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Residents Call for Neighborhood Historic Preservation

County historic plan to be adopted in fall.

At an April 27 public forum, Arlington resident Bill Gearhart told county officials that he could not see how encouraging a "little old lady" to preserve her building would preserve her neighborhood.

GEARHART’S CALL to focus on neighborhoods rather than building preservation was echoed by several participants. The forum was on a draft of the "Policy Framework for Historic Preservation in Arlington."

In December 2000 the Arlington County Board endorsed drafting a county historic preservation plan. By Fiscal Year 2003, the county had allocated funds for its creation and hired the consultant Mary Means and Associates Inc.

The county is creating the plans in two parts. It is first creating the policy framework plan that addresses goals and some possible ways of meeting them. Lagging a bit behind this, it is also preparing an implementation plan to closely inform county policies.

"How soon can we get something in place before we lose more and more houses," asked Lynn Alsmeyer-Johnson. "We’re losing houses in my neighborhood left and right."

Regarding the little old ladies Gearhart mentioned, "when push comes to shove they will sell to the top dollar," said Larry Mayer. He said he admired the efforts of the County historical officials but that he was afraid that ultimately all that will be left will be the archives.

Arlington’s historic assets include neighborhoods where no one building is worth saving but the neighborhood as a whole is worth saving, Gearhart said.

He suggested that the county consider a "limited overlay," a government designation that might help preserve some historic neighborhoods. As drafted now the plan suggests several neighborhood approaches to historic preservation but does not mention the term "overlay."

KEVIN VINCENT, chairman of the Arlington County Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board, defended the current draft of the plan. "We’re not here just to preserve buildings. A key element is to preserve the story of Arlington."

"We’re trying to get the strongest thing passed," said Michael Leventhal, Arlington historical preservation coordinator. "We need to have something to start from ... We will always be competing for limited funds ... We are not an oil-rich kingdom."

Adopting the two parts of the historic preservation plan will pave the way for historic preservation concerns to enter policy decisions and zoning, Leventhal told those who attended the meeting.

But despite this Leventhal was also cautious. "It’s important to realize there’s not going to be some sort of religious conversion of all the planners and all the economic development staff (to preservationism)."

The current policy framework draft has four goals. Leventhal said officials have decided one of the goals will be eliminated because it is inappropriate for government bodies.

The remaining goals are to:

o enhance public understanding of Arlington’s history and culture;

o better integrate preservation values into county planning, land use, and other practices;

o protect historic neighborhoods, corridors, commercial centers, and civic buildings.

Several government bodies have already reviewed and commented on the policy framework draft. In mid- or late summer the planning commission will vote on a revised version of the current draft, Leventhal said. In September or October it will go to the county board, which could also revise it.

The consultant has already submitted a draft of the implementation plan. An Arlington County Planning Commission committee is already commenting on it, Vincent said.

A copy of the policy framework draft can be accessed at http://www.arlingtonva.us/Departments/CPHD/ons/CPHDOnsHistoricPreservation.aspx.