Huntley Mansion, an 1820-vintage Georgian-style house in southern Fairfax County, was once the home of the grandson of local Revolutionary War figure George Mason and the center of a 1,000-acre farm.
Today, this neglected National Historic Landmark stands in a field of weeds, and it is the subject of a rezoning case before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
"It's so overgrown that it looks like something out of Edgar Allan Poe," said Elizabeth David, director of the Fairfax County Office of Historic Review. "It's our biggest preservation worry. There is no other property that is as outstanding and as vulnerable as Huntley right now."
The owners of the estate and the surrounding 16 acres, the heirs of Col. Ransom G. Amlong, have filed a rezoning plan with the county to build nearly 100 town houses on the property. And while they are proposing to preserve Huntley, its historic outbuildings and three acres of open land, county officials are concerned that the density of the town house development could detract from the historic character of the mansion.
The Board of Supervisors is considering an amendment to the county comprehensive plan that would allow the owners to develop the land at a higher density--close to the density they have planned for--if that development is tied to a restoration of Huntley. The board expects to vote on the plan amendment in July. The Planning Board voted Monday to recommend approval of the amendment.
Huntley is protected by county law from exterior change or destruction. But county staffers are hoping that, if the proposed plan language is approved, it will allow them to place more restrictions on any development built at a higher density.
The Fairfax County Park Authority tried to purchase Huntley from the Amlong family several years ago but the Amlongs were not ready to sell it at the time, said David. Now, however, the Amlongs have indicated that they may consider selling the property if an owner can be found who would restore and preserve the old house.
Lewis Cable, assistant director for the Park Authority, said the authority might be interested in the house if the Amlongs were willing to sell it, but that the costs of renovating the place might be prohibitive.
Although the house is of significant historical and architectural interest, David said she doubts that the Park Authority would be serious about buying it. She said that the county has found that it is not cost effective to keep historic houses open as museums and that Huntley is too small to be useful for much more than a home. "The ideal solution would be to find a private investor who could afford to renovate the place and then live in it," said David.
But for the county, the cards are in the hands of the Amlongs. The family has indicated that it wants to preserve Huntley and the Amlongs are reworking their original 100-town-house plan. They are expected to submit a new plan after the Board of Supervisors acts on the comprehensive plan amendment for the house.