Local Historic Designation for Westover Village–A Matter of Equity

This was my testimony at the November 30, 2016 meeting of the Arlington Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board public hearing on local historic designation for Westover Village.

Westover single family homeowners oppose local historic designation because they will require approval from the County to make changes to the exterior of their homes, including “demolishing it to build a new dream home.”

I know that renovations and additions are often an asset to the neighborhood, but one person’s dream home is sometimes another person’s nightmare. Consider, for example, the garish, oversized, barn-like McMansions that recently replaced one of the County’s few remaining wooded areas at the intersection of Washington Blvd. and George Mason Drive. These by right monstrosities built cheek by jowl on what was once a rustic wooded lot have destroyed shade and a carbon sink, induced runoff, deprived others of quiet enjoyment, and diminished Arlington’s suburban character.

Incidentally this eye sore development on Washington Blvd. was constructed by Evergreene Homes, the same outfit that tore down the first set of garden apartment buildings in Westover Village in 2014 and replaced them with luxury town homes.

Nevertheless I agree with Westover home owners who argue that if developers have the right to deface some neighborhoods with McMansions, other neighborhoods should expect the same. What I disagree with is the proposition that such outsized developments are beneficial to anyone but the developer who makes a killing on the sale and the County who reaps the additional real estate tax revenue.

No. I don’t dispute by right ownership. However, I insist that with rights come responsibilities. In 2006 Westover Village was designated both a state and national historic place, entitling all property owners–including landlords–to major tax credits up to 45 percent of the cost of renovations.

Westover Village property owners don’t complain about the tax advantages they can reap with historic designation. But they challenge the notion that with rights come responsibilities—namely the need to preserve the character of their neighborhood and the means to compel preservation. I take issue with their self-serving arguments as contrary to the fundamental concept of fair play, and I urge AHALRB to dismiss them in considering local historic designation for Westover Village.

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