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Board to Consider Tightening Restrictions on Historic District Requests

The Arlington County Board will hold a public hearing next month on a plan to tighten regulations governing the study of whether new historic districts should be created.

Currently, the process to request a study on whether an area should be designated as a historic district is relatively informal. Anyone can file a designation request for any number of properties, without any background materials or forms required.

Staff said the goal of these changes would be to improve the process while still allowing the public to request a study of whether a site should be designated as a historic district.

The proposed amendments would change the timeframe required to inform a property owner of a study request, and tie such notification to the acceptance of a completed application. The amendment would create a uniform and predictable process for such requests.

Per a report by county staff, the proposed amendments would mean the following:

  • A request for local historic district designation must be made on a County application form.
  • The application form will require specific documentation, including narratives pertaining to physical descriptions and historical significance, plus photographs and bibliographical references. The application also will establish a multi-step internal review process prior to scheduling a public hearing with the HALRB.
  • For multi-property designation requests, the new amendment will limit who may apply for or request a historic preservation overlay district to: o Civic Associations, Home Owners Associations, or Condo Boards for properties within their own boundaries; or Petitioners with documented support of 25% of properties in a defined area. One property would count as one vote (so if four trustees owned a property, only one vote counts).
  • For individual properties, historic preservation overlay requests will be limited to Arlington residents or property owners.
  • The HALRB, Arlington Public Schools (APS), and the County Board retain authority to initiate studies and recommend designations as they can do now.
  • After adoption of the amendment, staff will finalize the application form. This form will be available on the County website and via paper copy in the HPP office.

The proposed changes come months after an application was filed to designate the Arlington Education Center and planetarium, next to Washington-Lee High School, as a historic district.

The designation, requested by Planning Commission member Nancy Iacomini, could have caused problems as the Ed Center was being considered as a site for new high school seats. Any renovations to help add the extra seats would have been scuttled if it were designated as a historic district, and it brought swift condemnation from those who thought it would hinder APS’ ability to keep up with the rising student population.

Staff recommended that proposal be denied, a request the County Board followed in May. The School Board then chose the Ed Center for 500-600 new high school seats and a renovation as a so-called “hybrid option” to add 1,300 countywide.

The County Board will discuss the proposed changes at its December 16 meeting and put it to a vote. The Planning Commission will also debate the changes at its December 4 meeting.

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