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Votes

Apartments Saved

New development shunned in favor of history.

The Gunston Hall apartments will survive, at least for now. The City Council unanimously reversed the decision of the Board of Architectural Review for the Old and Historic District and denied permission to demolish the garden-style apartment building.

“It’s not about whether I think the proposed development is good or not,” said Mayor William D. Euille at Saturday’s public hearing. “It’s also not that I think Gunston Hall apartments is a particularly attractive building: it’s not. The building is clearly historically significant and every historic preservation organization in the city has come here today to support it. That’s the reason I am voting to reverse the BAR’s decision.”

The 56-unit building was built in the late 1930s in consultation with the National Park Service. “We believe that it provides an appropriate gateway to the parkway and is in keeping with the memorial character of the George Washington Memorial Parkway,” said Audrey Calhoun, who spoke on behalf of the National Park Service. “It is clear that the city consulted with the Park Service before erecting the building and that the Park Service approved its design. It is of historic significance and should not be demolished.”

GUNSTON HALL APARTMENTS were designed by Harvey Warwick. “He was well known for designing garden apartments in the 1930s and 1940s,” said Eileen Fogarty, the director of Planning and Zoning for the city. “The building was the first garden apartment building built along the parkway and was designed to house government workers during World War II. It is an all brick structure.”

The developer’s historic architect agreed about the historic nature of the building but disagreed as to its historic significance. “Not everything that is old is of historic significance,” said Ann Adams.

The developer is proposing to build luxury condominiums and townhouses on the site. “Currently there is no off street parking at Gunston Hall and the building turns its back to Washington Street and to Green Street,” said attorney Harry Hart, representing the developer and owner. “By building parking on the site, we would take 50 to 70 cars off the streets of Old Town.”

Many of the Green Street neighbors agreed. “The building is an eyesore,” said one neighbor. “We look forward to a new building that will be well maintained and will certainly increase our property values.”

NEITHER THE BAR nor council could consider the economic impact of a new development. “That is not how the BAR decision should have been made,” said Councilman Ludwig Gaines. “And yet, there were several pages of discussion about just that. They should not have considered it and neither should we.”

Gunston Hall apartments currently rent for less than most apartments in the city. “By allowing this building to remain, we do not wish to imply that we are promising that it will remain affordable housing,” Euille said. “Once the apartments are renovated and upgraded, the rents may increase significantly.”

Also, if the property cannot be sold for a reasonable price within the next 12 months, the owner may proceed to demolish the current structure without city approval. At that time, the new proposed development could go forward as a by-right project. The city will continue to work with the current owner of the property.