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Bidding Farewell to Henry Bibber

Outgoing community development head leaves legacy of Herndon landmarks.

The Herndon Municipal Center. The renovation of the Herndon Community Center. The Town Green. The Herndon Police Department. The revitalization of Herndon’s historic downtown. The completion of Herndon Parkway.

These and dozens of more construction achievements that have come to define Herndon over the course of the last two decades are what staff and residents will remember of Community Development director Henry Bibber. Bibber, 66, is set to retire from his post after more than 17 years on July 1.

"I think it’s fair to say that we [town staff] were all shocked," said Herndon senior planner Lisa Gilleran who has worked with Bibber since coming to the town 13 years ago. "Not that it’s a wild concept that he would retire, but just because he means so much for the team and has been just a key part of what we do for so many years."

For Herndon Mayor Steve DeBenedittis, Bibber bowing out is the end of a long chapter of significant development in Herndon.

"I think if you just take a walk around and you can see his influence all over town," DeBenedittis said.

Originally hired by a Herndon Town Council that was headed by former Mayor Rick Thoessen in 1989, Bibber took his post as director of Community Development on Jan. 2, 1990. As the head of the Department of Community Development, Bibber was responsible for verifying that proposed construction projects in town met with council-approved guidelines and were compatible with given sites.

BIBBER FIRST BECAME interested in work as a city planner while working with the United States Peace Corps in Colombia upon his graduation from Haverford College in eastern Pennsylvania. A native of upstate New York, Bibber settled in Northern Virginia after meeting his soon-to-be wife during his graduate work in urban planning at Virginia Tech.

After nine years as a planner with Prince William County and 11 years in the City of Falls Church, Bibber ascended to the position of head of planning with the Town of Herndon.

"I thought Herndon seemed like a very interesting place for someone in my field," he said. "It was a town as opposed to a large spread-out county. It had a real spirit to it I thought."

"It has a great variety [of residents], some very interesting challenges and just some great people and great leaders."

A fluent Spanish speaker who is devoted to regular exercise, weight lifting and backpacking, Bibber said that he realized Herndon would be his long-term home after only a few years on the job.

"You don’t come to a place hoping you’d stay 17 years, you’re hoping at first for just a couple good ones and then you find out what you want," he said. "But there are just a lot of great things going on here and a lot of really interesting people to work with and to work for."

THE 17-YEAR TENURE that Bibber served with Herndon has included the completion of some of the town’s most long-term and important projects.

"For a long time, he really was the implementer of what the council and mayor envisioned for the town," said Del. Tom Rust (R-86), who served as Herndon’s mayor from 1990 to 2001. "I would describe him as a key member of the envisioning process for much of how the town appears today."

Bibber was present when the final, northwest segment of the Herndon Parkway was completed in 1998. It was the culmination of a project that took 50 years from its inception to completion.

"To be a part of the completion, it just felt good," he said. "That was a stroke of genius and I was lucky enough to be along for the ride."

Bibber has also been one of the key players in the town’s struggle against overcrowding in recent years, working with staff and community members and forming an entirely new branch of the Herndon town government to investigate claims of excessive residential occupancy. Herndon’s approach through establishing firm zoning regulations and an organized inspections process has garnered several regional and state governance awards.

Overcrowding "was a new issue, you hadn’t really seen much of it prior to a few years ago … and it wasn’t always easy," Bibber said. "We had to make certain we were not just attacking immigrants, but working to preserve the town’s safety and neighborhoods."

"But this approach has functioned very well and I think you can see that in others looking to Herndon as an example."

AS BIBBER MOVES to begin a new chapter of his life living in his Manassas-area home and catching up on his "to-do" list, a new Community Development director will need to focus on the ever-evolving face and challenges of Herndon as it continues to develop, according to Rust.

"It’s going to take someone with a significant vision of how the buildings will look in the future and how our neighborhoods will be maintained," he said.

Rust added that the expansion of the Metrorail to Herndon will require a very professional approach to handling the development that will to come to the area while balancing it with a need to preserve the town’s character.

For Bibber, the new incoming Community Development director, who has yet to be chosen by town staff, will need to demonstrate a keen appreciation for Herndon’s character while understanding what will be an appropriate level of development.

"I think one might say that the two challenging areas will be transforming the downtown without losing its unique character," Bibber said, "and dealing with the Metro[rail] expansion."

"We just need to make sure that the quality of life Herndon residents are used to is maintained and improved as the years go on."