A request by Harambee Community and Economic Development Corporation to demolish an historic building owned by Shiloh Baptist Church was unanimously denied Wednesday night by Alexandria's Board of Architectural Review (BAR).
During a public hearing of BAR's Old and Historic Alexandria District section, chairman Thomas Hulfish III, cautioned potential speakers, "We are not going to entertain any discussion about the potential use of the property. We are here to discuss only the architectural aspects."
"If the demolition is approved, a new residential building with affordable housing units will be proposed, city staff told BAR members. "The Board is being asked for approval of the proposed demolition in anticipation of a new development that would occupy the site..."
With an array of speakers prepared to discuss the proposed use for affordable housing, Hulfish clarified the jurisdiction of BAR. Attorney Jonathan P. Rak, representing Harambee, explained, "We were told to come before BAR to explore if the building could be demolished. The church wants to maintain control over the property."
He then asked the Board, "Is the building of such architectural design that it should not be demolished." Rak further noted, "No historic interest has occurred in this structure."
THE BUILDING IN question is an existing residential structure located at 1323 Duke Street. It is a two story, freestanding brick residence dating from approximately 1890. It was acquired by the church in 1990 and serves church administrative functions.
Over the course of the last century, the building has had two additions, according to Department of Planning and Zoning staff. A two story brick addition was added "within 10 to 20 years of the original construction" and "A rear two story wood frame sleeping porch was added in 1931," staff explained.The sleeping porch was eventually enclosed.
Charles Huettner, speaking on behalf of the Old Town Civic Association, urged the Board to preserve the building stating, "This building does tie in with the homes in the area." He recognized, "It's a noble and good objective. But, it's the wrong location."
Staff maintained, "The building retains a high degree of historic and architectural integrity..." and "is worthy of preservation." They based their decision on the analysis, "1323 Duke Street represents the type of ... building form that was present in this section of the historic district prior to the major rebuilding programs..." of the 1970's and 1980's.
They buttressed their recommendation by noting they had retained the services of architect Richard Bierce, AIA, "to also evaluate the structure." His report accompanied the staff report to the Board.
INCLUDED IN THE report was an evaluation by Historic Alexandria which stated, "There are no reasons given in the application for the proposed demolition of this significant structure ... We do not simply demolish historic buildings."
As Hulfish pointed out after the vote, the decision can be appealed to City Council which has the final vote. This happened in 1996 when an adjoining structure was approved for demolition by City Council after a denial by BAR. That site is now used by Shiloh Baptist Church as a surface parking lot, according to the staff report.
IN OTHER ACTIONS pertaining to Shiloh Baptist Church, located at 1401 Duke Street, the board voted to defer action on an application "to construct a new canopy ... place a new door ..." and "construct and exit stair."
This request originally came before the Board on June 18, 2003. It was deferred at that time due to architectural changes by BAR. Staff noted, "The applicant is returning ... with the same proposal... there have been no changes."
Board member Oscar Fitzgerald, stated, "I have real concerns about changing that facade. It could be put in other places." That was answered by the church's architect, Warren L. Almquist, who countered, "I feel you are only hurting the church by deferring."