Clarifying Historic Nomination

Clarifying Historic Nomination

A month after Board of Supervisors approved historic registry nomination, questions remain over what is included.

Call it the motion that won't go away.

At the Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, Nov. 21, Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) attempted to clarify the details of the nomination to add the former Lorton prison site to the National Registry of Historic Places.

"I felt it was up to me to clarify what the nomination meant," said Bulova.

During the Oct. 17 board meeting, Supervisor Gerald Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) had made a motion to accept the historic nomination in phases, allowing the Board and a community-led task force to determine which attributes of the Reform-era prison facility should be included in the historic district. When his motion failed to receive a second, Bulova moved to approve the nomination as written. Her motion was passed by all members of the board that were present with the exception of Supervisor Hyland.

"My interest was in historic preservation," Bulova said. "I felt the Lorton prison site is something of interest to every member of the board and this was an opportunity to provide interesting things to the area."

After the initial nomination was approved, many residents of the community were concerned that items like barbed wire fences, prison walls and chain link fences would not only be included in the nomination, but that a historic distinction would prevent those items and other buildings from being removed from the site.

AN ADAPTIVE reuse committee, established by the Board of Supervisors to plan the future of the Lorton/Laurel Hill area, had requested the nomination be deferred until early 2006 to make sure that only historically relevant structures were protected. Several residents who spoke at the Oct. 17 meeting expressed concern that a historic registration of the prison site would restrict which buildings could be reused and lamented the potential loss of interest by developers to work on the site.

"No one felt that we were voting to save anything more than we agreed to in the Memorandum of Agreement and the task force recommendation," Bulova said.

The Memorandum of Agreement, commonly referred to as the MOA, was the document adopted by Fairfax County and the federal government for the use of the Lorton prison site once the county purchased the prison from the federal government in 1999. It outlines the ways in which the area can be redeveloped and calls for a mix of residential, commercial and open space on the former prison campus.

After the Oct. 17 meeting, all of the supervisors had been contacted by their task force representatives about the motion.

"Some people thought we had made every single brick in those buildings sacred because we approved the whole nomination," Bulova said. "We never meant to add a whole lot more structures than were included in the MOA."

Calling the community concern "a lot of misunderstandings," Bulova wanted to "set the record straight" with her clarifying motion at the board's Nov. 21 meeting. "Hopefully, this will calm everyone's fears. We took an action and applied for the historic registration, and we're all excited about that."

The nomination was "not intended to add a lot more over and above what the MOA and task force recommendations already had protected," she said.

Bulova's action "put everything together in a nice, neat little package," said Hyland.

"All of the information in her motion was there before," he said. "This was the board's attempt to give the people better information on the background of the site and what is applicable on the site. It shows the board was listening to the folks when they were raising questions."

"Hopefully, this is a positive step toward moving forward with the application process" for the historic registry, said Hyland.

After the nomination's approval, some members of the community questioned whether the vote was orchestrated, he said. "Even if Supervisor [Elaine] McConnell (R-Springfield) and [Supervisor Michael] Frey (R-Sully) had been at the meeting that day, I wouldn't have had enough support to get my motion passed," Hyland said.

The Board of Supervisors most likely intended to "make sure everyone was working off the same baseline" when it came to the redevelopment of the Laurel Hill site, said Bob Cosgriff.

A member of the three-person Laurel Hill Project Citizen Advisory Committee appointed by members of the Board of Supervisors in February 2005, Cosgriff said the MOA has always been the main guiding document for the future of Laurel Hill since the county took possession of the property.

"The county's Comprehensive Plan and the out-of-turn plan amendment, along with the requests for proposals that will be going out to developers soon, will help shape what the area looks like, but the MOA is the common denominator for the project," said Cosgriff.

Inclusion in the National Registry of Historic Places is an "honorific designation," he said, which "neither protects nor endangers any structure deemed historic. That's for the county to decide. The designation may help some groups, like the Lorton Arts Foundation, receive funding or secure grants, but it doesn't necessarily protect anything."

The oversight committee's main purpose is to "make sure the redevelopment process is transparent to the residents of the Laurel Hill area," Cosgriff said. "There's a lot of emotion on all sides of this issue."

Approving Bulova's motion allowed the county government to take an "extremely important step" in establishing the guidelines for the redevelopment of the Lorton area, said Tim Sargent, oversight committee chairman.

"The people who respond to the request for proposals will need to know the guidelines by which their proposals will be considered," he said. Naming the MOA as the presiding document is "an important step to making sure those guidelines are consistent."