Albemarle County Historic Preservation Committee: Progress Report

June, 2005


The Historic Preservation Committee was reorganized following the adoption of the County’s Historic Preservation Plan in the Fall of 2000. After the appointment of new committee members in January 2002, subcommittees were organized over the next several months to address the various priority recommendations, as described below.  At that time, the subcommittees were identified by letters (i.e., Subcommittee A, Subcommittee B). The subcommittees were reorganized in early 2005 to take better advantage of individual member’s expertise and experience. At that time, active subcommittees were given names (i.e., Database Subcommittee) and the letter identifications were eliminated. In mid-2005 membership stands at 16 individuals, not counting Commission and Board liaisons.



Subcommittee A

Subcommittee A (now referred to as the Database subcommittee) was formed to address Priority Recommendation #2 – the creation of a database of historic resources. That subcommittee prepared a proposal for a database system and presented it to the Planning Department. Working with Planning and IT, the subcommittee established that the County’s Cityview software could be used for the historic resources database. The subcommittee then urged the County to fund a new position devoted to historic preservation planning, primarily data input for the historic resources database. That position was funded and the County’s Historic Preservation Planner, Julie Mahon, began work on October 20, 2003 with a priority task of establishing the database and coordinating it with Cityview. As staff became more familiar with the Cityview system, it was decided that Cityview could not accommodate the extensive amount of historic resources information that staff and the Committee wanted. The current, revised approach to database creation is to include minimal basic historic resources information in Cityview and establish a separate database to hold the more comprehensive historic resources information, providing a link from Cityview to the historic resources database. The Historic Preservation Planner has recently completed the database prototype and database development is ongoing. See Attachment E for the Database Subcommittee’s action plan regarding the next steps in the database development process.  (Please note that there will likely be a funding request associated with this project in the near future.)


Following a Committee discussion about the loss of a potentially locally significant historic resource to a new residential development and the impact a comprehensive database could have had on that situation, in early 2004 the full Committee discussed its role in current development review and public inquiries, noting that the Committee includes members with experience and expertise that could assist staff in the areas of recordation, determinations of significance, appropriate treatment methods, local history, archaeology, etc. The Committee also acknowledged that it was not established as a review body but, wanting to make use of the resources already assembled, the Committee noted that clarification was needed regarding the specific role of committee members. Consequently, the Committee voted, at its meeting on April 26, 2004, to amend Priority Recommendation #2 with the following additional text: Historic Preservation Committee members should be available to staff for consultation, recommendations regarding significance of cultural resources, and for site inspections, as needed, in order to provide assistance in the development of the database and in staff’s consideration of development proposals. The Committee recommends that the Board of Supervisors amend the Historic Preservation Plan with this additional text. Attachment I is a Resolution of Intent for consideration and approval by the Board. Approval of this resolution would permit staff to begin review and development of the amendment to the Historic Preservation Plan regarding the role of Historic Preservation Committee members.


Subcommittee B

Subcommittee B was formed to address Priority Recommendation #3 – the notification of new owners of historic properties. The subcommittee established a system of identifying historic properties that have changed ownership and drafted form letters to send to the new owners. (The letters inform new owners that their properties are historic and provide Committee contact information for owners that want additional assistance.) The use of the letters was approved by the Board on December 11, 2002. Letters are sent on a regular basis and several new owners have provided positive feedback on the process, requesting additional information. To provide better customer service to recipients of the notification letters, separate email and phone lines have been established for incoming requests for historic preservation information. The Historic Preservation Planner monitors the phone and email lines. The subcommittee has also established a list of “Frequently Asked Questions” so that consistent answers can be provided to callers, and has stocked assorted informational materials to distribute to customers upon request.  The County’s Historic Preservation files are being updated with information from historic preservation professionals in the community. Recent or upcoming additions to the files include information from Lynne Rainville on African American burial places, survey information on historic resources in the Covesville and Southern Albemarle Historic Districts, and survey information from Ed Lay. General historic preservation information requests are handled by the Historic Preservation Planner. Aside from maintaining each of the processes described herein, the Committee plans no additional work items to address Priority Recommendation #3.


Subcommittee C

Subcommittee C (now referred to as the Demolition Subcommittee) was formed to address Priority Recommendations #4, 5, and 6 – dealing with the definition of “historic resource,” demolition, and the distribution of information on voluntary preservation measures.


