Editorial: A historic step forward for City Hall

It’s been a while since we covered the once-onerous historic preservation regulations Parker-Gray residents faced before undertaking home repairs or improvement projects. So we are happy to report that City Hall is making life easier for west Old Town homeowners.
We learned about the burden the regulations — enforced by the board of architectural review — put on residents in 2011. At that time, we were introduced to Bradley King, a homeowner who thought he was improving his neighborhood’s aesthetics by tearing down a rusty fence.
Unfortunately, doing so ran afoul of the city’s byzantine guidelines. The board hauled King in for a review, ultimately absolving him, but he still faced a $250 appearance fee. For his troubles, he received a nine-page report detailing the historic nature of his fence.
There have been other horror stories, but King’s — his home, a common-looking row house, was built in 1955 — stood out as a perfect example of historic preservation run amok.
Need another example? William Cromley, owner of the former Carver Nursery School along North Fayette Street, sought the board’s permission for expanding the building before selling the property. Doing so, he said earlier this year, would ease the minds of prospective buyers who feared going before the board.
That the board and regulations have become synonymous with headaches is an assertion we doubt even city staff would contest.
Indeed, it seems City Hall understood exactly that when preservation staff teamed up with residents to find commonsense compromises and streamline the process for board approval. Earlier this month, the planning commission signed off on the changes, sending them before city council for final adoption.
And we hope our top elected officials will do so at their earliest opportunity.
The details of the overhaul are too many to mention here, but they represent a big step forward for homeowners and City Hall. Going forward, homeowners will have an easy-to-understand guide, which spells out what level of approval they need for a house project. And they’ll know from the beginning whether they need to use historically appropriate materials or whatever they can get cheap at a hardware store.
For easing regulations in the Parker-Gray Historic District, making the retained rules more understandable and working with residents to reach consensus, we give City Hall two big thumbs up. This effort, even more so than the What’s Next Alexandria initiative, shows officials are learning how to better respond to resident concerns.
“Where the press is free and every man is able to read, all is safe.”

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