Downtown Herndon is a 100-acre island of small shops and vacant lots in the midst of western Fairfax County's development boom, and Town Council member Haley Smith has a plan for keeping it that way: cover it with six feet of dirt and plant it over with alfalfa.

"I didn't want a little Tokyo or a little Saigon . . . . Before we do that we'd fill it in with this dirt from Loudoun {County construction sites} and plant it with alfalfa. With hay selling for $150 a ton, it would be a way to make some money out of it . . . . I'm an old farmer and I know it can be done," said the grizzled Herndon resident.

But despite Haley's sentiments, the town is planning to create a model downtown that will have 80-foot-high office buildings and small retail and service stores. After a hearing Monday night on a proposed amendment to the comprehensive plan, Planning Commission Vice Chairman Earl White said, "The final ordinance is 95 percent complete right now . . . . It just needs some fine-tuning."

The purpose of the plan amendment is to allow denser development downtown, including offices, boutiques and restaurants. It would encourage developers to help improve roads and parking to handle increased traffic.

The draft amendment calls for creating a "planned development-mixed use" district that could include office buildings up to 80 feet high with retail stores on the ground floor. Present rules allow no buildings higher than 40 feet.

Up to 10 town houses per acre or 20 apartments per acre would be allowed, along with restaurants, art studios, health clubs, banks and stores. Denser apartments, hotels, fast food restaurants and commercial parking structures might be allowed with a special permit. Currently, residential use is generally not permitted, and retail and service uses are restricted to 26 specific types.

Smith said he realizes that some downtown development is likely, including some taller downtown office structures. "What I'm trying to do is scare them into reality and have them put in three or four stories at the most."

He noted that the Town Council would have to approve the plan amendment. "We might just vote it down if there's too much density."

At Monday's meeting, Planning Commission member Les Zidel proposed regulations allowing developers to put in up to four times the currently allowed density of one-half foot of floor space for each foot of ground, in return for concessions such as adding parking spaces, displaying public art, improving facades and planting trees.

A group of downtown businesses called the Herndon Downtown Coalition has been formed to make suggestions about the new regulations. It includes some small garages and service companies whose owners feared that they would be displaced by upscale development, according to coalition administrator Marjorie Thompson.

Coalition spokesman Patrick Kane said he believes that the present proposal needs only minor changes. "We need to just clarify the definitions and clarify the terms. It's more refinement than change," he said, although the group has called for larger building height limits and greater density allowances for small properties.

The coalition has written position papers on several development issues. It opposes building a public library in the town parking lot, claiming that this would reduce already-scarce parking. Two large developers have offered to build the library elsewhere along with additional parking in return for being allowed to buy and build on the present lot.

Also, the coalition said the comprehensive plan amendment should not include a recommendation for making Elden and Locust streets one way in opposite directions. The current plan amendment proposal calls for extending Locust Street to Monroe Street, extending Center Street to Park Avenue and linking it with Willow Street, and other modifications.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposed comprehensive plan changes at a special meeting Nov. 30, but several members said they doubted that they would be ready for final action then.