Herndon's chief zoning investigator is cautiously optimistic about the successes of the town's fight against overcrowding after it was revealed earlier this month that the total number of open complaints of residency excessive occupancy was down for its fifth consecutive month.
The same numbers also show that the total number of complaints filed about residential overcrowding have been down for every month except January.
"It's really hard to tell, it could be a combination of several things," said Bill Edmonston, senior community inspector for the Town of Herndon, who has been in charge of the town's burgeoning zoning enforcement team since August of last year. Since 2000, Herndon's zoning enforcement team has grown from one person to 11 full-time and one part-time staff member, according to town officials. The group's budget borders on approximately a half-million dollars, according to town figures.
While Edmonston was careful to note that he is not sure if the town has "turned a corner" on the fight against residential overcrowding, he did say that the increased staff, better training and experience and community outreach efforts have all played roles in the recent successful figures.
"These numbers have been down in the short term, but it will take a greater period of time" before the town can determine if they are permanent, Edmonston said, noting that the lower number of total complaints can be due in part to the cold weather. "In January, February, there's ice on the ground, so as more people get outside we may see more instances of complaints coming in."
THE TOTAL NUMBER of complaints received has not fluctuated as a whole over the course of the last year, despite the recent lull in activity, according to town figures. From August 2006 to February, an average of about 21 complaints were received, virtually an identical number for the same period of time one year earlier.
Those complaints reached a high of 49 received in August of 2006 and have since declined to eight for February.
The successes are the result of a professional and dedicated zoning enforcement staff, said council member Charlie Waddell.
"One of the things that impressed me is that they're working a two-pronged approach to the situation," he said. "By focusing not just on enforcement but also on ... community outreach, they're really making some positive headway."
Edmonston has been regularly meeting with neighborhood watch groups and homeowner's associations to spread awareness about what constitutes residential excessive occupancy violations and how to report them, he said. In addition, the town has continued to print information for residents about what is and is not allowed in terms of municipal zoning regulations in Herndon homes, according to Anne Curtis, public information officer for Herndon.
GETTING THAT information out is an important part in the town's struggle with excessive occupancy, said Waddell.
"When I get out there and start talking to these people, I realized that some of these folks were just not aware that running a boarding house wasn't allowed" in town, he said. "These people, a lot of them, they want to be compliant and we want to help them get there."
"One of the best ways to stop this in the future is to stop potential overcrowding cases before they happen."
While Edmonston said that he feels confident that the town has arrived to a point where they can more effectively and efficiently pursue excessive occupancy cases, he said that there is no way to predict what's ahead for Herndon, particularly in the coming warmer, summer months.
"We have no way of knowing or predicting how many cases we will have from one given month to the next," Edmonston said. "Our only goal is to investigate them as objectively as possible and resolve them as objectively and efficiently as possible."