Greed Trumps Historic Preservation of Rouse Estate

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, April 17, 2021.

Those who witnessed the recent demolition of the historic landmark Rouse Estate were overwhelmed with shock, awe and a tremendous sense of loss. Many Northern Virginia residents no doubt wonder how a county that boasts Arlington Cemetery, the Eternal Flame and the Iwo Jima Memorial could have so little regard for the Civil War history embedded in the 166 year-old Rouse estate.

At a January 27 meeting of the Arlington Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB), Tom Colucci who represents the trust that governs the estate, explained that historic preservation was off the table. He said:

“The trustees . . .[of] this property have a fiduciary duty to sell the property for the highest price that they can get. So they are adamantly opposed to any designation of the property. The intention candidly is to demolish the structures and then proceed with the sale.”

Tom Colucci, Rouse Estate Attorney

Such arguments have been rejected by countless jurisdictions throughout Virginia, which have opted to preserve their heritage rather than desecrate it in the name of profit. Why then was County Board swayed by the greed of a few rather than the enlightened citizens appointed to its own boards and commissions?

Consider that Tom Dickinson, one of the principal proponents of preserving the estate, has served on the board of directors of the Arlington Historical Society and the Arlington Heritage Alliance since 2003, was a founding director of Preservation Arlington, and is a member of the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation.

Not only did County Board reject Tom’s plea to save the Rouse estate, he was actually denied the right to speak on the subject at the March 20, 2021 Board meeting. That’s not all. The County sat for almost a year on Tom’s petition to designate the property historic, a designation that would have spared it from demolition. The County also sat for twelve years on a recommendation by its own paid consultant to declare the Rouse estate historic. Now after the matter is conveniently moot, it has acceded to a hearing.

As a parting shot to historic preservationists, staff recommends against preserving the grounds of the Rouse estate, because the owners oppose it.

Once again developers say jump, and the County asks how high? It is clear that the County’s embarrassing cultural deficit is exceeded only by its egregious bad faith