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Votes

Council Says Yes to Historic District

The Vienna Town Council disapproves requests by homeowners for removal of their properties from the Windover Heights Historic District.

The Vienna Town Council voted unanimously Monday evening to disapprove the requests to remove five properties from the Malcolm Windover Heights Historic District.

Michael W. Covel, Jerome A. and Johanna L. Covel, and Matthew T. and Susan Y. Stich — owners of the properties at 130 Pleasant St. N.W., 200 Walnut Lane N.W., 222 Lovers Lane N.W., 224 Walnut Lane N.W., 346 Windover Ave. N.W. — had requested removal earlier this spring citing inconsistencies with which the ordinance overseeing the historic district had been applied to their properties.

But the Council argued that not only were their properties central to the historic district but that the historic district, which is made up of single-family homes, should be maintained in order to preserve the character and feel of the neighborhood. Their decision was also propelled partly by previous statements of Michael Covel, who had mentioned on his Web site his desire to place townhouses on his properties of 130 Pleasant St. and 346 Windover Ave. N.W.

The Council's vote concurs with the unanimous vote by the town Planning Commission on June 11.

"The pride that the residents have in the area is represented by the upkeep," said Councilman George Lovelace.

Lovelace also said while the applicants argued that key historic African-American properties were not in the district, they failed to mention that the first black church and school in Fairfax County lay within the district's boundaries.

Councilwoman Maud Robinson calculated that if the five properties were to be removed from the district's 31.34 acres, 18.85 percent of land would be taken out, or 15.3 percent if one included rights of way.

"That is a pretty big chunk," Robinson said.

Councilman Al Boudreau added that when applicants seeking removal from the historic district approached the Town Council in 1991, they argued that the ordinance had too many restrictions. Now, Boudreau countered, the applicants said the conditions were too vague.

"It seems to me that the historic district has done what it intended to do," Boudreau said.

Councilman Sydney Verinder, who was then chair of the Planning Commission when it voted to disapprove the applications in June, reiterated his written statements advocating for the preservation of the district.

Following are excerpts of statements by several Council members on why they decided to disapprove the applications:

Councilman George Lovelace: "The issue for me comes down to the applicants' seeing the historic district as preserving the structures as they were in the 1800s, [vs.] the historic district created by the Town Council [as being] a living, viable community that reflects the associations of persons and events from Vienna's past. It is a neighborhood with diverse homes, architecture and styles. This is a major distinction in my mind, and accounts for much of motivation to opt out of historic district. … Finally, I believe the area has a distinctive quality and has retained its character and charm. The historic district represents the vision of our citizens and the Council to ensure that future generations will have the benefit of a community that reflects its past as well as the present. … The historic district has survived for close to 25 years, and through the hard work of dedicated citizens. Any actions to alter the historic district such as that requested by the applicants to opt out of the district should be resisted."

Councilwoman Laurie Cole: "None of the applicants spoke to the specific circumstance of their own properties. There was much discussion of other properties in the district, and general dissatisfaction with the district's operation, but there was no discussion of why inclusion of their own properties was inappropriate. And in fact, I don't think a persuasive case has been made that the subject properties should be removed or were improperly included in the first place. These properties are central to the district, both geographically and in their historic interest."

Councilwoman Maud Robinson: "We've got to get this in perspective, that it has swelled to proportions that have made us forget that of all the residents on the Hill, basically it boils down to two families being dissatisfied with the district. I think a very important issue here that has not been discussed is the acreage."

Councilwoman Edythe Kelleher: "It is a difficult issue. I really thought about the testimony last time of [those] who urged compromise. And we're in a position where these folks have made application, they've paid their money, and they're entitled to a vote. … If there are problems with the historic district and the neighborhood would like to come together and work with the Town Council and with the town staff on those issues, I think that would be a wonderful thing. But we are faced with having to make a decision this evening."

Vienna mayor Jane Seeman: Michael Covel "has made no secret in his plans for those two properties. But I just believe that the removal of these two properties would really adversely affect the historic district."