Purcellville to Re-survey Historic Structures Before Voting on Anti-Demolition Rules 

The Purcellville Town Council on Tuesday night hit the pause button on plans to create a new zoning overlay district aimed at restricting demolition of buildings deemed to have historic significance.

After a public hearing in which the overwhelming majority of speakers objected to the proposed regulations, the council agreed to conduct a new town-wide survey of historic building and their condition before taking the Planning Commission’s plan to a vote.

The commission developed the proposed Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, which would cover 283 properties. The zone would include lots with buildings deemed to have historic value that are located outside the town’s existing Historic Corridor Overlay District. Those properties include buildings listed or eligible for listing on the national or state historic registers or deemed a local landmark as designated by the Town Council.

Since its initial proposal sparked controversy during a public hearing last July, the commission worked to provide a balance between efforts to preserve the historic character of town and the rights of property owners. Among the changes were to exempt accessory buildings, such as sheds, from the new requirements; and to attempt to make less onerous the requirement that any building in the protection zone planned for demolition first be offered for sale to buyers who would preserve it. Specifically, if the town’s Board of Architectural Review denies a demolition permit for a principal structure within the overlay zone, the property owner may still raze the building if it first has been offered for sale for six months—less than the maximum 12-month allowance permitted by state code.

Planning Commission Chairwoman Nan Joseph Forbes said the proposal is intended to implement elements of the Town Plan that promote protecting the character of the town. Speakers supporting the overlay said it would prevent the town’s small homes from being razed to build bigger residences on the lots, a trend they witnessed in Arlington and Vienna. 

However, three times as many speakers criticized the plan as unnecessary government overreach that would infringe on property rights and likely lead to additional restrictions in the future.

Councilman Stanley J. Milan, who serves at the council’s liaison to the Planning Commission, said much of the criticism was based on misinformation and he supported adoption. 

However, other council members and Mayor Kwasi Fraser said they weren’t ready to back the plan. They agreed that the next step should be to update the town’s 16-year-old survey of historic buildings. Planning Director Don Dooley said that could be accomplished through a grant-share program with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

While the council majority agreed on the merits of conducting a new survey, their level of support of the overlay zone varied. Fraser said he favored regulations that would ensure significant buildings aren’t torn down without notice. Joel Grewe said he hoped the town could develop an incentive-based approach, rather than a new regulation, to accomplish the preservation goals.

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