

"This intersection can be a little dangerous sometimes, and one of the things that we need to do is to make it safer."

Altering the W & OD trail is just one of the items that will be addressed as the town initiates the first phase of the three-phase, $1.2 million Historic Herndon Revitalization Project this winter.

THE PROJECT AIMS to promote greater downtown development. The first phase will include the addition and removal of landscaping, replacement of concrete sidewalks with brick, increasing the number of parking spaces, altering street widths and repositioning fire hydrants, according to Bibber. The project is funded by $420,000 in grants from Virginia's Department of Transportation, with the remaining amount from the town's general fund.

Bibber unveiled the refined details of the project in a presentation to the Herndon Town Council at last Tuesday's council work session. The project had already been approved by the previous Town Council and therefore does not require a further vote for initiation.

The project seeks to make the downtown area more attractive to area residents and visitors, Bibber said.

"I think that a pleasant environment in the public realm can be an important factor in how people view the area," he said, "if it's attractive and provides convenience, safety and comfort, I think it will attract more people and businesses downtown."

"We know Herndon as the town with a heart, and with the downtown being that physical heart ... it's very important that it looks nice," he said. "When you think of how many people come to the downtown every year, it's not too much money to spend at all."

SOME OF THE CHANGES haven't been fully embraced by some residents and officials.

"It kept me awake. I couldn't sleep at all on Tuesday night," said Herndon Town Council member Connie Hutchinson, who works as executive director of Herndon's Visitor's Center downtown.

While Hutchinson said that she is for improvements to be made downtown, she that she is concerned with the addition of several trees surrounding the old Town Hall, the W & OD Trail and some businesses on Lynn Street.

"We've already had problems where people come in and said they had a hard time finding the visitors center, and with the addition of the trees, this could only get worse," Hutchinson said. "I know from working with the businesses downtown that they feel like ... these trees will obscure their businesses as well."

Some of the trees in question would be a pair of willow oak trees — reduced from the original number of three — that would be planted on Elden Street, according to Richard Downer, treasurer and board member for Herndon's Downtown Business Alliance.

The Alliance voted unanimously to endorse the project last Tuesday, Downer said, but it doesn't mean that there still has not been concern for the possibility of an obscured downtown area.

"You need to make sure that you don't put so many trees in the town square that it's going to dominate the entire view driving down Elden Street," he said. "People won't be able to recognize Herndon's downtown if there are just too many trees towering over everything else."

THE DECISION TO USE the willow oak trees and the other landscaping choices downtown has been made with regard for the businesses and visibility, Bibber said.

"The idea that the trees will hide the businesses is just not correct," he said. "These trees will grow tall enough in some time and the leaves will be high enough where it won't block the view of the downtown."

Bibber also pointed out that the plan calls for the removal of four pear trees on Lynn Street in front of the Herndon Visitor's Center that have been cited multiple times for obscuring the view of the building.

While plans for the first phase of development, slated to start in January, are essentially set, Hutchinson said that the issue of obscurity and trees will once again become an issue as the subsequent phases, which call for trees to be planted in a planned median on Elden Street, draw nearer.

"These changes, they kind of change the character of the town," Hutchinson said. "It makes it a little more urbanized and maybe that's what the town wants, but I don't know."

"It's not what I want."