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Cooperation for Preservation of Historic Properties

Cooperation for Preservation of Historic Properties

by David James, HFFI Board President

Since 1955, the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc. (HFFI) has been devoted to protecting and preserving historic structures and landscapes of our city that give it a true sense of place and authenticity. Recognizing that each modification of an historic building could impact the integrity of our architectural heritage, the organization takes proposed changes very seriously. Therefore, HFFI has decided to appeal a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) approved by the Fredericksburg Architectural Review Board (ARB) on December 10, 2018.

The ARB approved replacement of a wooden front porch at the home on 129 Caroline Street with concrete, brick and tile. HFFI has held a restrictive preservation covenant on the property since 1974. It has worked with the current owners on several occasions, including on a well-designed, historically sensitive, and substantial addition made in the early 1990s.

The ARB, HFFI, and many other preservation commissions and organizations are charged with the review of alterations to significant historic resources. They draw from the same professional standards and guidelines, known as the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. The modifications proposed are in clear violation. These Standards specify that:

— “The distinguishing original qualities or character of a building, structure … shall not be destroyed.”

—“The removal or alteration of any historical material or distinctive architectural features should be avoided when possible.”

—“Deteriorated architectural features shall be repaired rather than replaced, whenever possible.”

In a previous application some time ago, the property owners sought to make similar changes, proposing to replace the wood front porch with brick. This portion of the application was denied by the ARB on grounds that the porch was an important architectural feature of the house.

Because it holds a restrictive covenant in the deed to this property, HFFI has standing in this matter. The homeowners have attempted to void the covenants, but HFFI holds that the covenants cannot be modified or terminated except by the agreement of all parties entitled to enforce the covenant.

Moving forward, HFFI asks that:

—The wood front porch remains in place and be repaired using in-kind materials as the Historic District Handbook and ARB guidelines require, unless the property owners work with HFFI to establish a mutually agreed upon alternative compatible with preservation practices and ARB guidelines in a new COA.

—The ARB adheres to the Secretary of Interior Standards detailed in the Historic District Handbook and articulated by the design standards and guidelines therein.

—The ARB provides HFFI with notice when a request for alteration is made on property covered by one of its covenants.

—It be an active partner in any revision of ARB guidelines.

—City Council reviews its 2012 Memorandum of Understanding with HFFI to clarify the organization’s role in protecting structures in the historic district.

Besides enforcing its restrictive covenant, HFFI hopes that the City Council would give it standing to appeal to the Circuit Court on decisions to raze, demolish, or move any structure in the city. Unfortunately, in the last few years, we have lost historic properties that should not have been destroyed. This is why HFFI was formed in the first place, and so HFFI wants the right to stop this injustice.

Homeowners and building owners are temporary stewards of these unique properties. The organization has partnered with them throughout its history to preserve, protect, and revitalize this great city. With support from the community, HFFI has led the effort to preserve Fredericksburg for the past 64 years. The organization wants the tools to continue these efforts.