Dispute About Siding in Historic District

Dispute About Siding in Historic District

In 2002, Fairfax County gave Stanley Martin permission to construct 47 luxury homes located partly in Centreville's Historic District. They're being built near Wharton Lane and Mount Gilead Road and range from 2,200-4,000 square feet.

The problem, according to Dennis Hogge who owns property in the Historic District, is that the homes will have vinyl siding, instead of siding that resembles wood. And, he said, "I think it's a dangerous precedent to allow vinyl siding in the Historic District because it lowers the bar for the existing structures and for anything new being built there."

Jim Katcham, chairman of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee, agreed. The proposal for the community, now called the Estates at Mount Gilead, came before the WFCCA before it received county approval. But Katcham said the committee members didn't know specific details about the siding.

"No one realized it would be vinyl siding," he said. "It's nice, but it doesn't have the character of brick. The Centreville Historic District wants them to use a wood-plank-looking siding, instead. We discussed it at the [April 20] WFCCA meeting and decided to write a letter to Stanley Martin, asking if they'll do this, instead of the other type of siding."

Katcham said the wooden-looking siding would be "a little more expensive, but the homes will look higher quality. We're hopeful that Stanley Martin will listen to us."

Hogge also wrote a letter, dated March 30, to Steve Alloy, president of Stanley Martin. In it, he requested that HardeePlank® siding, or something similar, be used. He recommended it because of its non-synthetic appearance and durable quality, "as well as the fact that this product has gained wide acceptance in historic districts."

He wrote that HardeePlank® closely resembles true wood siding and would be excellent to use "when new homes are introduced into historic districts, where visual compatibility and quality are so important. With quite a bit more construction anticipated in and around the Historic District, wrote Hogge, he'd like to see these first new homes built with high standards.

The houses are expected to sell for $500,000 and up and will be single-family, detached homes built in a neotraditional and Colonial style. Alloy said his company will start building them around Labor Day. He says they'll be beautiful, and he anticipates people moving into them from spring 2005 to early 2006. But he strongly disagrees with Hogge.

"Our research shows us homebuyers prefer to buy homes with vinyl, rather than HardeePlank®," he said. "You can't tell the difference from the street, and I'd argue with anyone who says otherwise. HardeePlank® is considerably more expensive, and homebuyers would rather pay for, for example, a porch or extra landscaping — things that really stand out."

Furthermore, Alloy said his company believes HardeePlank® only looks right painted, not pre-finished, for a uniform color and to hide the caulk line. "And that puts a maintenance burden on the homeowner as the paint wears, cracks, fades and chips," he said. "So we find our consumers would prefer a nonpainted exterior."

He noted that only a small percentage of the neighborhood is in the Historic District and it's surrounded by the backs of townhouses. Besides, he added, "Our architecture was approved by the county ARB [Architectural Review Board] before the rezoning was approved. So everything had been asked, answered, negotiated and debated, years ago."

"Suddenly, two years later, somebody's writing me a letter saying, 'Why don't we reopen negotiations?'" said Alloy. Once the vinyl siding was approved by the county, he said, no change was made. And, said Alloy, "The vinyl siding will be a plank-looking siding. With rear garage/front porch homes, your porch looks better with vinyl siding — and this look fits in with the Historic District."

Alloy said his company actually wanted to use more brick in those homes, but was required by the ARB to use a certain percentage of siding. "It was all part of the public presentation," he said. "There's no surprise here."

But Hogge noted that, besides himself and the WFCCA, St. John's Episcopal Church (located in the Historic District), the Centreville Community Foundation and the Historic Centreville Society all oppose the vinyl siding, as well. "My fear is that it's going to be harder to win siding battles in other projects next to the Historic District," he said.

As for Alloy's claim that, from the street, people can't tell vinyl and HardeePlank® apart, Hogge said it's not true. "Anyone can tell the difference, 10 out of 10 times, because vinyl plastic has a waviness so you can see the seams," he explained. "So it follows the contours of the exterior framing and tends not to look straight."

"I think Mr. Alloy is being disingenuous in stating that vinyl plastic siding is indistinguishable from natural siding products, such as wood or HardeePlank®, as we've suggested," he continued. "And I think that allowing him to use vinyl plastic siding on his homes is setting a really dangerous precedent for the Historic District."