Residents Oppose Demolishing 113-year-old Buildings in Herndon

Residents Oppose Demolishing 113-year-old Buildings in Herndon

Wrecking ball posed to demolish house in historic district; heritage value vs. owner rights.

Application for Demolition: the 113-year-old house and garage at 725 Elden Street, Herndon, Va.

Application for Demolition: the 113-year-old house and garage at 725 Elden Street, Herndon, Va.

At a Feb. 15, 2023, Herndon District Review Board meeting, residents opposed an application by Adams Herndon Holdings, L.L.C. for a Certificate of Appropriateness to demolish its two buildings within the property of the Historic District at 725 Elden Street. The original application was filed on Jan. 13, 2020. The review board heard the opposition's comments during a portion of the meeting for matters not on the evening’s agenda.

"There must be an alternative. This really has to stop,” says speaker Jim Cudlip, vice president of the Herndon Historical Society referring to proposed demolition of the buildings.

Board member Mathew Ossolinski questioned staff about why they hadn’t seen the application. Tamsin Hines, the town planner, said the board would not have seen the application "at this point" because it had not been formally advertised and thus not on the agenda. "However, the application is public record," she says, adding public hearings will be advertised and scheduled for board review.

On Jan. 11, 1991, the Herndon Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It includes within its 115 acres the downtown commercial district and surrounding neighborhoods in Herndon. The buildings at 725 Elden Street are classified as two of the district’s 173 "contributing resources" and described as "Residence (ca. 1890–1910), wood frame; 2 story; 3 bay: asymmetrical; vernacular Victorian; contributing garage."

The buildings are classified as contributing resources within the Herndon Historic District. The district, not 725 Elden Street, is registered in the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

Process to Demolish

Michael L. O'Reilly



On Sept. 9, 2020, eight months after January 2020’s original application for demolition was filed, Michael L. O'Reilly of The O'Reilly Law Firm, who is assisting Kathryn and Chris Adams with the application, writes to Lesa Yeatts, Herndon Town attorney, saying, "No hearing has been scheduled before the HPRB ... Given the nature of the Heritage District, we are realistic that it likely will be denied."

Faced with the probable denial and the fact that they'd have to abide by the time-consuming process of appealing the application to the Town Council for another hearing, O'Reilly advises his clients to list the property for sale "as required by 78-60.3(h)(2)." The property is rezoned to commercial. It is listed for sale on Aug. 11, 2020. Despite a price reduction from $1 million to $550,000, there is no sale. The listing expires on Dec. 31, 2021.

On Jan. 3, 2022, at the town staff's request, a new application is completed to demolish 725 Elden Street. On Nov. 21, 2022, the site construction to remove two existing structures on the property of 725 Elden Street, Town Plan # TP#2115, is approved. 

On Feb. 1, 2023, O’Reilly writes a letter to Hines saying, "Unfortunately, the Application has not progressed very far ... We are working on accommodating the other numerous staff requirements that will allow the matter to move forward."

Speakers Oppose Demolition.

Barbara Glakas is a historian of the Herndon Historical Society. "I do not support the demolition of this home," she says. Glakas quotes and then debates several statements made by O'Reilly in his Feb. 1 letter. She begins with O’Reilly’s sentence, "The building does not contribute to the character of the historic or heritage district.” Glakas says it is the second-oldest house in town. In response to O'Reilly's statement that the house has been "unoccupied for years and years," Glakas counters that it was a home for most of its history, with the Adams family living there and renting it out later.

Glakas says that O'Reilly writes that residential use is not permitted in buildings in the Central Commercial District. She believes the property could be rezoned back to residential use. Glakas reads another O’Reilly statement: "With all the work done by our Historical Society and others documenting the early days of Herndon, we would have known if this building contributed in any way." She says, "As a historian of the Herndon Historical Society, I can say that the admin did not reach out to us to discover any history about the house."

Glakas points out that according to O'Reilly, the engineer did not evaluate the load requirements of the house as a "residential building." She concludes by calling O'Reilly's claims into question that relocating the building is "neither practical nor cost-effective" and rehabbing the structure is not feasible because of the extensive work needed.

Speaker Steve Mundt says he is concerned that as he watches the development of the Historic Downtown District, he, as a homeowner, is required to maintain "the presence of the historic district," but commercial building owners are not.

"Take the time to really look at what is going on with this because I think we are about to lose a very, very valuable piece of our history. " He alludes to the successful relocation of "The Yellow House."

Board member Mathew Ossolinski inquires about The Yellow House. Glakas informs him that it was first relocated from where the funeral home now stands to the back of its property. When the Adams-Green Funeral Home needed more parking, the town, a developer, and others worked together to relocate The Yellow House for the second time to the corner of Pearl and Oak.

O'Reilly Responds to HDRB Comments 

O'Reilly stated a few days after the Feb. 15 meeting that, to his knowledge, no one lived at 725 Elden Street after the Adams' moved out. "If it was, I'm not aware ... My understanding is that it has not been occupied for a substantial period."

O'Reilly clarifies that the second structure under consideration in the Application is "a 465-square-foot storage shed.” He says, "It has no historical value. ... You could move it, but the cost of trying to do that would be prohibitive. It's four big walls with a concrete slab."

O'Reilly says when he was mayor of Herndon, The Yellow House at the back of the funeral home property was considered for demolition. O’Reilly describes working with the building's owners, the Adams, and others to relocate the structure.

"It was a terrifically difficult process. If anyone wants to ask me, I'll explain it," O’Reilly says.

"Neither the National Historic Preservation Act nor the Code of Virginia ... requires property owners, developers, or government agencies to avoid affecting or destroying historic resources." (Source: DHR | Virginia Department of Historic Resources)