Razing of Old Home Opposed in Alexandria

New and old homes on Sunset Drive in Alexandria's Rosemont area. Some fear that replacing a 1925 home will harm Rosemont's historic character and charm.
New and old homes on Sunset Drive in Alexandria's Rosemont area. Some fear that replacing a 1925 home will harm Rosemont's historic character and charm. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Kirstin Downey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 8, 2007

The Craftsman-style home on Sunset Drive in Alexandria was built in 1925, one of the old homes that make Rosemont one of the region's most distinctive neighborhoods.

A real estate investor wants to tear it down and replace it with new homes, which neighbors say will accelerate the decline of the historic homes along Sunset. City officials, preservationists and neighbors almost all oppose the demolition, but they say there is nothing they can do to stop it.

Although Rosemont is protected by its federal and state designations as a historic area, they said, the city has never made the neighborhood a local historic district, which would give city officials the legal tools to oppose demolition of old buildings. The local historic district designation, which Alexandria used for Old Town in 1932, has enabled the city to preserve the colonial atmosphere along King and Washington streets.

The developer, Edgardo Maravi, plans to divide the property into two lots and build homes on them. He has built a gated, brick home for himself on Sunset Drive, featuring a tall wall on one side with only two tiny windows.

Clay Greenway, who lives across the street, said the home that Maravi plans to raze would be the latest in a string of homes on Sunset that have been torn down in the past two decades. He worries that the street could lose its charm and historic designation.

Preservationist Ellen Pickering said, "The whole street is very vulnerable to being demolished."

"It's time to stomp our foot and say no more," said Charles Trozzo, chairman of the Alexandria Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission.

At a recent hearing, a parade of Rosemont residents and planning commissioners said they did not want the home torn down and begged city officials to come up with a way they could prevent it. But city attorneys told them that there was nothing they could do.

"The planning commission was very disappointed, and we couldn't help them," said Faroll Hamer, Alexandria's director of planning and zoning. "That's how the rules are written, and we need a way out."

Under Virginia law, property owners have broad rights to build what they want on land they own, which is why officials in Arlington County, Fairfax County and Alexandria have often engaged in legal skirmishes over large projects proposed by developers.

But because Alexandria is a city, it has more control over land use than counties do, particularly in areas that have been designated local historic districts. Much of the city is also under a national historic register designation, but it is the local designation that permits scrutiny and legal restrictions that can be imposed by a board of architectural review.

The board of architectural review recently blocked a proposed partial demolition of a Colonial-era building at 210 King St. in Old Town, a decision the City Council affirmed in August.


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