Sunday, October 28, 2007

Whose History Indeed?

Note: this is the first in a series of articles leading up to the community charrette for the Braddock Road Metro small area plan scheduled for Saturday, November 3. The purpose is to focus on the City's inconsistencies, misstatements and omissions relating to the the issues that will be discussed.

Ever wonder what happened to the proposed nomination of the local Parker-Gray Historic District to the State Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places?

Thanks to former Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald, money was appropriated in 2006 to survey the entire district and work immediately commenced on the survey in the fall of 2006. In fact, here's what then Acting Planning & Zoning Director Rich Josephson had to say in a March 27, 2007 E-mail to ICCA President Patricia Schubert (which was distributed to ICCA members):


The Parker-Gray National Register Historic District process is proceeding on schedule. The consultants employed by the City began survey work in the early fall of 2006 and have completed a survey of 1600 structures which includes 1200 structures located within the present locally-designated Parker-Gray District, as well as 400 additional structures surrounding the local district. The consultants must enter information about each resource into the state electronic database and have completed 80% of the required entries, or 1250 of 1600 structures, with 350 remaining. The consultants must also complete photographs of each resource for the state.

Throughout the project we have been working with David Edwards from the State Department of Historic Resources (VDHR), who is the northern Virginia representative based in Winchester.

In Virginia, the Department of Historic Resources serves as the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) (http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/).

Another important part of the process is the National Register form which is currently being drafted by the consultants. The first draft of the form is expected to be provided to the Planning Department's Historic Preservation staff by the end of April or beginning of May. Staff will review and comment on the form which will then be submitted to the SHPO by the end of June or beginning of July.

We expect that the State will need approximately three months to review the application with revisions to be completed prior to the state staff scheduling the application for review by the VA State National Register Review Board for discussion and nomination, which we expect to occur in the fall of this year.

If the State Board determines that the application meets the criteria set for establishing a National Register District, the Board nominates the application to the U.S. Department of the Interior who holds the Register. This schedule information is tentative and is City staff's best guess regarding what is expected. Once the application is submitted to the State, the City has no control regarding the schedule.

City Planning staff has attended the following Civic Association community meetings to discuss the National Register process and to distribute information:

1. November and December 2006 - Met with the Inner City Civic Association;
2. December 2006 - Met with Upper King Street Neighborhood Association; and,
3. January 2007 - Met with Old Town Civic Association.

Additionally, staff plans to hold a larger community meeting in June for all who are interested to share the research and survey findings and review the next steps in the National Register process.

Not one of the goals or deadlines listed above has been met. Now we are told that the nomination will not go forward until next year.

Why the delay? And more importantly, why is there no explanation for the delay?

Consider this as well. Why was Mary Means' presentation on the Parker-Gray District at last Saturday's meeting so ambiguous? There was no meaningful discussion of the status of the nomination and what is holding it up, but much talk about the pros and cons of the national register nomination and whose history would be preserved (as though there is any question that new residents know this was a historically black neighborhood).

Why should it be a "dilemma" that "Parker-Gray historic fabric is small scale, 2-3 story, often detached," or that "land values have skyrocketed." The same conditions prevailed in Rosemont and Del Ray (Town of Potomac) when they were nominated some 10 or 15 years ago. Why did Ms. Means exhorts us about "how to make preservation work in the real world"?

All of this raises the spectre that the nomination being stalled by City staff or by P&Z's new director Faroll Hamer as a way to leave the door open not just for the demolition and densification of the area around the Braddock Road Metro area but also Parker-Gray. Is this delay in effect a way to kill the nomination?

And why is the City still denying justice to the generations of African-Americans who lived, loved, worked and died in this neighborhood?