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Wednesday, August 10, 2022
ArlingtonOpinionLetter: Public deserves say in historic-preservation process

Letter: Public deserves say in historic-preservation process

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Editor: Your March 24 article [“Delay May Give Preservation Advocates Time to Win Friends”] was excellent and accurate, except for a couple of points we would like to clarify.

You wrote that, “Current law is somewhat nebulous, but appears to allow the localities themselves to decide who can appeal decisions on historic status.” This is no longer Virginia law since an April 2021 Virginia Supreme Court ruling on an historic property in Old Town Alexandria that narrowed the appeal rights of a local historic designation to only the owner of the property. Arlington County never stipulated in its historic ordinance for the past 50 years who had appeal rights, but this is moot under the April court ruling.

The applicant, and local supportive residents for a local historic district specified under county ordinance, have no appeal rights today under Virginia law. The purpose of Del. Patrick Hope’s bill was to allow historic-preservation advocates, including the applicant, the right to appeal for a court review of a local decision to deny historic protection.

This change in the law overturns the court ruling that only the property owner has rights to courts and appeal.

Why does a property owner have superior rights and we the residents have no right to even go to court? This is not democracy.

The second purpose of the bill, as you accurately wrote, was to suspend any demolition or alteration of a proposed historic structure or landmark until the local government has completed its final determination as to the local historic status.

In the case of the Febrey-Lothrop house (Rouse estate), the county government took nearly two years to bring the process forward, and then allowed the owner to demolish the house and several surrounding outbuildings less than a month before the County Board voted on whether to approve local historic-district status. The local historic-review board worked diligently but was sandbagged by the County Board’s collusion with the property owner; the board violated the letter and of course the spirit of the state law.

The County Board wrongfully misused its authority under state law to preserve a nominated place until the full local review is completed. We have thus asked the General Assembly to change the law to deny any attempt at demolition of a property under review, and to protect and preserve any nominated place, until the review is fully complete.

The people of Arlington, present and for generations to come, could have greatly benefited from a 9-acre public park with several historic buildings – including the unique main house – and open acres of green space.

Residents would have enjoyed and learned from our history, including the noble history of Union soldiers living and dying there during the Civil War, as well as the history of the various people associated with the site, including enslaved persons living and laboring there prior to the war.

John Reeder and Tom Dickinson, Arlington

Dickinson represents Save Historic Arlington and filed the initial historic-designation application for the Rouse estate. Reeder was the plaintiff in a lawsuit to preserve it.

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