Comstock Partners, a real estate agency based in Reston, remains in discussions with the Town of Herndon on its downtown redevelopment plans after the real estate developer withdrew its applications for approval by the town’s heritage preservation review board.
Herndon has been collaborating with Comstock, on transforming about 4.7 acres of its downtown area into a mixed-use development since Oct. 24, 2017, when the Herndon Town Council approved a comprehensive agreement between the two parties.
However, the project hit a setback in July when the town received appeals from three citizens challenging the Herndon Heritage Preservation Review Board’s June 18 decision to award Comstock three certificates of appropriateness, which are required for most exterior changes to buildings and structures within the town’s heritage district.
Herndon established a Downtown Heritage District in 1987 to “ensure conservation of the town’s traditional neighborhoods and older commercial structures, providing a community identity apart from the suburban growth of the urbanizing region,” according to the town’s website.
The appeals prompted Comstock to withdraw its applications for the HPRB certificates, but the company has indicated it intends to resubmit at a later date, according to the Town of Herndon.
“Comstock continues to work with the Town of Herndon on the Downtown Redevelopment Project,” Comstock vice president of public relations Maggie Parker said in a statement.
Comstock Herndon Venture LC’s downtown redevelopment proposal calls for approximately 17,600 square feet of retail, an 18,000 square-foot arts center, about 281 apartments, and a 761-space parking garage, all of it situated on a plot of town-owned land bordered by Station Street, Center Street, the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, and Elden Street.
The project’s site plan was expected to be approved this fall with Comstock anticipating that construction would start in early 2019 for a 2021 completion date.
On June 19, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed to contribute $1.2 million to the project from an economic development support fund, covering about half of the $3.6 million that Herndon must pay under the comprehensive agreement the town signed with Comstock.
While it is not clear exactly how the appeals and Comstock’s subsequent HPRB applications withdrawal will affect the project’s timeline, the heritage review board listed Comstock as a discussion item on the agenda for its Wednesday evening work session.
According to a memorandum to the HPRB chairman and members from Herndon community development director Elizabeth Gilleran, Comstock has resubmitted a preliminary concept plan and images for the open spaces surrounding the proposed Herndon Downtown Redevelopment Project.
The real estate developer “is seeking input from the board regarding the exterior site design elements,” and the new plan includes site improvements and styles for outdoor features such as railings, retaining walls, screen walls, and transformer enclosures, according to the memo, which is attached to the HPRB work session agenda for Aug. 15.
The timing of Comstock’s submission prevented town staff from thoroughly reviewing the new concept plan prior to the HPRB work session, but staff was expected to have preliminary comments ready for the board’s consideration, the memo says.
The Town of Herndon has projected that, when it is completed, the downtown redevelopment project will generate $300,000 per year for the town from property and meal taxes as well as business, professional, and occupational license fees.
Three property owners appealed the HPRB’s decision to grant certificates of appropriateness for the downtown redevelopment project on the grounds that the approval was made prematurely after town officials exercised “undue influence” on the board’s deliberations, according to notices of appeals submitted on July 2 to Herndon zoning administrator David Stromberg.
In his notice of appeal, John Vassello Jr., a self-described “aggrieved person with a property interest in land across the street” from the downtown redevelopment project, says that the HPRB failed to follow compatible character standards set out in the Herndon Code and that the town gave a “biased” presentation to the board, since it “has a vested interest in the development.”
Vassello argues that drawings and photographs presented to the board “did not accurately reflect the present reality of development on Center Street,” where townhouses have been replaced by a subdivision of single-family detached dwellings called Vinehaven.
Vassello also objects to the HPRB’s decision, because he says there was no discussion of on-street parking on Center Street, where the limited spaces are needed for visitors and guests of Vinehaven homeowners.
A second appellant named Stephen McWilliams, who also says he has a property interest in land near the property associated with the granted certificates of appropriateness, similarly cites undue influence by the Town of Herndon on the board and calls the HPRB’s enforcement of the Heritage Preservation Overlay District “arbitrary and unreasonable.”
According to McWilliams, construction on the downtown redevelopment project depends on the demolition of the Stohlman Subaru building, a family-owned automobile dealership at 770 Elden Street, but Comstock and town staff “misrepresented” the building’s significance to the public and the HPRB.
Tom Van Nostrand, a resident of the Vinehaven community, filed an appeal against the HPRB due to the proposed development’s “adverse impact on traffic in the surrounding area” and expected high density as well as the anticipated impact on parking availability for nearby residents and their visitors.
The Heritage Preservation Review Board must grant new certificates of appropriateness to Comstock before the downtown redevelopment project can move forward.