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Planning for Herndon's Next 20 Years

Public input sought as comprehensive plan drafting process begins.

Herndon officials and staff have begun soliciting public input as the town moves to draft its comprehensive plan, a town development framework that will ultimately shape the town’s direction until 2030.

Drafted every 20 years, the state-required comprehensive plan will act as "guidance document for the physical development of the town" and will need to be debated and approved by the town’s current mayor and sitting council members, according to Michelle O’Hare, planner for the Town of Herndon. It is initially drafted by members of the town’s community development staff and Herndon’s Planning Commission before being sent to the council for approval, she added.

This period’s comprehensive plan will cover 2010 to 2030.

"When a developer comes in to ask for rezoning for a new development, we will use the document to review what that developer is requesting," said O’Hare. "We will then use that to determine if the development is appropriate and we will make our recommendation to the council based on that."

While the Planning Commission is soliciting public opinion at this time, the drafting process is still in its early stages. A first draft of the new comprehensive plan is not planned for completion until spring of 2008, according to O’Hare.

WITH A NEW METRORAIL stop slated for Herndon sometime in the next 10 years, a desire to revitalize Herndon’s downtown and maintain the town’s green space will take center stage during the drafting process, according to town officials and staff.

"What we’re trying to do more than anything else … is getting the public out and hearing what they want to see in the town in 20 years," said Jay Donahue, vice chairman of the Planning Commission. "This town belongs to the citizens of Herndon and we want to make sure that the town of 2020, the town of 2030 reflects their vision."

Planning Commission chairman Carl Sivertsen could not be reached for comment.

When completed, the comprehensive plan will create a framework for how land should be used in town over the next 20 years, with special attention to high impact areas. The stretch of land on Herndon Parkway between Monroe and Spring Streets, where the new Metrorail stop is expected to be installed, will take center stage as one of those areas, officials and staff said.

This will require the creation of a special "small area plan" for the affected land, O’Hare said. In the town’s current comprehensive plan, the area of the condominiums near the Fortnightly Library had been addressed as one of these, she added.

BUT AS THE METRORAIL is still at least several years from arriving in Herndon, staff will most likely draft a loose approach for dealing with the area before re-addressing it with more specificity and possibly additional consultants when the mass transit system moves closer to completion, O’Hare said.

"In order to do a plan for the Metro, it will need to be very specific, so we want to look at it more exclusively," O’Hare said, "and we don’t want to do that while we are doing a comprehensive plan for the entire town."

Nonetheless, the issue of the Metrorail expansion will still need to be addressed during this process, according to Donahue.

"The danger with planning for the Metro is putting it off long enough where we won’t have anything and it’ll be too late," Donahue said. "But then again, at this early stage, we can’t get to the real specifics until we really know what is going to happen."

THE METRORAIL EXPANSION will not be the only new aspect to be addressed in the comprehensive plan. A revamped and inclusive environmental impact plan, a framework for maintaining some of Herndon’s aging neighborhoods as well as an understanding of how development for Herndon’s downtown will look will all be laid out during the process, according to staff and officials.

While the town’s current comprehensive plan already deals with storm water management issues and preservation of the Chesapeake Bay area, this year’s environmental section will name goals and objectives for the town, including plans for improving the town’s air quality, promoting more energy-efficient building and vehicles, and advancing the town’s green space, O’Hare said.

"Green space and green areas have been becoming to be more and more important when it comes to the management of the town," Donahue said, "and Herndon should be no exception to that."

DETERMINING HOW to utilize Herndon’s assets downtown for development of both private and municipal buildings will be one of the most important aspects of the comprehensive plan, according to council member Dave Kirby.

"These areas will need to be rezoned sometime in the future to obviously include a bit more density, and we will need to increase it to accommodate the needs of the area," Kirby said. "We will be allowing things like condominiums but at the same time we need to make sure that we do not jeopardize the small-town feel of Herndon."

Density allowances and types of development will all need to be considered with an eye for traffic management and overall impact on the quality of life for Herndon residents, said council member Bill Tirrell, who, as a planning commission member, helped draft the town’s current comprehensive plan.

"Transportation in and around the town will probably be the single most important aspect of this comprehensive plan," he said.

A major part of managing the traffic flow for the town will include "better and more frequent communication" between Fairfax County and Loudoun County officials to help to manage the growing residential and commercial population that uses Herndon’s streets on a regular basis, Tirrell said.

While addressing new density requirements and the realities of a growing population, the comprehensive plan will need to be strong enough to manage the development to assure that Herndon does not stray from the visions of its residents, said council member Connie Hutchinson.

"The town will need to look at all these issues and determine … how this might affect our single family homes and neighborhoods," she said. "We need to make sure in the plan that any development doesn’t encroach into our single-family neighborhoods."