The Town of Herndon hosted a Town Hall meeting on Thursday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m., in the Herndon Council Chambers Building, 765 Lynn Street to discuss the Proposed Comprehensive Agreement Herndon/Comstock.
Herndon Town Manager Bill Ashton outlined information and answered questions from the public on the Proposed Comprehensive Agreement. In his opening remarks, Ashton said he wanted the public to be, “As informed as possible when they walk out this door tonight.”
Present at the meeting were members of the town's negotiating team: Dana Singer, director of Public Works; Jennie Tripoli, director of Finance; Dennis Holste, Economic Development manager; Lisa Gilleran, director of Community Development; Len Wales, consultant; and Tom Folk, attorney with Reed Smith.
Turning his attention to the project’s key goals, Ashton said while the project had to be economically viable for both the town and Comstock Partners, LLC, the agreement had to protect the town from risks and observe legal constraints. The big issue Ashton conceded was to minimize disruption, referencing transitional parking and ArtSpace. Ashton affirmed that the Town must obtain fair value for the property conveyed and the town contribution ($3.6 million), and the agreement must afford a reasonable process for the town to work with a private partner. Given Town Council adoption of the Proposed Comprehensive Agreement at the Herndon Town Council Meeting on Oct. 24, Ashton told those at the Town Hall meeting Comstock expected to break ground in early in 2019 with project completion in 2021.
IN THE INFORMATIONAL SEGMENT of the meeting, Ashton presented highlights of the agreement. He said that Comstock proposed to redevelop land in Herndon's downtown by constructing approximately 281 residential apartments, 17,600 square feet of retail space, an 18,000-square-foot Arts Center, an Arts Walk, and a 761-space parking garage with 1 1/2 stories below grade. At the closing stage, Ashton emphasized specific conditions were required. "We are looking for a vibrant, active, first class, downtown Town Center," Ashton said. He added that the project must be economically viable for both parties to operate.
As for potential delays, there could be, Ashton said, “A market pause of up to two years if the economic conditions are not right for them to move forward.”
"I was at first, taken aback by it," Ashton said. After talking with other members of the negotiating team, Ashton said he became "a fan of the market delay.” He explained, "If the economic conditions are not there, why do we want them to go through with something they're not going to be able to put people into? That would be insane."
Ashton spoke at length about the transitional parking plan. "Comstock is acutely aware of how important parking is to the community,” said Ashton. He reiterated that Comstock and the town would work together on the details. Ashton stressed there would be 162 shared spaces available 24-hours a day and be marked by signage. Ashton stressed that the transitional parking could be located offsite at various locations in the downtown. "Piecemeal... over a couple of lots," he said. Ashton said, "There will be no charge because public shared parking is free parking. We are not Reston."
Speaking about the relocation of ArtSpace Herndon and the new arts center, Ashton said that the Town and Comstock would identify a temporary location. "We've put in a budget allowance of $250,000 to relocate ArtSpace,” he said. “One of the common questions we get is that we are building an arts center. What are we getting?” Ashton explained Comstock would deliver to the town the exterior of a building that is suitable for an arts center, and the town is responsible for the interior design and build-out. The town though has put an option in the agreement for Comstock to possibly design the interior and build it out but for an additional fee.
As for the parking garage, Ashton said the town would own it with “761 spaces, of which 339 are designated for public parking.” Breaking it down even further, as part of the 339 spaces, 220 parking spaces will be public shared, 60 for the Arts Center, and 59 for new retail. “All in the same pool. It will operate as one public shared parking entity under the town.” All remaining spaces will be for residential use.
As for the schedule, Ashton reported it would be a year between signing the agreement and turning dirt and a 20-month construction bill.
On Tuesday, Oct. 24, citizens would have the opportunity to provide opinions at the public hearing held during the regular Town Council Meeting.
OPENING THE FLOOR to questions, Ashton stressed that the current town meeting was for questions only, not comments. Many citizens requested clarification on parking, the project construction including assurance that there would be adherence to the town's Heritage Preservation Review (HPRB) and Architectural Review Board (ARB) standards for project design, as well as the need for a dedicated Project Manager hired by the Town.
Ashton reiterated that Comstock was "acutely aware of how important parking is to this community." As for project design, Lisa Gilleran, Director of Community Development explained that Comstock's initial designs seek to represent the period from the late 1800s through 1940, “a very traditional look," all designs would be subject to Herndon's HPRB and ARB approvals, and meet code.
Many citizens asked about traffic mitigation and calming, noting Elden Street in particular. Dana Singer, Director of Public Works, said current and future work on Elden and Station Streets would result in left turn lanes and traffic would be pushed. Parking on Center was questioned. Would the new apartment owners seek to park outside their units on Center Street, as the street could be more convenient to them rather than the garage? Ashton assured the individual that based on the spirit of where the Town has been with Comstock, he was reasonably confident Comstock would work with the Town on parking.
Finally, the question of the total cost of the project; was it $9.4 million and was this worth it? Ashton answered the cost to purchase the land in 2015 was $5.8 million. Along with the $3.6 million due, of which $500,000 was for parking, $500,000 for remediation, $250,000 for the arts center relocation, and $100,000 for culvert repair, the total was $9.4 million.
Asked if the dollars to be spent were worth it, Ashton said the Town had performed multiple feasibility studies and in the case of structured parking “yes;” the 330 parking spaces, “yes;” and the Arts Walk and the arts unit, “yes; it is worth it.” Ashton reported there would be a tax base to draw upon, real estate taxes, and if a restaurant went in, meals tax revenue. Ashton said, "We are estimating $300,000 (annually) back to the town (in taxes) once it is complete.”