Alexandria City Council members have proposed drastically restructuring the Board of Architectural Review, a nine-member body that was created to maintain the esthetic integrity of buildings in the city's historic district. The move comes after clashes between the two groups over questions of style.
The board would be replaced by a five-member citizens' panel, with no seats reserved for architects. Three of the current board's members must be architects.
The proposed changes, sponsored by council members Donald Casey and Patricia Ticer, came after the board had approved two buildings with 20th-century designs for Old Town, which the council members feel are inappropriate for the area's historic character.
Created in 1946, the board approves the exteriors of new buildings and old ones that are being reconstructed in the historic district, which includes most of Old Town. The board's decisions can be appealed to the City Council.
In recent months, council members have strongly criticized an Art Deco-style restaurant with a facade dominated by black metal that the board had approved on King Street, and a contemporary-style, four-story brick office building on South Alfred Street.
In March, the council overruled the board on the office building and forced the developer, Robert E. Morrison, to submit a new design.
Architects on the board feel that a well-designed modern-style building can make a positive contribution to the urban environment of Alexandria. Board members also have argued that Art Deco buildings along King Street have architectural merit in their own right and deserve to be preserved.
The council has taken the position that new buildings should be based on Federal, Victorian and other pre-20th-century styles. The new structures should be architecturally inconspicuous, functioning as a backdrop for pre-20th-century historic buildings, rather than objects of interest in themselves, the council contends.
"We don't want modern or contemporary construction and we don't want preservation of Art Deco along King Street," council member Casey said. " . . . It lessens the value of the Old and Historic District."
Casey predicted that the full council will approve his plan for restructuring the board.
W. Laird Warwick, chairman of the architectural board, said that whether it should be restructured is up to the council to decide. He observed, however, that having only five members on the board might make it difficult to get enough people together to hold a board meeting.
But he added that the proposal might reduce conflict-of-interest criticism leveled against architects who have been members of the board and who had designed some of the buildings on which the board subsequently was required to rule.