Historic Alexandria Foundation opposes ZFH

Historic Alexandria Foundation opposes ZFH

To the editor: 

Historic Alexandria Foundation opposes the proposed amendments to the Zoning Ordinance that have been submitted to City Council for consideration because they will have an irreversible negative impact on the vast historic resources present throughout our city. We urge all citizens and members of Council to oppose their adoption. 

Historic Alexandria Foundation was formed in 1954 “to preserve, protect and restore structures and sites of historic or architectural interest in and associated with the city of Alexandria to preserve antiquities, and generally to foster and promote interest in Alexandria’s historic heritage.” 

We provide tens of thousands of dollars in grants each year to support worthy and important historical research, scholarships, and restoration work on historic properties throughout the city. Our membership includes property owners throughout the city of Alexandria. As such, we are disappointed to see that the major changes proposed to the Zoning Ordinance make no apparent effort to protect the treasured historic resources of our city. 

While the National Landmark status of the Old and Historic District and the Parker-Gray District of Alexandria is widely recognized, the historic resources of our city extend beyond the confines of those Landmark Districts. We are blessed with a panoply of nationally recognized and state designated historic places including, 

• The Town of Potomac, with 690 listed contributing properties; 

• The Rosemont Historic District, with 458 listed contributing properties; 

• The Parkfairfax Historic District, with 288 listed contributing properties; 

• The Fairlington Historic District, with 1,024 listed contributing properties; 

• The President Gerald R. Ford, Jr. House. 

In addition to these properties, the African American Heritage Resources of Alexandria Multiple Property Documentation documents the city-wide presence of important African-American heritage properties, and the fact many such properties have been inadequately identified and documented to date. An HAF-funded grant provided support for the research underlying the African American Heritage Resources of Alexandria Multiple Property Documentation application, among others. 

Consideration also needs to be given to the numerous buildings that are recognized as requiring protection on the city’s list of 100-Year-Old Buildings. HAF is proud to have provided direct financial support to the city of Alexandria’s identification and nomination of properties for the statewide and national recognition that they deserve. 

As hard as it is to recall, most of what is now recognized as the city’s most valuable housing stock was not so long ago viewed as a decaying slum slated for wide-scale demolition. Contributing to these derelict conditions was the fact that many townhouses – including those neighboring City Hall – were broken up into boarding houses with one-room “cold-water flats.” 

Thankfully, the vibrant and desirable city we now enjoy was made possible through successful historic preservation and rehabilitation of our irreplaceable historic housing stock. 

Article XI of the Constitution of Virginia (1971) specifically adopts as the public policy of the Commonwealth the conservation of our historical sites and buildings. The City Charter of Alexandria and the State repeatedly provide the city with the powers necessary to protect this heritage. 

The Virginia Zoning Code expressly requires that the city “protect against destruction of or encroachment upon historic areas,” Va. Code § 15.2-2283(v), and “to protect against …. overcrowding of land, undue density of population in relation to community facilities existing or available, obstruction of light and air, danger and congestion in travel and transportation….” Va. Code § 15.2-2283(vi). 

All of these considerations weigh against the adoption of the proposed ordinance changes before council. 

We at HAF join in the call by Art Deco Society of Washington and others to implore the city to “slow down and move more deliberately, and to examine the impact that this proposal would have on the city’s historic buildings and districts before approving them.” 

-Morgan D. Delaney president, Historic Alexandria Foundation