0
Votes

'Leave Us Out of Historic District'

Centre Square businesses say no to designation.

A proposal is going forward to enlarge Centreville's Historic District, off Route 29 and Braddock Road, to serve as a community attraction while respecting, honoring and promoting Centreville's heritage.

AND AMONG the parcels Fairfax County staff recommends for inclusion is a one-acre or so area of office condos, off Braddock, called Centre Square. And Don Bradsher, president of the condo association, says they definitely don't want to be part of the district.

"These condos were built in 1985, before the district was created [in 1986], and they're not historic buildings," he said. "If we're in the Historic Overlay District, whatever we do that requires a building permit — like a new roof — would have us going before the ARB [Architectural Review Board], and there's no telling what they'd say or do."

"But we predate the district, and it's not fair to put this on us now," continued Bradsher. "It's like changing the rules in the middle of the game."

The area has 16 condos containing 12-14 small businesses, such as doctors, accountants, a physical therapist, insurance firms and alarm sales.

And although a 40-person, citizen-and-staff task force has been working on the plan to enlarge the Historic District for more than two years — and local papers have widely publicized its meeting dates, progress and recommendations — somehow, Bradsher didn't know about it or its work. And whenever he received something in the mail about the expansion proposal, he pretty much ignored it.

"We've gotten various notices that something was afoot," said Bradsher. "But it didn't occur to us that our buildings would be included since we're not historic. The first formal notice from the county was dated Dec. 21, 2006, notifying us of the Planning Commission public hearing on Jan. 18."

That got his attention, and he was one of 25 speakers at that meeting urging the commissioners to vote either yea or nay on the issue. Ultimately, Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch deferred decision until next Thursday, Feb. 1. "There were many speakers and we need to go over all the correspondence we received," he said.

But he disagrees with Bradsher that, just because the Centre Square condos don't have historically significant architecture, they shouldn't be part of the Historic District. "Neither are a lot of the other buildings included in the study," said Koch. "But these ones are the gateway to the Historic District and are in close proximity to the actual, historic buildings, including the Old Stone Church."

DESIGNATING them as part of the district, he explained, would ensure that, "If these businesses ever wanted to redevelop, they'd have to go to the ARB and make sure their designs are compatible with the Historic District. They're not going to be forced to change what they're doing now. The only way it'll affect them is if they knock down their buildings and try to build something else."

Still, Bradsher is worried. "If we wanted to change the grade of our parking lot, the ARB could ask us to first look for artifacts underneath it, at our cost," he said. "We don't have to deal with them now. These overlay districts serve a laudable purpose, but I don't think they were intended for nonhistoric, nonresidential, building complexes like ours."

Furthermore, said Bradsher, "If someone wants to buy our condos, they'd put them at the bottom of the list if they have an additional regulatory burden on them. So what you can do with the property becomes uncertain, and that reduces its value. It would be an extra layer of oversight telling [developers] what building materials and colors they have to use."

He said it's not the Centre Square businesses' fault that a developer "beat the county to the property" and built them "before they could see if there's anything of value underneath. And now they want to restrict the future use of our property, and that's not fair."

If a buyer knew he'd have to do an archaeological dig before being able to build, said Bradsher, "it would impact the amount of money we'd get for our property because the developer would lop off the price we'd get. I do care about the history and the artifacts, but we were here before the Historic Overlay District."

But Koch said the designation wouldn't affect the business owners' equity. "I don't think their investments will be affected one iota," he said. "There's a tremendous need for that small-office space that they provide. And if the Historic District does well, I think it'll only improve their investment."

He also noted that Dennis Hogge, who owns property in the Historic District, is all for the expansion, and two engineers are relocating their business there and are delighted about it. "Some people look at it as a plus to be in a historic district," said Koch.

He said he doesn't believe that complying with ARB recommendations is too much of a price to pay "to respect the sensitive nature of the Historic District. It's not a burden; the ARB has professionals who are reasonable and will work with applicants."

"FOR EXAMPLE, [the Planning Commission] just approved a rezoning for Sully East — an age-restricted development of multifamily units and attached 'villas,'" said Koch. "Because part of the residential units are in the Sully Historic Site Overlay District, the developer had to go to the ARB, and he was satisfied with the outcome."

Besides, he added, "This [expansion study] has been going on for two years, and a lot of people have worked long and hard on it. The citizens want to create [an enlarged] Historic District, and it'll affect people who have land in and around it. We're not saying the buildings are historic; we're saying the land [is].

And even if it wasn't designated as such, to start with, said Koch, "The historical area of Centreville was there first. We can't go back and change what they did in the '80s, but we can do something to be sensitive to the Historic District in the future."

According to county staff, he said, the condo association won't have to go to the ARB as long as the business owners don't drastically change their buildings. For a new roof, for instance, said Koch, the ARB wouldn't tell owners what type of building material to use.

But if there are no standards, he asked, "How do you insure the viability of the Historic District? There are people all over the county who live in historic districts and have to abide by the rules."

Bradsher, however, is adamant about his position, saying, "Leave us out; all we're asking is to be excluded." He said their customers know where they are and the businesses would get no benefit from being in the Historic District. Furthermore, he said, "It's a real slap in the face to a group of businessmen and women who've paid a fair amount of taxes to the county over the years."

But At-Large Planning Commissioner Jim Hart disagrees. "Our experience, historically, is that the ARB is reasonable and, at this point, I don't think it's an undue burden on anybody."

"Those old buildings are right next to where the Eagle Tavern used to be," he continued. "And the WFCCA [West Fairfax County Citizens Association] nominated [their land parcel] in the last APR [Area Plans Review] cycle for inclusion in the Historic District."

THAT GROUP of buildings, said Hart, is "right on ground zero — right on Braddock Road — and absolutely is on historic land. And some of them may redevelop in the future; their use isn't permanent. We want to make sure that, where appropriate, redevelopment of buildings within the Historic District — or in proximity to the historic structures — preserves and respects the historic context of this district."

Any new buildings, said Hart, should be in keeping with the historic buildings' scale and materials and compatible to their uses. For example, he said, "You don't want a carwash next to the Old Stone Church or a drive-through, fast-food restaurant next to Mount Gilead." And as for property values, he said, "They generally go up in a historic district."