Trustees of the Paxton estate are suing the Leesburg Town Council in an effort to demolish a Victorian manor and two outbuildings on the historic property east of Ida Lee Park.
The lawsuit, filed this month in Loudoun County Circuit Court, alleges that the town improperly approved the expansion of its historic district to include the 16-acre Paxton property, severely hampering plans by trustees of the estate to demolish the structures. The lawsuit also challenges a town ordinance that had prevented a demolition permit from being issued. The trustees are seeking to have the ordinance declared illegal and the expansion of the historic district annulled.
The trustees have said through their attorney, Grayson P. Hanes, that they want to demolish the buildings for financial reasons. They want to sell the property and redirect the trust's funds, and they say the property would be worth more without the 1870s Carlheim Manor and stone outbuildings.
Conservationists, residents who live near the property and parents of children who attended the Paxton Child Development Center in other buildings on the property launched a campaign in the spring to prevent the demolition. They argued the manor was too historically significant to lose. On May 25, the Town Council agreed and unanimously approved the expansion of the historic district.
The 32-room manor, built in the early 1870s, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Conservationists describe it as one of the few houses in the area reflecting architectural tastes in the years after the Civil War, when Virginia suffered economic ruin.
Rachel Paxton, the wife of a wealthy industrialist from Pennsylvania, said in her will that she wanted to establish a home for needy children in honor of her daughter. The Paxton Child Development Center allotted a limited number of places for disadvantaged children.
Opponents argue that demolishing the manor would go against the wishes of Paxton, who they say intended the manor to remain an integral part of the trust. They allege the trustees want to shift their mission to focus on issuing grants and scholarships.
The lawsuit contends that there was insufficient justification to place anything other than the manor and outbuildings in the district. The inclusion of the entire property means trustees have to obtain a permit from the town's Architectural Review Board to demolish any buildings, and they are not allowed to begin demolition for one year.
Shortly before the expansion of the historic district, the town had denied an application for a demolition permit for the buildings, citing a town ordinance that places a 90-day waiting period on the demolition of structures on a property that is being considered for inclusion in the town's historic district. The lawsuit argues that the ordinance violates the Dillon Rule, a legal doctrine that gives local governments only those powers specifically granted by the state.
A phone message left for Leesburg Town Attorney William E. Donnelly was not returned.