Among many impacts of the coronavirus crisis is lessened probability that Arlington will shell out money for land acquisitions.
For weeks now, speculation has percolated that one of the county’s largest private properties, the nine-acre historic Febrey-Lothop home at Wilson Blvd. and N. McKinley St., is being sold.
Long coveted by developers and planners for schools and parks, the home built just after the Civil War has stirred interest since the death in 2017 of owner Randy Rouse, the homebuilder and equestrian. But his widow still lives in the home. And this week, it appears that some speculation on marketing the house was premature, the chances that the county could purchase it almost nil.
“Trustees have not actively marketed the property,” reads the statement given me April 27 by CPA Sid Simmonds, representing the Rouse trust. “In spite of not marketing the property, we received a number of unsolicited offers. The trustees had a fiduciary duty to review each offer. We retained a consultant to assist us in reviewing the offers and provide analysis and recommendations. We did not retain an agent to market the property. Most offers were filed away to revisit if the trustees decided to actively market the property. However, the trustees did receive one unsolicited offer that we felt must be pursued. The offer was from a reputable party, but it includes a confidentiality requirement and we cannot provide further information.”
This columnist has a special fondness for the house built by 19th-century school superintendent John Febrey. It was purchased in 1893 by Alvin Lothrop of department store fame. After Rouse, who hosted me there, bought it in 1950 and married TV actress Audrey Meadows, locals called it the “Audrey Meadows house.”
This year’s push for the county to buy Rouse’s property was initiated by civic activist Suzanne Sundburg. In emails, she complained that the county resisted because the land is “not suitable” for a school and because of its proximity to Upton Hill Regional Park, even though it “has a beautiful, open, flat lawn space that could be perfect both for passive and active recreation,” she wrote.
The proposal to acquire it was echoed by Peter Rousselot and the nonprofit Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, which filed a Freedom of Information Act request for county deliberations. The Arlington Historical Society is paying attention, and preservationist Tom Dickinson filed an application for Local Historic District Designation.
The Dominion Hills Civic Association’s longtime position is that it “would prefer that the property be preserved as open space for parks,” said acting president Brian Hannigan. “But if that is not possible and the owners pursue development, we will insist that current R-6 single-family zoning be maintained.”
Board Chair Libby Garvey recently responded to a citizen inquiry that said the property was for sale and contacted the seller’s agent, but gave up upon learning there was already a contracted buyer at a high price. But on Monday, Garvey told me that statement “took it a step too far,” due to “information flying fast during the pandemic.”
While there are valid offers, the land is not yet under contract. The “agent” suggested, and what seems more realistic given the competition from homebuilders, is that the property “is not at a price the county would want to pay right now.”
Arlington law enforcement lost memorable former Chief of Police William “Smokey” Stover, who died April 17 at 89. Stover patrolled our streets for four decades as an officer and detective, rising to the top job to serve a record tenure, 1979-96.
Longtime Arlington realtor Jim Robinson tells me the no-nonsense Stover in 1987 saltily chewed out his team because a sheriff’s deputy had pulled over the husband of Republican county board candidate Dorothy Grotos.
The driver’s GOP bumper sticker during a sheriff’s election offended the deputy, and Stover got wind.
For police, Stover enforced strict nonpartisanship. Arlington also lost longtime Cherrydale sportsman John Galt Davis, who died April 19 at 81. “Bupsy,” an in-law to the Hitt family, was a bowling pro and sporting goods salesman. Memorably, his wife reminds me, he was born in a doctors office above the Cherrydale drugstore.