A story in the Jan. 17 Virginia Weekly said the Waterford Foundation, a Loudoun County historic preservation group, objected to a chain link fence a couple wanted to erect on their property. Foundation director Constance Chamberlin said the foundation took no stand on the fence. The foundation does support the county Historic District Zoning Ordinance, which was the basis for the Historic District Review Committee's denial. The foundation acted to assist the couple in paying for a picket fence at the request of the Board of Supervisors.
The Waterford Foundation, a historic preservation group that objected to a chain link fence that an elderly couple wanted to erect around their house, has agreed to pay half the cost of a picket fence in an out-of-court settlement.
According to William Chapman, the attorney for Noah and Eva Robitson, the foundation, which objected to the chain link fence because it "was not in keeping with the historical characteristics of the town" of Waterford, will pay half of the $2,400 necessary to remove and replace the portion of a chain link fence erected on the property. The other half will come from Brownell Inc., a Leesburg development company.
Chapman said the couple had already paid $2,700 when they were told by the Waterford Foundation in June that they needed a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Loudoun County Historic Review Committee. When the Robitsons applied for the certificate, their request was denied, Chapman said. They then appealed to the Board of Supervisors, which upheld the decision of the committee.
According to county attorney Edward Finnegan, the board asked the committee to work with the Robitsons toward a solution that would secure the couple's property and still be architecturally compatible with the historic district. But the Robitsons, Waterford residents since 1942, filed suit against the county in Circuit Court in August for denying them permission to erect the fence they had already bought.
While Finnegan and Chapman continued to suggest other types of fences to the couple, they said the Robitsons began to erect the chain link fence behind and around the sides of the house in November.
The new agreement, which was reached on the eve before the case was scheduled to go to trial last week, will allow the back portion and part of the side fencing to remain standing; the rest will be torn down and replaced with a pressure-treated wood picket fence. The new fence will also be continued across the front of the property, Chapman said.
According to Finnegan, the county zoning administrator has issued a Certificate of Appropriateness for the new fence.
Sterling Supervisor Andrew Bird, who voted against the Historic Review Committee's decision, said that he and Catoctin Supervisor Frank Lambert have introduced an amendment that will not allow such a certificate to be denied unless "there is compelling evidence that such a denial will do irreparable damage to an historic district in the judgment of a normal and reasonable person." Lambert, in whose district the Robitsons live, also voted against the motion to approve the historic committee's decision. The amendment has been stalled in the board's policy committee until after the case is resolved, Bird said.
"I intend to pursue that amendment," Bird said. "There has got to be some recognition that there are some things of greater historical significance than any building -- and that is the right to use your own property in any reasonable way you please."
Saying she was tired from the six-month legal struggle, Eva Robitson declined to comment on the settlement. Her hope, she said, is that the Bird and Lambert amendment for new guidelines on such matters will be approved. "I hope this never has to happen to anyone else again," she said. "We've been through so much."
According to Bird, friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of the county had been filed by several conservation groups, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Conservation Fund, both in the District of Columbia, and the Preservation Alliance of Virginia.
"I would have loved to have this ordinance tested in the courts," Bird said, "but for the Robitsons' sake, I'm glad it's over. This has been psychologically and economically expensive for them."