The Herndon Town Council last night approved an ambitious comprehensive plan and zoning changes that some officials hope will transform the town of 14,000 into "the Georgetown of western Fairfax" by 2010.
Now an undeveloped island of aging buildings near the booming Dulles International Airport and Reston areas, Herndon's four-block central district is one of the few recognizable downtown areas amid Northern Virginia's suburban sprawl, town officials boast.
"What we have is this incredible advance around the town, but we have a downtown that is not developed," said Planning Commission Chairman Allen White.
The plan calls for creating a 28-acre area resembling what Planning Commission member Les Zidel described as a small-scale Old Town Alexandria or Georgetown, with broad walkways joining office and apartment buildings, and restaurants and boutiques at street level.
It would encourage developers to construct such buildings by allowing them significantly higher densities and building heights in exchange for concessions such as structured parking, public art and landscaped open space.
Zidel said he envisions "a place where people can walk. They're invited into the area. It becomes an avenue for what I used to call strolling years ago, where you walk along, look in the windows, buy an ice cream cone . . . a place where you want to walk and enjoy a nice day."
Hammering out details of the downtown plan has been the major work of various town agencies, committees, consultants and staff members for more than three years. Earlier versions of the plan envisioned a 58-acre area in the downtown district and would have allowed larger buildings, but these plans ran afoul of nearby residents and owners of some existing car dealerships and repair businesses who feared that the new development would displace them.