Recommendation #4. The definition of “historic resource” was discussed at several subcommittee and full committee meetings. At the full committee meeting held on September 8, 2003 the Committee adopted the definition that is included as Attachment C to this report. The Committee considers Priority Recommendation #4 complete.


Recommendation #5. Regarding demolition, one workshop was held to train committee members in the recordation of historic structures, and tools necessary for recordation were assembled for the use of volunteer recorders. The subcommittee currently working on this item plans to hold another training session in the coming months, and to establish a recordation team with the return of a committee member who has been on leave. The subcommittee also plans to assemble a package for distribution to out-of-town buyers and architects to provide information on the appropriate treatment of historic resources in Albemarle County. The Committee has determined that these projects will require funding (approximately $400) for additional tools and equipment for the recordation team and for copying, printing, and assembling of the information packets.  (See the Demolition Subcommittee’s action plan, Attachment G.)


Committee members studied the demolition permit review process in an effort to determine ways to increase the number of recordations of historic resources prior to demolition. One result of that effort is a revision to the demolition permit review process to now include Historic Preservation Planner review of each permit. This review includes the maintenance of an updated list of demolished historic resources and the compiling of a photographic record of each historic and/or potentially significant structure prior to demolition. Forty buildings have been recorded over the past 13 months. This activity calls attention to two issues:

1) Structures are demolished without demolition permits.

2) Photographing the structures simply records them for posterity. There is no mechanism available for protecting or even slightly prolonging the life of an historic building slated for demolition. Even the current photography that is completed, is accomplished only if the property owner is willing to postpone the demolition for a day or two.

The Committee has discussed the need for more public education on this subject, as well as the concept of asking the Board of Supervisors for support in extending the demolition permit review time, to provide sufficient time to more fully record and research the structures being demolished. The Committee has not yet taken formal action on this item and the subcommittee is preparing further materials in this regard.


Related to its discussion on documentation of structures to be demolished, the Committee also considered the issue of demolition fees. On February 23, 2004 the Committee voted to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that the fee charged for a permit to demolish a significant historic resource should be increased to cover a comprehensive recordation of the resource in a timely fashion prior to demolition.  The current fee is $25.44. The Committee believes that this fee is insufficient to cover the staff time and resources required to adequately record the historic resources being lost, and staff supports this finding. Preliminary comments from the County Attorney’s office suggest that, provided a reasonable connection can be made between the costs of recording the resource and the cost of issuing the permit or other expenses incident to the administration of the demolition regulations, the fee would be permissible. The Demolition Subcommittee has begun a more in-depth study of the permit fee issue. It also has included in its action plan for the coming year (Attachment G), the development of proposed comprehensive revisions to the County’s demolition permit application and review process, focusing on the inclusion of appropriate consideration of historic and cultural resources. Staff supports this approach and recommends that the fee issue be addressed by the Board with the review of the Committee’s proposed changes to the overall permit process, when that proposal becomes available.


Recommendation #6. Regarding information on voluntary preservation measures, the subcommittee assembled various pamphlets and brochures and compiled a list of web sites for distribution. The Historic Preservation Planner uses this information in responding to historic preservation inquiries. The Demolition and Heritage Education Subcommittees are working together to expand and update this material.


Subcommittee D

Subcommittee D (now called the Heritage Education Subcommittee) was formed to address Priority Recommendations #7 and 8 – regarding stewardship, education, and recognition of historic resources. The production of a brochure was initially discussed and postponed following a survey and collection of existing informational brochures. Following the Committee’s review of the “Rural Commercial” section of the Rural Areas chapter of the Comprehensive Plan, the subcommittee embarked on a project to identify, as comprehensively as possible, all country stores in the County. A presentation on the Committee’s research and recommendations on the treatment of country stores was made to the Board of Supervisors on May 7, 2003. The Committee asked that the Country Store recommendations be included in the Rural Areas plan, but Planning staff suggested instead that the Historic Preservation Plan be amended to include the Committee recommendations. The Committee, therefore, recommends that the Board of Supervisors amend the Historic Preservation Plan by adding the recommendations made during the Country Stores presentation. (See Attachment H for the Committee’s previously identified Country Stores recommendations.) This addition is important because it would formalize the Committee’s recommendations and would provide all Historic Preservation recommendations in a single document. Attachment I is a Resolution of Intent for consideration and approval by the Board. Approval of this resolution would permit staff to begin review and development of the amendment to the Historic Preservation Plan regarding country stores.


