Editor: The Sun Gazette reported that Arlington leaders refused on Dec. 12 to intervene to save the historic Rouse estate from demolition and conversion to yet another project of ugly multi-million-dollar mansions.
County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac indicated that the county government cannot refuse to issue a demolition permit because a state court might later compel the county to issue it. “Our hands are pretty much tied,” County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said.
This is malarkey and nonsense, and totally unsupported by Virginia law and the county ordinance on historic preservation.
Under the county government’s historic preservation ordinance, the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) can recommend an immediate designation and consideration of historic protection of a threatened property like the Rouse estate if it threatened by demolition (see Section 11.3.4, “Establishment of Historic Districts, in the county zoning ordinance). The County Board then can immediately designate and protect the Rouse estate from demolition.
Apparently neither MacIsaac nor Garvey know county law nor understand the Virginia historic-preservation law on which our ordinance is based.
Under Virginia law, the owner of a historic property must first offer a property for sale at its current-use value for one year before demolition and sell the property to anyone who will agree to maintain it. This (de facto) prevents any designated property from demolition, based on Arlington’s own experience in the historic Maywood district where no houses have been demolished in the past 40 years. So, if the county designates the Rouse estate as historic, it will NOT be demolished.
Finally, McIsaac and Garvey forget the authority a local government has to purchase – by eminent-domain powers if necessary – a property for a public purpose, like parkland. The county government can begin condemnation proceedings to purchase the Rouse property to be used as a public park, with nine acres available to Arlington residents sorely in need of more parks, green space and places to recreate.
Arlington’s population is over 225,000 and growing; Ballston area is about one mile away from the Rouse property, and has virtually no parks at all.
We need more parkland in Arlington, and we need to keep some of our rich history. How about Garvey and the County Board think about this opportunity to get nine acres of open land, an historic house (and a rich Civil War experience, as well) for a relatively cheap price?
We are a rich community, and even in this pandemic era, we can afford to create a needed new park to serve our growing population.
John Reeder, Arlington
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