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Suing for History's Sake

Council sued over planned demolition.

Five Alexandria historic preservationists have filed a suit in Alexandria Circuit Court against the mayor and City Council to prevent the partial demolition of three 100-year-old buildings at 1520, 1522 and 1524 King St.

The five plaintiffs, all residents and property owners within the city, are contending that the Alexandria Board of Architectural Review, Old and Historic District, and subsequently City Council failed "to observe the guidelines for capsulating or demolishing established in the ordinance designating the subject building as a 100-year-old structure."

Council's ultimate approval of the BAR's decision to allow the demolition "prior to approval of a Concept Plan ... was arbitrary, contrary to law and an abuse of discretion," according to the suit filed Oct. 20.

Developer DSF Long King Street I, LLC, proposed demolishing and encapsulating the rear one third of the mid-19th century buildings to make way for luxury condominiums, according to a press release issued by plaintiffs Boyd Walker, Douglas Thurman, Georgia Kay Cannady, Pat Troy, and Lillian White.

"We are serious about preservation and we think it incredibly important to save these buildings," Walker said. He further noted that these structures may be more significant that city officials realize. The group is currently conducting its own research into the history.

"BASICALLY WE ARE challenging City Council's decision approving the demolition and we have asked the court to reverse that decision and send it back for further review," said attorney Lonnie Rich, representing the plaintiffs.

"Permitting the demolition of the rear third of a 100 -year-old building is not historic preservation. The city has referred to the section to be demolished as a "shed." It is not a shed. It is part of the house. The whole building is over 100 years old. If you preserve a part of it you preserve it all. If you don't, you don't," Rich said.

The petition alleges Alexandria Planning Commission staff instructed City Council "to disregard five of the six criteria required to be considered under the Zoning Ordinance when reviewing the appropriateness of a permit to demolish and/or capsulate."

It was this reliance "on the summary conclusions of staff and its failure to consider all of the factors" that the plaintiffs found to be "arbitrary, contrary to law, and an abuse of discretion." The staff report for the July BAR hearing "did not include any in-depth analysis of the age, historic significance or architectural importance of the buildings," according to the group's news release.

THEY ALSO CHARGED that council's decided to reschedule the BAR petition hearing from Oct. 15 to Sept. 20 was "arbitrary, contrary to law, an abuse of discretion and prejudicial to Petitioners because it prevented them from acquiring and utilizing necessary documents from the city ... in time for the appeal hearing."

In addition to the five plaintiff, "52 Alexandria property owners from across the city" appealed the BAR decision to approve the demolition, according to the plaintiff. This appeal was rejected by council on a voted of 5-2 at the Sept. 20 meeting.

The developer's proposal calls for the removal of the rear portion of the building in question "to accommodate the construction of new condominium units, a parking lot, and a public plaza," according to the suit. The front two-thirds of the existing structures would be maintained.

There was no reaction to the suit from the city attorney's office at press time. "We have not been served as of this time, so we can not offer any comments," said Mary O'Donnell, assistant city attorney.