The Herndon Town Council is considering a land swap with Fairfax County that would allow the town to annex 100 acres of prime commercial property in the county along the Dulles Toll Road in exchange for 72 acres of mostly residential property in Herndon.
The exchange, proposed by Mayor Richard Thoesen, could add as much as $300,000 a year to Herndon's tax revenues. But there is a string attached .
Herndon would have to agree not to apply for independent city status for 25 years as well as refrain from annexing any more land from the county. As a town, Herndon is part of Fairfax County and all property is taxed by the county and the town. If Herndon were to become a city, it would become independent of the county and no tax revenues would go to the county.
The proposal is already generating controversy. At the Town Council's March 12 meeting, 10 of 12 town residents who spoke on the issue opposed the swap. Many felt it could amount to a Pyrrhic victory. "We ought not to surrender the town's most precious right, the right of sovereignty, for 25 years," said Herndon resident Daniel Kriss. "Why ransom the future to acquire a few more acres? The price to pay is too much."
The cities of Fairfax and Falls Church are "prospering," said Kriss, and "it may be economically feasible for Herndon to become a city ."
Former mayor Thomas Rust, however, said becoming a city would be too expensive and that the increased revenue from the swap could "reduce the tax burden on homeowners." Rust's engineering firm is working on plans to develop the toll road property.
The proposal would exchange 58 acres of undeveloped land along Stuart Road, owned by the Reston Land Corp. and located inside the town's borders, and 14 acres in the southeast corner of the town just south of the toll road, owned by GTE Telenet, with 100 acres of undeveloped land along the north side of the toll road. Of the 100 acres in the county, 93 are owned by Worldgate Inc. and seven acres are owned by Batman Corp.
If approved by the Town Council, the proposal would then go to the Fairfax Board of Supervisors for its approval, before final approval by the Virginia Commission on Local Governments.
Herndon planning director Peggy Dubynin said the proposed swap evolved from a request by the Reston Land Corp. that the 58 acres it owns along Stuart Road not be a part of Herndon. The company wants the entire property to be part of Reston, she said. Reston is in Fairfax County and is not an incorporated town.
The other land to be given up by the town, owned by GTE Telenet, is difficult for the town to service because it is across the toll road from the rest of the town, she said. The county has already been providing water and sewer service to the area for several years, she said, so "it seemed to make sense to give it to them."
There are two major benefits of the proposed swap, Thoesen said. "First of all, it would give us direct control over the toll road property and how it will be developed. Secondly, it would add a great deal of revenue, which would assist us in improving our services. Or, if the council so wishes, we could cut taxes."
Dubynin said "a conservative estimate is that there will be 2.5 million square feet of office space there," which would provide the town $375,000 by the time the property is fully developed, expected by 1991. The land the town would give up "does not provide too much revenue," she said. The Reston residential parcel, which is now vacant, will provide about $42,000 when finished, she said. The GTE parcel brings in about $35,000.
The stipulation that Herndon not apply to become a city is not a problem, said Dubynin, because the process itself "is prohibitively expensive, because then you are ultimately responsible for everything -- schools, sheriffs, courts, jails, fire and rescue, the works. You lose the safety net provided by the county."
A study prepared by Finance Director Craig Anderson reported that becoming a city would have "start-up costs at a conservative estimate of at least $20 million borrowed over 25 years at a 10 percent interest rate."
Supervisor Nancy Falck (R-Dranesville) said the board included the stipulation preventing Herndon from becoming a city because "It would be difficult to convince the board to approve the boundary exchange if the land could be taken away from us. All we're saying is 'Promise not to take the land away from us for 25 years.' "
Resident Fred Draper, however, said he thinks 25 years is too long to give up the right to become a city. "Why should we embargo our future for a quarter of a century?" he said. "I'll be 100 years old by then. It's unreasonable to ask us to wait that long."