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FairfaxVienna Council changes definition of 'historic' property

Vienna Council changes definition of ‘historic’ property

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The Vienna Town Council on July 11 unanimously agreed to modify a town ordinance, providing a rolling definition of how old buildings, business and sites must be in order to qualify for inclusion on the town’s historic register.

The old definition classified those things as historic if they had been in place in their current locations or in continuous use or operation since before 1900.

Under the new qualification, those buildings, structures, businesses and sites will be deemed historic if at least 100 years old.

Historic Vienna Inc. (HVI) recommended switching to a rolling date in the ordinance, said Vienna Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Herman.

Council member Howard Springsteen was on board with the 100-year definition, but unhappy with the ordinance’s second page, which retains existing language for possible inclusion of structures, sites or places more than 50 years old – and some even younger.

According to this section of the town code, the town manager, HVI’s board and Town Council shall consider for inclusion on the historic register sites, places and structures more than five decades old if they:

• “Possess significance related to the founding or development of the town or to persons who have achieved local, regional or national prominence.”

• “Are considered to be symbolic of the town’s history by reason of their architecture or in the way they have been used.”

Sites less than 50 years old also may qualify for inclusion on the register if they are “considered so unusually or uniquely connected with the town’s historical development,” the existing ordinance read.

“That’s kind of overkill, I think,” said Springsteen. “No offense, my house is over 50 years old and I don’t think it’s historic.”

(Despite his critique, Springsteen did not propose any changes to the language that he found objectionable.)

The existing 50-year threshold for some buildings and places stems from a long-standing practice of the National Register of Historic Places, HVI president Anne Stuntz.

“They make this one statement, and they’ve been doing it for the last 50 years themselves, where they say places that are 50 years or less [old] aren’t historic unless you can make a case for it,” she said.

“If you do have a place that’s young, you have to say why,” Stuntz said. “The applicant has to make a case for why it’s worthy.”

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