Question of Historic Preservation

Question of Historic Preservation

Groups oppose building on potentially historic site.

During the Civil War, Centreville was the host to both Union and Confederate forces. Earthen ramparts can still be found in some areas, and other artifacts may sit below the surface.

“There is still enough left in the Centreville area to make it a first class tourist attraction,” said John McAnaw of the Bull Run Civil War Round Table during the Jan. 18 meeting of the Fairfax County Planning Commission.

But even the potential for historic finds does not trump property rights in modern-day Virginia. Developer NVP has proposed putting nine houses on about 3.6-acres on Wharton Road. There is presently one house on the property.

The proposal set up a clash between the developer, who owns the property, and members of several different historic societies, who are hoping to preserve a site that they say may contain Civil War relics left by soldiers.

“We ask that this application be denied,” said Claudette Ward of the Historic Centreville Society.

Further complicating the development is the ongoing study which is likely to expand the Centreville Historic District. Although the final report about the district is a long way off, the property on Wharton Road is likely to be included in it, said Tracy Strunk of the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning.

No matter what historic artifacts might be on the property, the owner can still develop. Commissioner Janet Hall (Mason) sympathized with the preservation groups noting how valuable it can be for people to visit historic sites. However, she said, “the landowner still doesn’t lose their rights to the property.”

The only possible exception to this would be if a cemetery were found on the property. According to state law, construction activities must then stop pending further review.

Commissioner Ronald Koch (Sully) offered a compromise position, asking the developer to donate any large artifacts it might find during construction. “I’m not talking about buttons or bullets,” Koch said. Koch gave examples such as rifles or swords as things they might donate.

Bob Lawrence, attorney for the developer, said he would discuss that possibility with his client. Lawrence also noted that the developer is committing to a two-phase archeological survey, with the potential for a third phase if necessary.

“If there’s anything on that site … then that will come up in the archeological survey,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said his client is also willing to submit its plan for review by the Architectural Review Board. Review by the board would be mandatory if the development was inside the district. Lawrence’s client is voluntarily submitting to them in case the area is included. “The restrictions if this were an historical district are already in place,” Hall said.

Koch also sympathized with the preservation groups. “I know that your concerns are heartfelt,” he said. But he noted that if the Comprehensive Plan allows the land to be developed, then the county must allow it.

“We can’t just arbitrarily say, ‘no, you can’t do this plan,’” Koch said. “I don’t think its right to say, ‘well, we fooled you.’”

Doug Garrell of the nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church asked for the decision to be deferred. The church, Garrell said, was constructed in such a way that it might be damaged if the developer were to blast any rock during the development. The delay would allow the church and developer to draft proffers which would protect the church during construction.

The Commission deferred its decision to Feb. 1.