A group of Arlington residents who have worked feverishly to block the planned construction of 10 town houses around the historic Glebe House have abandoned their efforts to raise nearly $500,000 to purchase the land for community uses.
"We've given it our best shot, and just ran out of ideas in the last few weeks," said David K. Martin, acting president of the Waverly Hills Civic Association, which had been defunct until plans for the town houses in their neighborhood reactivated the group.
"We feel like we were Catch-22ed," Martin said of the efforts to buy the two-acre site at 4527 N. 17th St., where the Glebe House is located. "We researched all kinds of foundations that might have funds available. But in all the cases, there was not enough time to do the paperwork."
As a result, Martin said the group never actually made a formal application to any private foundations and he complained that other fund-raising efforts were stymied because of summer vacations.
On June 4, the County Board approved the construction of 10 "clustered" town houses by local developer Preston C. Caruthers under a plan that gave the neighbors 90 days to find an alternative to the proposed development. That grace period ends today.
Neighbors wanted the land to remain undeveloped and said the town houses would not be in keeping with the single-family, detached homes in the area.
Caruthers and Frank Ball, whose family has owned the house and surrounding property for generations, agreed to the board-approved plan that would preserve the house by renting it to the National Genealogical Society. Caruthers said this week that the house was almost completely refurbished and would probably be donated to the society eventually.
A portion of the house dates back to 1770 when it was built as a rectory for the Fairfax Parish when George Washington was a vestryman.
At the time of the board's vote in June, Ball said the family could no longer maintain the house, and the board agreed that the Caruthers plan was probably the best way to preserve the house and maintain the residential character of the neighborhood. By right, Caruthers could have built 14 town houses on the property, but scaled the number down to 10.
Martin and others have complained that the county was not aggressive enough in helping the citizens raise funds. But County Board member Mary Margaret Whipple disagreed, saying, "I'm not sure what else we could have done. County governments have less ability to approach private foundations than groups do. Nor do I think it would have been seemly to conduct a fund-raising drive.
"I felt what we got was the preservation of the most important part of the property and the arrangement with the National Genealogical Society means it will be in the hands of a group that would take care of it."
Caruthers, who said construction would probably not start until the first of the year, said he was glad the issue is over. "Everyone got all carried away about the Glebe 'mansion,' but it's not that big. I've always felt it was a little bit of Americana that should be retained, but everything got blown out of proportion."