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Village Green Proposed for Historic District

Quick — where's the center of Centreville? For that matter, where's its Historic District?

Not many residents know the answer to either question. But a proposal to create a village green may well change all that. And nearly three dozen people heard details of the idea at a town meeting Saturday, at St. John's Episcopal Church in Centreville's Historic District.

"These kind of spaces, like New York's Central Park, often define the community," said architect Bill Robson who designed a possible Centreville village green. "And right now, our definition of community is kind of nebulous."

THE HISTORIC DISTRICT is off Route 29 and Braddock Road, behind the Second Time Around store, and the site under consideration is seven acres owned by Fairfax County along Mount Gilead and Braddock roads. Actually, a village green is something Robson, of Robson Group Architects of Chantilly, and Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) have discussed for years.

"We started talking about how nice it would be to have a central place for the heart of the community," said Robson. Otherwise, he asked, "How do you define Centreville and where it is?"

In years gone by, places such as Utterback's Store — along Braddock Road in the Historic District in the 1800s — and later Hunter Hardware and Payne's Restaurant, became gathering spots for local residents. With a village green, said Robson, "We could create a public space to give back some of that social fabric we once had."

As things stand now, he said, Centreville doesn't have such a place for meetings and events, but the Historic District would fill the bill nicely. "The county has no designated use for this land, so this is our opportunity to create a community space," said Robson. "It could be used, for example, for farmers markets, summer concerts, arts and crafts shows and Centreville Day."

Dennis Hogge owns two historic homes there, plus three acres fronting on Mount Gilead and Braddock roads, across from the historic Mount Gilead home. But he said the Historic District isn't marked or delineated: "[It] needs to be revitalized and enlarged, and Bill Robson's green-space plan is the beginning of that."

"If you ask most Centreville residents, they don't even know Centreville has a Historic District," said Robson. "And when I asked 10 people, only one knew that one existed — but she thought it was at the Newgate Shopping Center [at Routes 28/29]."

The late Rick Korink chaired the Centreville Study Group that put the Historic District into the county's Comprehensive Plan in 1985. The Supervisors later bought the seven-acre, Mount Gilead site to preserve it.

Now, Robson's designed a village-green concept that he and Frey determined would best use the space. And Saturday, Frey, Hogge and Marvin Powell, interim director of the Centreville Community Foundation, said Centreville has a heritage that many people don't know about, so the village green should tie into Centreville's past.

"So I took the gridiron plan proposed in the late 1700s/early 1800s, when Centreville was a bustling community, and superimposed it on top of the county's land," explained Robson. "And two of the other original blocks on that grid are [also] on the county's land, so the streets designated there would now become brick-paved, pedestrian ways, with no cars allowed on them."

NOT ONLY would it provide internal organization to the village green area that would be lined with trees and landscaping, but the brick walkways would also extend out into the rest of the Historic District so, eventually, the whole district could be tied together cohesively.

In addition, along these walkways would be interpretive, historic signage identifying the buildings and historic areas still existing — such as Havener House, the Old Stone Church, St. John's Episcopal Church, Mount Gilead and Civil War trenches. The seven acres would contain, as well, 40 parking spaces and two shuttle drop-off sites for large events like a Centreville Day celebration.

"There's a covered bandstand being proposed in the middle of the green," said Robson. "Mount Gilead is in one corner of the green."

He said the three goals of the village green concept are:

* To celebrate and preserve this piece of Centreville's heritage and raise community awareness of the Historic District;

* To create a sense of place for Centreville as a whole; and

* To set the tone for the type of development envisioned for the Historic District — pedestrian-oriented and sensitive to the area's historic nature.

"So we're looking at period architecture to complement the historic structures that still stand," said Robson. "The tricky part is that you probably span 200 years of architectural style."

By creating this village green, he added, "The hope would be that, as properties continue to develop around it, they'd be in keeping with this architectural style and scale." He also noted that this isn't necessarily the plan that will be adopted, but simply a start.

First, though, the county has to convey the property to the Park Authority — which doesn't want to assume ownership of it until funds are found to maintain and support it.

"We'd certainly be supportive of any efforts to protect the Historic District," said Kirk Holley, the Park Authority's manager of Park Planning. "We'd hope the community could form some sort of public/private partnership for the fund-raising and managing of this property." He also said there'd be a "comprehensive, public-involvement process for the development of this site."

HOGGE CALLED the village green "a great idea whose time has come," and Frey agreed. "I have always supported the concept of a village green as a gathering place for community events," said Frey. "The Historic District is the perfect spot for that and a logical place for the community to celebrate community life. It's where Centreville started."

He also emphasized that the county must complete an archaeological survey of the land before it can adopt an ultimate master plan. "We want to protect the important elements of the property," said Frey. "For example, there was a tannery there, and we want to put a marker showing where it was."

And since the county's also looking at land uses in the Historic District as a whole, he said, "We need to make sure where its boundaries are and revisit the Leland Road extension as part of the Comprehensive Plan. Leland would carry traffic adjacent to the district, and Frey wants to be certain it could handle the additional vehicles that nearby development would bring.