Furthermore, the work on the Country Stores project led to a committee discussion on significant building types in the County and appropriate methods for recognizing these buildings. Committee members have suggested that surveys on County barns, churches, and schools also be undertaken, and that multiple property nominations be completed for these and other significant historic building types. This type of documentation is a streamlined method for nominating groups of related significant properties to the National Register of Historic Places. The document form organizes themes, trends and patterns of history shard by the properties into historic contexts, and defines the property types associated with those contexts. The multiple property documentation form may be used to establish the registration requirements for individual properties that may be nominated in the future. As such, the multiple property nomination form would facilitate future evaluation and listing of individual County resources of specific types, should individual property owners choose to pursue listing on the National Register. Given the number of country stores identified, the potential historic and cultural significance therein, and the similar potential for other building types in the County, the Committee voted on October 25, 2004 to recommend that the Board of Supervisors revise the language of one of the Historic Preservation Plan recommendations, as follows:


Existing language: The County should encourage or actively seek designation on the Virginia and National Registers of all potentially eligible villages (Advance Mills, Crozet, White Hall, and Yancey Mills) as identified in the Historic Architectural Survey of Albemarle County Villages.


Proposed language: The County should encourage or actively seek multiple property nominations for building types significant to the history of the County, such as country stores, schools, barns, churches, etc.


The Committee believes this change is important because the County’s significant resources are not limited to the villages identified in the Village Survey report. As the country stores project showed, there are numerous historic resources throughout the County, and the multiple property nomination process is a most efficient method for identifying and recognizing such resources. (It should be noted that the Advance Mills Historic District was listed on the National Register in 2002 and a group of citizens is currently pursuing the designation of an historic district in Crozet.) However, instead of replacing the existing language with the Committee-proposed language, staff recommends adding the proposed language to the existing language. This would maintain some focus on the need to designate districts in White Hall and Yancey Mills. Attachment I is a Resolution of Intent for consideration and approval by the Board. Approval of this resolution would permit staff to begin review and development of the amendment to the Historic Preservation Plan regarding multiple property nominations of various significant types.


The Heritage Education Subcommittee was recently reorganized. Current members have extensive backgrounds in research, writing, local history, and preservation. This subcommittee, together with individuals who worked on the Country Stores project, used the project as the focus of committee-cosponsored Historic Preservation Month activities that took place this May. (Activities included a presentation at the Senior Center that was attended by 60 citizens, and a freestanding exhibit on country stores, including text and historic photographs, constructed as a traveling display.) Staff and the subcommittee are working to complete a web-site on the project in the near future and the Committee plans to continue to use the country stores information for ongoing educational purposes. The Heritage Education Subcommittee also plans to design an informational brochure for distribution. (See Attachment F for the subcommittee’s action plan.)


Priority Recommendation #9

Priority Recommendation #9, regarding the Monticello viewshed, was addressed by the full Committee in the Spring of 2004. The Committee questioned the equity of singling out one viewshed and discussed the possibility of expanding the work item to include consideration of additional significant historic viewsheds throughout the County. On April 26, 2004, the Committee voted to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that the wording of Priority Recommendation #9 be revised as follows:


Existing language: To help protect the Monticello viewshed, adopt a more formalized procedure that begins early in the planning process to encourage cooperation between the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation and developers of property within the viewshed.


Proposed language: Identify significant publicly accessible viewsheds in the County associated with a historic resource or a theme central to the history of the County. Develop recommendations on the treatment of those viewsheds.


The Committee believes that this change is important because the Monticello viewshed is only one of the significant viewsheds in the County. While Monticello is a unique resource, its significance does not diminish the importance of other viewsheds. Such viewsheds contribute greatly to the existing character of the County. They are a significant contributing factor to the high quality of life that County residents enjoy, and they are a notable component of our economy as tourist attractions. Furthermore, the Committee has acknowledged that since the Historic Preservation Plan was adopted, the County’s development departments have consistently been notifying developers when their projects fall within the Monticello viewshed and recommending that the developers contact Monticello directly to discuss the potential impacts of their proposals. Consequently, the Committee plans no further specific measures to address the Monticello viewshed.


