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Tuesday, December 7, 2021
ArlingtonLetter: Arlington must adopt resident-curator program

Letter: Arlington must adopt resident-curator program

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Editor: The owner of the unique, historic 1889 Fellows-McGrath home at 6404 Washington Blvd. has received approval from the Arlington County government to demolish this magnificent Victorian home and subdivide the lot for two mega-mansions.

Fast on the heels of the tragic loss of the antebellum Febrey-Lothrop Rouse estate this past March, it has once again become apparent that the abject failure of the County Board to create and implement a resident-curator program (RCP) has led to this present deplorable situation of another incredible, unique, historically significant property being threatened with imminent demolition and permanent loss.

Five or six years ago, I became aware of the Fairfax County resident-curator program, and have followed its many notable successes since then. The Fairfax program has been highly successful in preserving historic properties all over the county. (Maryland has a state-wide RCP under which approximately 80 older, historically valuable homes have been leased and preserved.)

The provisions of the 2011 Virginia legislation give local government entities complete authority to create a resident-curator program, under which a valuable, historic property is leased for 20-25 years at no cost to the tenant, who in turn agrees to be responsible for all upkeep, maintenance and repair costs for the term of the lease. It’s a perfect win-win-win for all parties involved.

Over the years, such properties as the Reevesland farmhouse, the Olmstead estate, 501 North Lombardy, the Febrey-Lothrop-Rouse estate, the Certigrade House, the Febrey-Kinchloe mansion, numerous Sears kit homes, several Lustron homes, the John Glenn home (and many others as superbly documented in Charlie Clark’s recently released book “Lost Arlington”) all were ideal candidates for preservation under an RCP. All are now gone, forever.

But once again, the County Board have/has collectively and individually buried heads in the sand, brushing away, and failing to exploit an opportunity presented on a silver platter, to create and implement the perfect solution to the problems of lack of “missing middle” affordable housing, and the lack of historic preservation – two problems with a mutually beneficial solution. An obvious win-win.

The imminent fate of the Fellows-McGrath home is a perfect example of what such willful, deplorable lack of vision does. The board and county manager constantly commiserate about the lack of affordable housing in Arlington, yet consistently and completely fail to take advantage of an existing, proven successful, state-authorized program to preserve numerous applicable residential properties in the county.

I have implored all of the County Board members on numerous occasions to create a resident-curator program. Instead of jumping on this obvious mutually beneficial and creative solution, they hide behind the lamest, weakest of excuses: no staff, no time, no money, too difficult, outside the status quo. I have even volunteered to start and run it, but that offer too has been blithely brushed aside.

If it has been done and works successfully in our neighboring jurisdictions, these excuses ring especially hollow.

Where will the madness end? The county really needs a new broom to sweep clean, to bring vision and common sense to these two problems, with an obvious, clear-cut solution: create and implement a resident-curator program in Arlington. Now.

Tom Dickinson, Arlington

Dickinson is past president of the Arlington Historical Society and a member of the board of directors of the Arlington Heritage Alliance. He made the formal request to designate the 6404 Washington Blvd. a local historic district.

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