Historic Districts Divide Residents

Historic Districts Divide Residents

National Register of Historic Places staff weigh in with facts.

Buildings in the historic districts of the Town of Herndon’s downtown.

Buildings in the historic districts of the Town of Herndon’s downtown. Photo by Mercia Hobson.

    2023 HERNDON DISTRICT OVERLAY (HDO) Map depicts in pink nearly the same contributing properties as the Town of Herndon 1987 Historic Architectural Survey albeit removing some properties; and nearly the same noncontributing properties, shown in blue. However, the 2023 Overlay Map incorporates additional noncontributing properties, such as the 2005-built Fortnightly Square townhomes on the other side of the W&OD Trail, the thick diagonal green bar.The fate of the federal Herndon Historic District, a 115-acre area listed in 1991 on the National Register of Historic Places, and the local Historic District Overlay (HDO) is generating public and councilmember comments leading up to the Herndon Town Council’s Strategic Planning Meeting on Thursday, July 13.

"This is going to the strategic initiatives discussions," Councilmember Cesar del Aguila said on Thursday, July 6.

The National Register of Historic Places describes the Herndon Historic District as "the original commercial core of the town as well as the original older neighborhoods that radiate from it." One hundred seventy-five significant late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century buildings, one site, and one structure are in its 115-acre area. In 1991, the Register generally defined the district’s boundaries as those of newer buildings.

The purpose and intent of the Historic District Overlay are “to promote and protect the unique character of the town through the identification, preservation, and enhancement of buildings, structures, settings, neighborhoods, places, and features with historical architectural significance to the town.”

Councilmember del Aguila outlined several flaws in the HDO, starting with boundary lines. He and his Fortnightly Square townhome neighbors must go through the town’s Historic District Review Board. The district's boundary includes their street. “I think just about 100 percent of (my) neighbors want out of the historic district; it makes no sense for us to be in there." The homes were constructed in 2005 before the district was formed.

Meanwhile, others are preparing to protect the town’s charm and tourism, and owners of contributing historic properties are protecting their eligibility for Federal and State tax credits. Additionally, owners of registered properties have other benefits. They may donate historic preservation easements to reduce real estate taxes, receive technical assistance from department staff for maintenance and rehabilitation projects, and purchase plaques that mark the property’s significance.

Jennifer Boysko shared her thoughts with the Town Council in a letter to the Town Clerk as a private Herndon resident. "We have one of the historic downtown barns on our property ... I understand that the council may be considering a change in the Historic District  guidelines and zoning. I would not be supportive of changes. Herndon’s charm, emphasis on the preservation of contributing structures, and thoughtful consideration in new development make Herndon unique in our region."

James Cudlip, president of the Herndon Historical Society, wrote on behalf of the Board of Directors. According to Cudlip, thousands of people visit the Society's museum and caboose, take the guided downtown walking tour, and ask about the town's historic assets each year. ”Our Historic District makes the Town of Herndon a destination,” Cudlip said.

The town council’s strategic meeting is on July 13 at 6 p.m. at the Herndon Police Department. The public can submit comments to the town clerk but not speak at the meeting. Kristi Dooley, True Purpose Leadership Executive Coach and Consultant, and Juliette Rouge, George Mason University Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution will moderate.

Federal and Local Districts

A flyer obtained by the Connection Newspapers was distributed in some historic district neighborhoods, asking homeowners of contributing structures questions such as: Do they support a district opt-in, opt-out option? Homeowners were requested to email comments to the town clerk at town.clerk@herndon-va.gov

James Gabbert of the National Register of Historic Places clarified several points related to the federal and local districts on Thursday, July 6, 2023. The conversation is lightly edited for space and clarity.

Q: Does the National Register restrict private property owners?

A: No. The National Register has no purview over that and places zero restrictions on private property owners. The National Register aids federal planning. The local ordinance governs property owners in the overlay district.

Q: Which government agency changes boundaries?

A: The town decides if the Herndon Overlay District’s boundaries can be changed. It's their district;  it’s their ordinance.

Q: What about the Herndon Historic District boundaries listed on the NRHP?

A: The National Register District can only be changed if it meets one of the conditions in federal regulation. The regulations governing the National Register of Historic Places Program, which the Herndon Historic District is a part of, are known as 36-CFR, Code of Federal Regulation, Part 60. 

Q: What are the reasons for NRHP changing a boundary?

A: There are professional errors in the initial nomination; historic integrity; recognition of additional significance; and additional research documenting that larger or smaller areas should be listed. 

Q: Can properties within an NRHP district opt out of the federal district?

A: No. We don’t do what we call donut holes. We might remove areas along the edges. Only Virginia’s State Historic Preservation Office, the DHR, the Department of Historic Resources, and the nominating authority are the ones who do that. We act on what is presented to us. 

Q: Consider local review boards.

A: Some review boards overinterpret their mandate. Look at the town's guidelines and powers. There are thousands of these local districts across the country, and they vary widely in their restrictions and requirements.

Q: Does non-historic siding impact a structure listed on the NRHP?

A: No. We have a number of individually listed properties that have non-historic siding on them, aluminum, vinyl, or Hardy. We have many, many historic districts where vinyl siding is common. We may not look closely at each individual resource if the changes don't really affect the continuity and sense of feeling in that historic district, which comprises a single cohesive identity.

Q: What is cumulative effect?

A: Each individual loss of a structure within a property on the NRHP might add up to an adverse impact, and the cumulative effect of alterations and changes to the district may lead to a district being removed by a nominating authority.

Q: What about moving a property?

A: What it depends on is the context in which it is moved. However, an Individually eligible property or a listed property that is moved without prior approval gets automatically removed from the National Register. It can be renominated. 


Q: What types of federal funding could impact the Herndon Historic District and limit action, possibly the demolition of structures?

A: If the town or state were using federal funds, that might impact historic property. Funds include HUD, Housing and Urban Development, such as Community Development Block Grants. There is a review process between the Virginia Department of Historic Resources State Historic Preservation to determine the impact.

Note: The Town of Herndon is receiving a Community Development Block Grant.