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Votes

The Year Ahead

Council reaffirms efforts to counter overcrowding, maintain fiscally conservative budgets.

At the dawn of 2007, Herndon community leaders are predicting continued growth and development of the town while local officials reaffirm their positions to proceed with tougher policies targeting overcrowding and illegal immigration and maintaining a fiscally conservative philosophy towards budget management.

In January, the Town Council and staff will go on a retreat, where the mayor, members of the council and town staff will review policies, project commitments and future plans for the remainder of the council’s term, according to Herndon town manager Steve Owen.

"We plan on the retreat being informative and helpful in defining the vision of what the mayor and the council have in mind," Owen said. "We expect to do some serious strategic planning … and we will have a clear outlook of how we want to go about taking on some of [the town council’s] ideas."

WHILE THE TOWN will welcome the completion of improvements and the installation of administrative offices at Chestnut Grove Cemetery later in 2007, the top issue for staff when it comes to development is finding a new way to revitalize the downtown.

The loss of property that would have otherwise been available for downtown development and the cool-off experienced by the regional real estate market left the town empty-handed when it came time for private developers to make development proposals last month, according to Owen.

The town had sought a public-private partnership with a developer to construct a mixture of private residential and commercial locations in exchange for the establishment of a number of municipal facilities such as a cultural arts center and a parking garage.

The town staff have already been busy on trying to determine what the next step will be in the years-long struggle to refurbish Herndon’s downtown, Owen added.

"We hope to start getting some ideas rolling in for PPEAs and we’ll look at all of your options, talk with the council and see where we want to go," Owen said.

Robust economic growth in several industries throughout the region shouldn’t hinder any growth to Herndon in the coming year, said Eileen Curtis, president of the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Her chamber, which was restructured and renamed from the Herndon-Dulles Chamber of Commerce in August, saw the addition of 150 new members in 2006.

"The economy is very strong right now, and that’s good news for everybody in the area," Curtis said. "We’re looking at maintaining that steady growth that we’ve seen in recent years and a number of new opportunities for our residents."

AS IN 2006, a year whose local politics were defined by illegal immigration, continuing efforts will be made by Herndon’s officials in 2007 to target illegal immigrants and eliminate residential overcrowding, two issues that many see as related.

"The important issue hasn’t changed in Herndon, and it is overcrowding," said council member Dave Kirby. "We have to continue doing whatever we can to end this problem in Herndon."

The town will be utilizing a strategy that includes increased education first and legal prosecution as a last resort to uncorrected local zoning ordinances in the coming year as a way of eliminating overcrowding, according to town attorney Richard Kaufman. There is also a possibility of increasing overcrowding investigation staff members to deal with the large number of reports of suspected overcrowding that occur each month in the town, he added.

"If we can contract more people to go after overcrowding and draft some more strict ordinances, I’m all for it," Kirby said. "Those types of things … discourage people from overcrowding and starting up these boarding houses, and that’s what we want."

IN THEIR CONTINUED commitment to target illegal immigration, several council members have expressed a desire for a change in operators for the town’s day labor site, which has been at the center of the immigration debate in town since its establishment at the end of 2005.

Some council members have suggested the change from the current operator, non-profit organization Project Hope & Harmony, since the group doesn’t check for legal residency status when organizing the laborer’s solicitation requests.

"The whole reason for [looking for a new operator] is to find one that will check for documentation," said Owen, adding that the site will "probably" be changed before the end of 2007.

Project Hope & Harmony is authorized by the Town of Herndon under a conditional use permit to operate on the town’s property until December of 2007, when it will be up for renewal.

"I intend to push very hard to make sure we go the final step with the day labor site … and find an operator that will agree to follow the laws of this country when it comes to immigration," said council member Bill Tirrell. "I intend to do whatever is in my power to discourage illegal aliens from coming to Herndon."

There is no doubt that illegal immigration will play a major role in Herndon in 2007, Curtis said.

"We’re going to continue to entertain stories about immigration, but I think with the new [United States] Congress coming through, we’ll see some type of comprehensive reform passed," she said. "But we should expect to see more local manifestations of that national issue in the year to come."

AS A WHOLE, several town council members have said that they will continue to put maintenance of existing town structures and resources before new construction projects as they work to sustain a fiscally conservative budget.

"The [real estate] market has cooled off, and we’re looking at our tax base not running away anymore," said Tirrell. "So it’s important to be fiscally conservative and make sure we watch just what we spend and commit ourselves to."

Other issues that the town will examine in the coming year will be the possibility of opening ordinance restrictions to allow for "bed and breakfast"-style hotels and a new Web site that will allow residents to make and track inquiries with the town, according to town staff and elected officials.

A commitment to remain an open and transparent government body is Tirrell’s major objective for the days ahead.

"I think we’ve made a real effort to stay open and transparent and involved with the people of Herndon, and they definitely expect that continuing commitment in 2007," he said. "That’s been very important to us in our vision, and we plan on keeping that up."