"Promoting housing affordability by combating exclusionary housing policies"

 

CFC # 41863 (Combined Federal Campaign) 

 

 

Herndon Town Council preserves possibility of adequate housing near planned, job-rich Metrorail station, as urged by EHI

 

 

Up to 13,425 new employees will be working in the 38-acre core area adjacent to the Town of Herndon’s Metrorail station in Northern Virginia by 2030, under planning recommendations adopted by Herndon’s Town Council (4-3), on February 28, 2012. However, the Council also voted (4-3) to hold off rezoning that area to permit the necessary redevelopment, until it sets a policy as to how properties outside that core, but within the original, 183-acre study area, may redevelop later.

 

The February 28 action preserves, at least temporarily, the possibility that an adequate amount of housing will be permitted within a reasonable distance from that 38-acre core. EHI has been urging that the Town plan for more housing in conjunction with that commercial build-up.

 

More than three times as many people work in the Town as it has housing units (a ratio of 3.25:1 as of early 2008). By contrast, the generally recommended target standard for a community is one housing unit for every 1.5 jobs there, according to a recent American Planning Association (APA) advisory. APA Advisory Service Report 516, Jobs-Housing Balance, p 4 (2003), posted at: http://www.planning.org/pas/reports/subscribers/pdf/PAS516.pdf.

 

Housing generally is in short supply in Northern Fairfax County, and in Northern Virginia generally, compared with the usually robust job market. The predictable results of continued, predominantly commercial development in Herndon would include more excessive housing prices, sprawl, traffic congestion, and related problems.

 

It is far from clear that enough Council members will vote to permit a significant amount of housing the outer 145-acre area, compared with job growth. However, EHI will continue to monitor developments there.

 

In its February 28 vote, the Herndon Town Council adopted the recommendations of the Town’s Planning Commission for redevelopment in the 38-acre transit-oriented core (“HTOC”) area adjacent to the future Metrorail station. The Planning Commission’s recommendations were based on their consultants’ revised plan (Draft #3, December 14, 2011, posted at http://www.herndon-va.gov/Content/Zoning/Comprehensive_Planning/Metrorail/default.aspx.)

 

The plans approved by the Council envision only enough housing in the 38-acre core area to accommodate about 20% as many new workers as the Town hopes to draw to it (mostly office workers). And there apparently is no guarantee that any new or existing Herndon workers would be able to purchase or rent housing there. That housing predictably would be high priced, if only due to intense demand for it by high-paid professionals who commute by Metrorail to points all over the Washington metropolitan area.

 

As to the remaining 145 acres of the original study area, the Town’s Planning Commission and Draft #3 had recommended that the existing zoning prohibition on housing and increased density be maintained indefinitely, due to traffic concerns. (See Draft #3 at p. 121, which describes that area as the “Potential Transit Related Growth Area” or “TRG”.)

 

However, the Council voted for third-party review of the traffic issues and for consideration of certain aspects of the area beyond the 38-acre core. EHI had written to the Council of February 9, seeking further attention to the sufficiency of housing, including in the 145-acre outer area. (To read that letter, CLICK HERE.) EHI had written the Planning Commission on January 30, before its vote on Draft #3, to the same effect.

 

In addition, EHI’s letter to an influential local e-journal was published on January 16. The letter quickly became the most popular item in the journal and drew a response from, among others, a former head of the Town's Planning Commission. The letter has been posted (along with EHI's detailed memo in support, and responses to the letter) in the Herndon Patch, at: http://herndon.patch.com/articles/letter-to-the-editor-herndon-metro-plan-deficient-on-housing.

 

The basic points explained in EHI’s submissions are that Draft #3, without modification, would:

  1. Increase traffic congestion to an unnecessary degree by not including enough housing;
  2. Increase the housing shortage in the Town and drive up housing costs for low- and moderate-income residents to an unnecessary degree;
  3. Encourage no affordable residential units for low- and moderate-income residents or workers -- whereas Fairfax County and various other Northern Virginia jurisdictions require some affordable units in large, new residential developments;
  4. Continue the major mistakes that George Mason University’s experts have identified regarding local governments’ planning for housing; and 
  5. Perpetuate the Town’s apparent noncompliance with the Virginia Code planning requirements regarding affordable housing.

The important, new George Mason University (GMU) report mentioned above is further discussed below. It is available through the GMU Center for Regional Analysis (CRA) website: http://cra.gmu.edu/. Herndon and other jurisdictions throughout the Washington metropolitan area rely on GMU for expert housing analysis.

 

Previously, EHI commented to the Town Council on October 28, 2011, regarding the deficient housing planning in the previous consultants’ proposal, which also had been recommended unanimously by the Planning Commission.  (To read that letter, CLICK HERE.) The Council returned those recommendations to the Planning Commission in early November for further study, specifically noting major underestimates regarding traffic impacts of that proposal. EHI also had written to the Planning Commission on January 27, 2011, documenting the need for much more housing in conjunction with its Metrorail-area planning. (To read that letter, CLICK HERE.)

 

The Town of Herndon abuts the North side of the planned Metrorail public transit station,  which is part of the future rail corridor connecting Washington, DC (and the entire Metrorail system) with Dulles Airport in eastern Loudoun County, VA. (A map of the Dulles Rail Corridor is posted at: http://www.dullesmetro.com/stations/index.cfm.)