The Alexandria City Council has asked staff to study whether the Hunting Towers and Hunting Terrace buildings are historic.
The request came from Judy McVay, the founder and president of the Coalition for a Sensible Bridge.
“We must do something to preserve affordable housing in Alexandria,” she said at the Sept. 14 City Council public hearing. “VDOT has made it clear that they intend to sell these buildings as soon as the bridge is built. We need to do something now to preserve some of the last truly affordable housing in the city. We can’t wait until construction is finished or these buildings will be torn down, and we will have more luxury condominiums on this site. One way to accomplish this is to get VDOT to agree to a historic easement on this property.”
Councilwoman Claire Eberwein questioned whether the property is historic. “When were these buildings built?” she asked.
McVay did not know the answer exactly. “I am sure that they meet the criteria,” she said. “They were built more than 50 years ago.”
Eberwein was still concerned. “While we can all support affordable housing, I am not certain that that is an appropriate use of the historic-preservation process,” she said. “In a city such as Alexandria that is rich in history, it is particularly important that we use the process by which we preserve historic properties as it was intended. I am not sure that we want to have these particular buildings designated as ‘historic’ in order to preserve affordable housing, if they are not truly historic.”
Mayor Kerry J. Donley agreed. “I think we need more information before we can move forward to appoint a task force,” he said. “I am going to ask staff to look into this matter and bring us additional information. Certainly we wish to maintain affordable housing, but I’m not sure that this is the way we want to do that.”
THE RESEARCH has been done. During the preparation of the environmental impact study on the building of the Woodrow Wilson replacement bridge, Potomac Crossing Consultants researched the issue of the historic qualities of the Hunting Towers and Hunting Terrace buildings. The following is an excerpt from the Environmental Impact Statement, dated Apr. 14, 2000:
"Hunting Towers did not meet the minimum requirements of eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, either as an individual property or as a contributing element within an expanded Alexandria National Register Historic District. Moreover, an analysis of historical data for Hunting Towers failed to identify an association with a specific event marking an important moment in American history and also failed to show any links to a pattern of events or a historic trend that made significant contribution to the development of a community, state or nation.
"In addition, this analysis showed that based on the character of Hunting Towers and the contextual information mentioned above, other properties in the greater Northern Virginia region more completely embody the distinctive characteristics of style and design in a manner that better reflects the significance of mid-20th-century architecture than Hunting Towers.
"Hence, Hunting Towers is not eligible for listing in the National Register under Criteria A or C. The Virginia State Historic Preservation Office concurred with the Federal Highway Administration’s determination of National Register ineligibility on March 21, 2000.”
Jean Federico, the director of the office of Historic Alexandria has been tasked with preparing the staff report to Council. “We will meet on Sept. 27, and then prepare our report,” she said.