Part of the Herndon Historic District today.  Image by BeyondDC.

Right now DC residents are debating the role of historic designations, and they're not the only ones. Historic designation is shaping debates over transportation and development in northern Virginia as well, as highlighted with two projects in Herndon and Reston.

In Herndon, attempts to replace an old car dealership with a mix of shops and restaurants was delayed when neighbors used the town's Historic Preservation Review Process to complain about the density of the site and its possible impact on nearby parking. In Reston, the state may designate some office buildings historic and delay a new bridge across the Dulles Toll Road, as well as plans to redevelop an aging office park.

Despite plans for redevelopment, older buildings in projects' path can still be designated as historic resources by the state.

Herndon residents try to protect historic buildings (and parking)

Herndon is a town in Fairfax County that grew up around the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, and it still has a small historic core. To protect these historic buildings, the town created a Historic Preservation Review Board to ensure that new construction projects to fit in with the current downtown landscape.

A recently-proposed project would replace some parking lots owned by the town of Herndon, as well as buildings that made up the aging Stohlman Subaru dealership. They would be replaced by a mix of shops and homes along Elden Street. Some parking lots have already been replaced nearby down Elden Street at Junction Square.

Image by Town of Herndon.

Junction Square is a similar development under consruction in downtown Herndon Today.  Image by Donielle Scherff used with permission.

However, the plans hit a snag when neighbors next to the site objected to the approvals. They argued the town did not follow its historic preservation review process and ignored its own rules when it approved the new development.

Notably, the complaints are not focused on whether the buildings slated for demolition are historic or not. Instead, the biggest complaints were that the buildings would exacerbate parking problems in the town and that the proposed development was too big.

This building and the parking lots behind might be replaced by a mix of shops and homes.  Image by Donielle Scherff used with permission.

In response to the appeals, Comstock, the developer that put forth the application, withdrew its proposal but says it will resubmit it to the Herndon Town Council after figuring out next steps.

Reston wants to protect office old buildings

In Reston, plans to build a new bridge across the Dulles Toll Road and redevelop an aging office park may run into a hurdle if the state's historic preservation board designates a number of office buildings dating from the 1960s as historic.

Fairfax County wants to extend Soapstone Drive across the the Dulles Toll Road to create a new connection between the northern and southern halves of Reston, which are currently divided by the highway. Depending on the exact route, the project could affect office buildings in the area that might be eligible for historic designation.

Potential routes for the new road. The buildings in the yellow boxes might be historic.  Image by Fairfax County.

According to local blog RestonNow, the county was ready to decide on a final route for the new road when it had to pause and wait to see what historic resources may be affected. The designation could add an extra layer of review for a project ready to be scheduled for construction.

Historic designation could also throw redevelopment plans for the office park in disarray, as the entire area prepares to add new housing and dining options close to new Silver Line Metro Stations.

Historic preservation has become a tool for delaying projects

In both Reston and Herndon, the processes created to preserve historic resources are adding complexity to projects. However, it's unclear whether or not the added complexity is doing anything to preserve history in either area.

That's especially clear in Herndon, where the appeals specifically call out concerns over parking and the overall size of the development, rather than the merits of the current buildings at the old car dealership site. But even in Reston, there's an already-long planning process that might be disrupted further, depending on what state-level organizations decide.

It's frustrating that projects might be delayed in both towns, even if Virginia ultimately decides not to protect the buildings as a historic resource.