The latest clash in the historic preservation wars produced a victory for property owners, the county board and the status quo.
Appearing before Arlington Circuit Court Judge Louise DiMatteo July 16 was an attorney for John Reeder, a longtime housing and preservation activist (and past litigant). On May 14, Reeder filed a challenge to the county board’s rejection of local historic district status that some hoped would have protected the now-demolished 160-year-old Febrey-Lothrop house on Wilson Boulevard at N. McKinley Street.
Present was activist Tom Dickinson, who in April 2020 filed the application for historic protection that bottled up a builder’s plan to replace the famous home with dozens of luxury houses. (More recently Dickinson filed to protect the 19th century Fellows-McGrath house in East Falls Church, slated as a teardown.)
With a demolition permit granted and heavy equipment on the Febrey-Lothrop site, the county board in April voted to overrule its advisory board’s recommendation that it invest in protecting the site.
The question facing the judge last week, as explained by Reeder’s attorney Paul Prados, was whether Reeder, as a member of the community (but not an impacted nearby property owner), had standing to challenge this specific board decision.
His complaint highlights, Prados said, that the zoning ordinance doesn’t specify who has a right to appeal a county board decision. You have the property owner with attendant rights, the county board in the middle as a neutral arbiter, he said, “and no one on the other side” with the community interest. Because the county board has not clarified appeal rights, the general public is “disenfranchised” unless someone like Reeder can challenge a decision.
Not so, said assistant county attorney Ryan Samuel. One must “distinguish between zoning and the courts, the separation of powers” on who can appear before the county board versus who can file in court. Samuel’s reading of the ordinance is that the normal process does provide implicit appeal rights, on the initial zoning before the board makes a decision.
Judge DiMatteo said Reeder faced “an uphill battle.” The community “is not voiceless,” she said. A community member can speak to board members and, if one doesn’t like their decision, “vote them out.” But without standing, that party can’t appeal in court. Virginia law, she said, requires an “aggrieved party.” She rejected Reeder’s claim.
“No one has rights in Virginia but property owners,” said an angry Reeder afterward. “There are no rights for the historic preservation community.” His attorney has 30 days to appeal.
Meanwhile, the Rouse trust that controls the Febrey-Lothrop property still hasn’t announced a builder, spokesman Sid Simmonds told me. He did correct a misimpression that proceeds from the sale will go specifically to Arlington charities; they will go to a “qualified charitable purpose.”
When a tree falls in Arlington, the government hears it.
On July 15, 10:30 a.m., I chanced upon the N. Ohio Street section of the John Marshall Greenway and beheld a tall oak tree splayed across the road. Traffic access from several houses was blocked, and neighbors were just discovering the problem.
I returned six hours later to see the thick tree now removed and sawed in pieces. Impressed homeowner Karen Gerstner said she had called Parks and Recreation and a crew arrived in just 30 minutes, returning the next day for cleanup. She added: “That’s why I live in Arlington.”
Update on Sam Torrey Shoe Service: Recall that Kervork Tchalekian, popular proprietor of the footwear and luggage repair shop at N. George Mason Drive and Lee Highway, gave up during the pandemic and moved to Kill Devil Hills, N.C.
This month he told me his mail-order continuation of the business, running since April (shoerepairarlingtonva.com) is “going slowly.” There’s demand for shoe “elevations,” and he figures many Arlington customers have yet to resume the commutes that wear down shoes.
But “Jo-Jo” is marketing to a new client pool at Outer Banks beaches.