Falls Church’s Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) approved a motion at its meeting Tuesday night stating that, in its view, the historic “Woodlands House” at 610 Fulton St. was demolished “without the required permit.” The historic home had been the subject of efforts of preservationists for years to avert demolition and to undergo a restoration. However, the sudden demolition of the home came as a surprise to all such parties when it happened last week.
At its meeting Tuesday, the HARB reviewed the status of building permits, met with property owners, heard from the public and legal counsel before passing its motion. The motion made no reference to a penalty, other than to say, “the owner should be required to come back before the board to obtain the necessary permit.”
Meanwhile, according to a statement issued by the City of Falls Church late yesterday, “a stop work order remains in effect for the property.”
The heads of two Falls Church historic groups appeared before the F.C. Planning Commission Monday to decry the demolition of the historic home at 610 Fulton Ave. The demolition was done, they claimed, without a permit and against the will of the seller of the property. Calls for strengthening the City’s ability to enforce oversight of historic property issues came from those petitioning the commission and commissioners themselves.
Keith Thurston of the Historic Falls Church, Inc., and Ron Anzalone, chair of the City’s Historical Commission spoke about the lack of enforcement. “There was no approval for a demolition, no permit. It was a significant violation,” he said, noting that architects touring the late 1890s home found it to be “structurally sound.” Anzalone said, “We must find a way to take action to see that this is not repeated.”
In a letter to the News-Press this week (published elsewhere in this edition), Thurston wrote, that the effort to preserve the Woodlands House had been underway “over the past several years.” When it went down last week, however, he wrote, “They did not follow the demolition approval process, there was no demolition permit issued, and the house is gone. The builder is attempting to use a fig leaf that maintaining a portion of one wall makes the current state an alteration and not a demolition. The house was demolished in every way the historic preservation ordinances seek to prevent, both in spirit and letter of the law.”
Planning Commissioner Melissa Teates said, “I am really shocked by this. We are at odds with out own code. We have a code and no will to enforce it.” She added, “I’ve seen the City Council twice take up strengthening preserving historic properties, and twice they took it down.”
“This is a very upsetting situation,” said commissioner Lindy Hockenberry, noting that a lot of time had been spent at City Hall addressing this property. “I am sick about it, I really am,” she said.
“This may be the most drastic situation we’ve seen,” Thurston, a former chair of the Planning Commission, said. “The Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) is only advisory, but it needs to be a mandatory process.” The commissioners Monday night indicated they may initiate a request to the City Council for just such a new approach.
In his letter, Thurston wrote, “The community and City had invested substantial energy in ensuring the preservation of this beautiful historic house. About five years prior, the City’s HARB took action through the city attorney and forced the former owner to replace the roof of the house to protect the historic asset. The Planning Commission worked tirelessly with the previous developer to ensure the preservation of the historic house during a subdivision process that allowed new houses to be built on either side of the historic house. Obviously, the ordinances and process to protect historic structures did not work.