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Council OKs Windover Heights House

Decision was split on whether the proposed house for 315 Windover Ave., N.W., was in accordance with the ordinance for the historic district.

If any consensus was reached Monday night, it was that the ordinance for the Windover Heights Historic District should undergo a review of its own.

The Vienna Town Council upheld Monday evening the decision by the Windover Heights Board of Review, to grant a certificate of appropriateness to Sagatov Associates to build a 4,800-square-foot home in the Windover Heights Historic District, at 315 Windover Ave., N.W.

Yet the approval wasn't unanimous, with the vote being 4 to 3 in favor of granting the certificate. Council members Edythe Kelleher, Mike Polychrones, Sydney Verinder and Vienna mayor Jane Seeman voted to uphold the ruling by the Windover Heights Board of Review, while Council members Laurie Cole, George Lovelace and Maud Robinson voted against it.

The tally mirrored an earlier, July 26 vote on the issue, with the exception of Verinder, who had been absent from that meeting.

"The house is in compliance with everything," said Polychrones, one of the members voting in favor of the applicant.

Lovelace disagreed, arguing that the current proposed design of having a large garage and house on the same visual plane created the appearance of house incongruous with the scale of its smaller lot.

"If [the house] was properly modified, it would be compatible," Lovelace said as he cast a dissenting vote.

THE PROJECT submitted by Lou Sagatov's Arlington-based firm came before the Council because of an appeal by the Lillises, who live next door to the proposed house. Because the project was in the Windover Heights Historic District, it needed to be in compliance with the stricter guidelines for the historic district in regards to scale, congruence with immediate surroundings, and preservation of the historic character of the northwest neighborhood.

The Lillises had appealed the decision by the Windover Heights Board of Review, which provided permission for the project to proceed, because they had said they thought the project wasn't in scale with its surroundings. Particularly of concern to them was that the proposed house wasn't in scale with the two ramblers located on either side of 315 Windover Ave. The Lillises occupy one of the ramblers.

But at the July 26 meeting, the Council voted 3 to 3 on the appeal, disagreeing on whether the application was indeed incongruous with the neighborhood.

"I think something that is troubling here, there is no sense of openness," said Councilwoman Maud Robinson at the July meeting, who had voted in favor of the Lillises' appeal and against the applicant.

The same concerns came up again as the Council addressed the issue on Aug. 16, as some Council members felt the applicant had met all the requirements of the ordinance for the historic district, while others thought the application was not complying with the requirement for appropriate scale to its surroundings. Although the Council had met with the Windover Heights Board of Review during a work session prior to that evening's meeting to gain insight on the Board's decision, the Council remained split on the proposed project as well as how the ordinance for the historic district should be interpreted.

"My decision is, the house is out of scale to its own lot," Robinson said.

Of the ordinance, Councilman Sydney Verinder said: "I do believe if there are inefficiencies ... the burden is on the town and not the applicant."

While a consensus couldn't be reached, both sides agreed that the ordinance for the historic district needed to be addressed at a future work session, particularly examining whether the ordinance is vague and needs modification.

"If we care about the historic district, let's ... move something" forward, said Robinson on the work session, adding that the input of Vienna residents needed to be included.

That discussion on the relevance of the historic district has been discussed for over a year, as several residents had approached the town to remove their five properties from the historic district. Although both the town Planning Commission and the Town Council voted unanimously for the properties to stay within the district, the town is currently in a lawsuit with the applicants on the decision.

THE RESIDENTS have argued that the historic district ordinance has been unequally applied to proposals within the historic district, due to the vague language of the ordinance. To illustrate the vagueness, the side supporting Sagatov's application has pointed out that Frank Lillis sat on the Board of Zoning Appeals, which had approved a large, over 10,000-square-foot home across the street from his residence. That home, across the street from 315 Windover Ave., N.W., is much larger than the home proposed for 315 Windover.

"The vote went the way it was supposed to go,” said Michael Covel after the Council's decision. Covel is one of the applicant's who has the lawsuit with the town. “The Review made the decision, the Council upheld it."

The Town Council and Planning Commission had disapproved Covel's application because of claims that the properties, if they would be removed from the historic district, would be made over for townhouses and not single-family homes. Both bodies had also voted against Covel and the other applicants because of the over 100 residents who testified against their removal.