Vienna Planning Commission presses developer to save log cabin

Vienna Planning Commission on Nov. 14, 2018, asked the developer of a proposed two-house subdivision at 307 Cabin Road, S.E., to work with local historians about the possibility of relocating a log cabin on the site. But the Vienna Town Council subsequently approved the development plan for the parcel that likely will mean demolition. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

It’s not technically a certified historic structure, but the log cabin at 307 Cabin Road, S.E., in Vienna gave the street its name and was built by an African-American.

The Vienna Planning Commission on Nov. 14 unanimously recommended the Vienna Town Council approve plans by Signature Properties to build a two-house subdivision on the 0.52-acre property, but urged the developer to work with local history advocates to save the cabin, if possible.

Apart from the cabin issue, the application is simple and straightforward. The site would be divided evenly into a pair of 11,250-square-foot lots, each of which would have 75 feet worth of frontage on Cabin Road.

The applicant would add a standard 5-foot-wide sidewalk, 6.5-foot-wide planting strip, and curb and gutter along the frontage.  The applicant also will pay $17,500 for the town to loop an existing 6-inch-diameter water main, which now dead-ends near the property’s frontage, into the existing water main on Glyndon Street, S.E.

Some Planning Commission members wanted to delay decision on the proposed subdivision until more could be found out about the cabin, but Vienna Deputy Planning and Zoning Director Michael D’Orazio said that might jeopardize the legal timetable for a Town Council vote on the matter within 60 days of the application’s submission.

The Town Council is scheduled to review the matter Dec. 10, but the Planning Commission’s next meeting is not until Dec. 12, D’Orazio said.

Commissioner David Miller said he hoped the cabin could be saved.

“I’d hate to see those old logs thrown in the trash,” he said.

“You’re welcome to take them,” responded Fred Eisenhart, vice president of The Wormald Cos., which is affiliated with the developer.

Commission chairman Michael Gelb suggested the developer make the cabin available for possible preservation. Another log cabin, located on the Sloan family’s property in northwest Vienna, was saved after being moved from another location.

Longtime Vienna resident Gloria Runyon, representing Historic Vienna Inc., said the cabin was constructed by an African-American family. Runyon hoped local historians would have the chance to inspect the cabin and see if it can be restored.

D’Orazio said town officials were open to that possibility and the applicant concurred, with a proviso.

“We have no problem in allowing photography or having a group move the structure, so long as it does not slow our process down,” Eisenhart said.

Historic Vienna Inc. president Anne Stuntz sent the Sun Gazette  images from her parents’ seminal book on the town, “This Was Vienna,” which showed that the cabin was built around 1937 by James Ellis and Fred Drew.

The cabin is significant despite its lack of formal historical pedigree, said Commissioner Mary McCullough.

“It’s an old structure for our town,” she said. “A lot of residents in our community feel this town is changing too dramatically, too quickly, in its residential neighborhoods and on its commercial [areas].”

Vienna officials have taken other steps this year to preserve African-American history within the town. The town on Sept. 25 had an technician with a ground-penetrating-radar machine scan a planned subdivision site on Malcolm Road, N.W., to determine if any unmarked graves from the adjacent West End Cemetery were on the property.

The search turned up negative, but town officials indicated a willingness to have the cemetery scanned later so all graves there could be marked.

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