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Home Owner, BAR Settle Precedent Setting Case

Alexandria's Board of Architectural Review (BAR) finally put a price tag on its precedent setting case involving the "unauthorized demolition" of historic property.

At its meeting March 20, the BAR and defendant, Patrick Hardy, sparred for nearly an hour before coming to an agreement that a fine of $7,473 would satisfy the class one civil violation of the City's Zoning Ordinance. This was after Hardy insisted, "The system has failed me and has failed you [BAR]."

In question was how much of a fine should be imposed on Hardy, owner of 522 Queen St., for undertaking "unauthorized demolition" while engaged in a renovation project. It was the Board's and Planning staff's contention that Hardy's contractor acted "in direct violation of the Board's" stipulations.

Hardy based his disagreement on the contention that there was a major miscommunication between the city and his representatives as to what could and could not be demolished. He asked, "How could the system approve the plans for construction and not approve the demolition plans?"

In his opening remarks March 20, Hardy noted, "As a businessman I am tempted to just pay the fine and move on. But, the Alexandria citizen in me is very, very angry." The ultimate amount Hardy could have been fined was $20,285 based on guidelines and language in the ordinance.

Since this was the first time this element of the city ordinance had ever been cited there was no history to guide either the BAR or staff. The entire situation hinged on whether to force reconstruction utilizing period authentic materials and methods or allow Hardy to proceed and assess an amount more in line with a cost based on modern construction elements.

Ultimately, that decision came back to Board member Arthur Keleher's assessment at the March 6 meeting, "To rebuild with modern materials, even though exact copies, is not the same. What's gone is gone." It was determined the money would be of more value in the historical preservation coffers of the city than expended attempting to recreate the original fabric at Hardy's property.

BUT THE BAR TOOK EXCEPTION to Hardy's statement that they shared the blame for the demolition of the rear portion of his 1840's property. They also disagreed that the system had failed.

Board member Oscar Fitzgerald, said,"It was your architect's fault. He heard everything here and didn't report it back to you. Anybody who appears before the BAR should realize we don't approve construction drawings, we are concerned with design."

This was buttressed by Board member Michael Wheeler, who told Hardy, "I don't believe there was a failure in the system. The system worked. It's not the city's job to check every single thing. Once problems were uncovered [in the renovation process] there was an opportunity for you to come back and tell us."

Board member Lori Quill, emphasized, "If we are just gutting things and only preserving the outside then we have nothing but a movie set. It becomes a joke. I don't feel the system failed."

These reactions were triggered by Hardy's statement that he had suggested to the director of planning that three changes be made to the approval process. They were:

* The BAR chair should make sure applicants are aware of, and understand any staff recommendations.

* All permits for demolition should have an attachment listing any and all restrictions.

* There should be a final staff review of construction plans.

Hardy noted he had already paid a fine of $1,500 for "failure to read the restrictions" and suggested an ultimate fine of $3,500 to be earmarked for the Lloyd House restoration.

This suggestion was negated by Peter Smith, principal staff to the BAR, who explained, "How the money is spent is not a BAR decision. It is up to the director of planning."

Smith later said,"We will certainly get input from the other bodies which deal with historical preservation and restoration in the city. But, the ultimate decision is up to the director."

Board member Peter Smealie, asked, "Are we concerned with only what the amount of the fine should be? And is the applicant free to build with new materials once the fine is paid?" To both questions Smith answered, "Yes."

Following a series of calculations and an admonition from BAR Chair Thomas Hulfish, III, that, "This has been going on long enough. It needs to be settled," the Board arrived at the amount of $7,473. This is the amount "it would cost to reconstruct the second floor using historically correct materials," as stated in the motion.