Gail H. Baker is an eighth-generation Arlingtonian who always has loved old houses.
After she and her husband Robert N. Knetl and their two children moved into a spacious 1910 house in Arlington's Maywood district six years ago, Baker and a friend started researching the history of the house and the neighborhood.
They found that Maywood had developed at the turn of the century with the building of the nearby Cherrydale station on the Great Falls and Old Dominion railroad line. The early residents were working-class people, employed as government clerks or in the building trades, who commuted to work on the train.
Baker concluded that Maywood was one of the neighborhoods "where Arlington was born," an example of the county's development as a suburban community. "This was where it started," said Baker, an editor at the U.S. Information Agency and a member of the county's Historical Affairs and Landmarks Review Board.
Out of that research has come a proposal to designate as historic 231 houses that make up most of the neighborhood, bordered roughly by Lorcom Lane, Lee Highway, Spout Run Parkway and North Oakland Street. Arlington has some single structures designated historic, but this would be the first time a whole neighborhood is designated.
"Historic designation would help to preserve and foster Maywood's unique character," said Diane B. Schratwieser, copresident of the Maywood Community Association.
Other jurisdictions in the Washington area have districts designated historic, ranging from Old Town Alexandria to a part of the new town of Reston, said Marcia Silberfarb, county staff coordinator for the landmarks board. "Many people think there's no history in Arlington," she said. But "we do have structures that have local significance and lend character and meaning" to the county.
Last spring, Baker and other members of the Maywood Community Association surveyed 229 households in the neighborhood. Of the 147 households responding, Baker said 118 favored historic designation, 13 opposed, three households were divided and 13 had no opinion.
The proposal would have to be approved by the Landmarks Review Board, the Planning Commission and the County Board. No hearing on the issue has been scheduled before any of these panels.
But not all members of the community are in support of a historic designation. Two of the most outspoken opponents are Harry L. Parrott Jr. and his wife Peggy. They have gathered about 80 signatures on a petition opposing historic status for Maywood.
Peggy Parrott is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and has been a volunteer genealogist for the group. Sitting in the dining room of the house she and her husband have lived in for 34 years, she said: "I'm all for history, okay? We're contributors to Colonial Williamsburg. But there's nothing historic about this house."
"Control," said Harry Parrott, a retired government mapmaker. "It's all a young group moving in, changing the rules, disrupting things. They want to control things."
Opponents to the historic designation argue that Baker's survey is not an accurate gauge of homeowner sentiment. Baker said some absentee homeowners were not contacted but are counted in the "no response" category.
One of the worries expressed by the Parrotts and some other property owners is the imposition of new zoning regulations if a historic designation is approved. Under Arlington's ordinance, exterior changes to a historic structure must be certified by the Landmarks Review Board as appropriate for the building.
In the case of a historic district, major exterior changes would also be evaluated to see how they fit in with the street as a whole. Supporters of historic designation point out that the Landmarks Review Board has never turned down an owner's application to make exterior changes, though the panel has gotten owners to modify plans to make them acceptable.
The rules also do not apply to routine maintenance. But Harry Parrott is not convinced. "It means every time I sneeze I'll need a certificate of appropriateness," he said.
The Parrotts also argue that historic designation is intended by some to increase property values. As retirees, they say higher housing costs mean higher assessments and higher real estate taxes for them.
"For us to be forced out of our homes for a little whim of some yuppies, we find it ludicrous," Peggy Parrott said.
No one disputes that housing prices have escalated in Maywood. In some cases, house prices have doubled in less than a decade. But there is disagreement over whether historic status would accelerate the increase.
Baker said studies of historic areas around the country do not support the charge that a designation increases property values. It is Maywood's location that makes it desirable, she said.
Baker said Maywood is close to the parkway and one can drive from Maywood into the District without encountering a stoplight. She said supporters of historic designation include many elderly residents.
"A lot of yuppies oppose it. They don't want to be told what to do," she said. Others don't mind historic controls. "They think that in giving up a little, they also gain," she said.