Attachment I is a Resolution of Intent for consideration and approval by the Board. Approval of this resolution would permit staff to begin review and development of the proposed amendment to the Historic Preservation Plan regarding County viewsheds.


Priority Recommendation #10

Priority Recommendation #10 is considered at each meeting of the full committee.


Priority Recommendation #11

Priority Recommendation #11 is the purview of the Financial Incentives Subcommittee. The subcommittee began meeting in late 2003, focusing on the issue of establishing a revolving fund. That round of efforts died in the General Assembly when the bankers’ lobby would not support the necessary enabling legislation for a revolving fund. Work on this priority recommendation declined over the next several months. A reformulated Financial Incentives Subcommittee began meeting in 2004. In December 2004 the subcommittee proposed two ideas for the full Committee to evaluate and explore: 1) Establish a historic preservation grant fund (in lieu of a low interest loan), funded by the County; 2) Add a staff person dedicated to assisting property owners in financing their restoration projects. In January 2005 the subcommittee began researching other incentives. An updated action plan for future subcommittee activities is not yet available for this priority recommendation. The Committee Chair has suggested that the Committee membership would benefit from the addition of a professional with experience in the various approaches to rehabilitation and restoration, and with an understanding of the complicated procedures associated with tax credits, to help the Committee more fully explore all financial incentive options available at the local, state and national levels. An individual with this expertise in tax credits was recently introduced to the Subcommittee. That individual has expressed interest in joining the Committee and the Chairperson supports this addition. The Board can anticipate receiving an application in this regard in the near future. Because subcommittee work on financial incentives is ongoing and a specific action plan is not available, the full Committee has no recommendation on this initiative at this time.


Priority Recommendation #12

Priority Recommendation #12 calls for the evaluation of the need for a historic overlay district ordinance. Staff has directed the Committee to make progress on the other Priority Recommendations prior to addressing this item. Consequently, this item has not been the subject of formal committee discussion to date.


Other Considerations


Rules of Procedure. The Committee adopted its first rules of procedure on April 26, 2004. (See Attachment D.)


Survey. The County has entered into a cost-share agreement with the Department of Historic Resources in Richmond to conduct a survey of County resources. The first half of the work has been completed; that work consisted of the enrichment of Albemarle County data files at DHR. Survey work will begin this Summer, with a focus on updating the earliest completed surveys in the County, updating those in the Development Areas that are experiencing high levels of development, and completing a limited number of surveys on properties not previously addressed. This type of survey work is listed as one of the supporting recommendations in the Historic Preservation Plan. Such survey work is essential to maintaining up-to-date records as reliable background information for the determination of potential impacts of development proposals on cultural resources. As part of the agreement, DHR has agreed to provide ongoing updates of information, including their GIS layer, in exchange for yearly County parcel data updates. (When requested by DHR – generally on an annual basis – the County’s office of Geographic Data Services will upload the current GIS layer to a website where DHR can access it and download it into their system.)


HP Planner review of development proposals for impacts to historic and cultural resources. The HP Planner has provided comments regularly on development review projects since February 2004 and has attended/commented at pre-application conferences since November 2003. The HP Planner uses these processes to increase staff- and public awareness of the potential negative impacts development may have on existing historic resources and areas of archaeological sensitivity. When possible, staff suggests avoidance, alternative design and/or the incorporation of historic resources into the proposed development as alternatives to demolition. While staff has had some limited success with this policy (for example, the incorporation of the principal dwelling and smokehouse of Last Nickel Farm into the new Wickham Pond residential development), by-right development remains unpredictable and has resulted in the loss, or proposed demolition, of historic buildings (such as Oakleigh on Hydraulic Road).


Legislative Issues. A committee member has volunteered to monitor historic preservation-related legislative issues for the Committee. The Committee recently sent letters of concern to legislators regarding changes to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and conservation easements, as did the Board.


Proposed changes to Section 106 would remove the process of identifying and evaluating historic sites from professionals at the local and state level. This would place numerous as yet unidentified County historic resources at risk. Proposed changes to easement legislation would eliminate tax incentives for placing land under easement. It is anticipated that this would significantly reduce the amount of land under easement, with subsequent negative impacts to land used for farming, and generally to tourism in Albemarle County.


The Committee has found it increasingly important to monitor legislative issues because of the ramifications such legislation can have on local preservation efforts. The Committee appreciates the Board’s support of historic preservation in legislative issues.


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