Another wall went up Tuesday on Milari and Paul Madison's efforts to tear down their crumbling Waterford home as the Loudoun Board of Supervisors upheld a decision by the county's Historic District Review Committee to deny a demolition permit.
The Madisons have been battling for more than two years, first to renovate and to then demolish their Janney Street house, which they bought in 2003 for $185,000. But so far they've been frustrated at almost every turn by the legacy of a previous owner, the late Lizzie Simms, a black teacher who lived there 50 years.
"This structure is the unique story of one Miss Lizzie Simms, living in a modest house helping to teach African American students to read and write, and be [of] good character," Supervisor Sarah R. "Sally" Kurtz (D-Catoctin) said in her closing statement before the 6 to 3 vote.
"The structure clearly reflects the life, the financial means and the positive important role of African American women and the education of African American children and adults living in Waterford after the Civil War," Kurtz said.
Milari Madison told the board that the health and safety violations in the deteriorating, uninhabited and uninsurable house legally outweighed its historical value.
"Although you may not like our personal decisions, it's a matter of our legal rights," she said.
Before the vote, Supervisor D.M. "Mick" Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run) offered a compromise for a case that, he said, had been reduced to an "issue of personalities." He suggested that the county buy the house for a dollar and move it to another lot in the Waterford historic district.
"The purchase price of a dollar . . . for something that has been referred to as priceless sounds to me like a heck of a bargain. Do you want to take a stand or a position, or do you want to solve the problem?" Staton asked.
Supervisor Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run) said that Staton's proposal would more likely amount to "a million-dollar prospect" and that it didn't make sense for the county to take on the cost when others had made offers for the house.
Waters also said the idea lacked historical merit.
"When you start rearranging historical properties within the district, you lose some of those features which are the reason you go to the district in the first place," she said.
Staton's motion failed, 6 to 3. The board then voted to uphold the review committee's denial, with Staton, Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling) and Stephen J. Snow (R-Dulles) opposed.
The board's decision pleased the 15 or so neighbors and preservationists who spoke against the Madisons' demolition request.
"I have property rights, too," said Susan Williams Mularie, who said she spent "an enormous amount of money" to restore her Waterford home. When the Madisons bought their house, "it was no secret that it was [in] a historic district," she told the supervisors.
After the meeting, Milari Madison said she planned to appeal the county's decision to state court, where four cases related to the house are pending, including one to invalidate the entire historic district.
In another case, the couple had a taste of victory in August. Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne overruled a denial by the county zoning appeals board for a separate demolition permit application. He appointed an outside commissioner to rule on the safety of the house, a determination that could be crucial to whether the Madisons win the permit.
In the meantime, Milari Madison said she and her husband, a corporate lawyer who has handled all of their court filings, are considering more lawsuits, accusing county staff members or organizations of malfeasance, libel and slander.
"It's a very expensive process to challenge the government. . . . My husband and I are in a unique position that we can defend ourselves, and we do," she said.