A Falls Church landowner who was denied the right to tear down his house has challenged in court a year-old city ordinance designed to protect old houses from demolition.

Lawrence F. Jennings has filed suit against the Falls Church City Council in Fairfax County Circuit Court, charging that council members were wrong to deny him permission to raze his two-story Victorian house at 215 E. Jefferson St.

Jennings' company, Jennings Properties Inc., says in the suit that the council's decision in May "constituted an abuse of discretion," and that demolition of the house "would not be detrimental to the public interest." The company maintains that the house, which was built no later than 1904, "is not of historical, architectural or cultural significance to warrant conservation."

In the lawsuit, the firm asks the court to declare the ordinance invalid because, among other things, it is too "vague and indefinite."

Adopted in May 1984, the ordinance designates the entire city of Falls Church a historic district. The ordinance also requires approval from a three-member Architectural Review Board before demolishing a residence built during or before 1910 or any other structure deemed to be architecturally important..

A decision by the board can be appealed to the council and a decision by the council can be appealed to Fairfax County Circuit Court.

Since the ordinance went into effect, the Architectural Review Board has heard three requests to demolish old houses and has turned down all three. Two of those requests were appealed to the council and denied. The Jennings case is the only one to be appealed to the courts.

Falls Church spokeswoman Barbara Gordon declined to comment on the lawsuit. But she said, "The council when they passed it the ordinance thought it was a fair and reasonable ordinance and I think they still do."

William Baskin, Jennings' lawyer, has declined to comment on the suit.