The Board of Architectural Review for the Old and Historic District generally does its work quietly and without controversy. Recently though, BAR decisions and appeals of those decisions to City Council have brought the Board into the limelight.
In April, after months of hearings and deferrals, the BAR fined Boyd Walker, a local real estate developer and a spokesman for historic preservation, $25,000 for tearing down a piece of an historic structure without permission. The ice house is a small structure, located at 200 Commerce Street which was once used as an ice station from which blocks of ice were delivered to Alexandria homes and commercial establishments. Walker bought the property, along with three adjacent parcels in 2001, for a combined price of $850,000. The ice house itself is appraised at $285,000.
In November, neighbors became concerned when a construction crew took down the historic canopy over the buildings loading dock. They notified the citys code enforcement office and the BAR. Walker was called before the Board to explain his actions.
I bought the icehouse, a dilapidated, unrestored structure, used as a plumbing supply yard for 30 years, with the hope of restoring the building, which like many other people, I thought to be a hidden gem, said Walker. It sits on an unusual diagonal lot and I had my first meetings with the city about what could be done with the building and property over four years ago. I hired a contractor who removed plywood and other rotten materials and, without my approval, also removed the historic canopy over the dock.
It is not economically feasible to sell ice from the loading dock any more, so the best solution is to find a new use for the building.
Underneath the ICE sign, was the name of the company, Mutual Ice Company. One of the first things I did was to secure rights to use this name so that I would eventually be able to restore the original sign on the building. Originally I was working on plans to expand the building, but presently the plan is to just to restore the exterior appearance of the existing building, Walker said.
The Board held four separate hearings on the matter before a final vote was taken.
Four times you failed to provide appropriate notice to your neighbors about these hearings and the city had to provide that notice, Oscar Fitzgerald, a BAR member told Walker at the final hearing. You know the process and yet failed to follow it on several occasions.
Tom Hulfish, BAR Chairman, agreed. Boyd knows the process better than most people and yet he simply ignored it. This entire episode has been an embarrassment to the historic preservation statutes, Hulfish said.
In the end, the BAR fined Walker $25,000, the largest such fine ever levied by them and ordered Walker to restore the canopy to its original condition, which will cost $14,000.
In levying the fine, Fitzgerald explained his action. These after-the-fact approvals are very troubling and particularly troubling when someone who knows the process so well simply ignores it, he said at an April BAR meeting. The fine needs to send a very clear message that we simply arent going to tolerate this type of behavior.
Walker has appealed the Boards decision and City Council will hear that appeal on June 16.
The Board of Architectural Review approved the proposed design, and the only thing I am appealing is the $25,000 dollar fine as it will impair my financial ability to complete the project, Walker said. I would prefer to invest that money in the building and only have a fine imposed if for some reason I am not able to complete the work. Any fine to the Board of Architectural review is supposed to be used to promote Historic Preservation, which of course I favor. But nowhere is it designated or discussed what this fine would be used for. It could be used, if paid, to help complete improvements to the city-owned sidewalks around the building, which are not in good shape. This would be a worthwhile improvement for the neighborhood.
Walker is a candidate to fill the Council seat vacated by Andrew Macdonald.