What is the purpose of having a commission?

I am left scratching my head and wondering what the function of the HPC is if “There [is] nothing we could have done, should have done or plan to do.” (Town Talk Article 7-19-08, remarks by Ed Crump, President of the HPC) regarding the home that was moved from 2401 Monroe Street. According to the Historic Preservation’s Website, a description of what the HPC is supposed to be doing for our city is:

What We Do

The purpose of the commission is to preserve the unique architectural character of our [Alexandria’s] older buildings and neighborhoods.

Why Its Important

Older buildings and neighborhoods are our physical link to this community’s cultural heritage. Preservation of our historic structures insures Alexandria will retain its unique architectural and cultural identity for the future. By celebrating that identity we engender pride in our community and become a place where more people will want to live and work.     

 Do you think what was done at 2401 Monroe Street helped Alexandria retain its unique architectural and cultural identity for the future? No. The house was moved outside of the city limits. Therefore Alexandria LOST a piece of its identity and unique architectural and cultural identity. Do you think what was done at 2401 Monroe Street helped engender pride in the community and helped Monroe Street become a place where more people will want to live and work? No.

 If there is nothing they could or should have done, then why do we even have a commission? We are wasting taxpayer money.  Supposedly, there was nothing they “could or should have done” about the Bus Station on Bolton Avenue or the Armour Building.  However, they did it anyway.  My last question: What then, pray tell, is the function of the HPC? To allow their commissioners to move historic homes out of the Alexandria city limits further blighting an area of Alexandria? Isn’t that counterproductive?  To pick and choose which projects they want to work on?  I believe that the HPC has been commissioned to protect the assets of the city.  ALL of the city, not just the parts which they deem need preservation.  In this instance they have failed at their duties. 

People say they would never live on Monroe Street.  That’s fine.  Don’t.  I have three things to say then: 1) Don’t come around and make it worse; 2) Don’t allow people to come in and remove what we have left; 3) Don’t criticize people for standing up for their neighborhood and trying to make it a better place.  The issue here is not whether or not you want to live here.  The issue is that the Historic Preservation Commission is acting insincere in advocating for some projects in parts of the city, but not for all.  Also, for turning a blind eye when one of their commissioners moved this house because this commissioner did not want to live there or thought that someone else would not want to live there.  I DON’T CARE whether you want to live here or not.  So, just because you don’t want to live here, it is ok to further destruct and devastate the area?  The rules only apply when you think they should apply?  That is absurd and defies logic.  It is the same as saying I only kinda broke the law.  Or, I kinda passed the test.  Or, the rules don’t apply to me because the area is blighted.  Always justifying actions.  My parents used to tell me that if you have to sit down and try to justify your actions, you are basically trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, you need to go back and see what your intentions were…chances are, they were not honorable and you need to reevaluate your actions.  I think the same theory applies here.  The HPC needs to reevaluate who they are, what they are supposed to be doing and advocate fairly for all areas of Alexandria.

8 thoughts on “What is the purpose of having a commission?

  1. Andrea, with all due respect, I think you misunderstand the scope of the HDPC, at least in present form. Certainly, many commissions in other cities have the ability to issue certificates of appropriateness for construction and demolition within historic districts.

    Our commission, however, is advisory in nature. They advise on issues and raise awareness. They never had the ability to intervene on this particular issue.

    It’s inappropriate and misplaced to blame the commission for failure to act. The process is clear and was followed according to the law and our local ordinances. While I understand and empathize with your frustrations– particularly considering your own investment in and dedication to this important area of town– I think you need to be careful about blaming a commission of volunteers of being derelict in their duties.

    We are in the process of determining the best ways of handling these issues without violating our City Charter or fundamental property rights. Please understand that, until recently, preservation was an issue largely ignored in Alexandria.

    This administration is committed to preservation. As you know, preservation was an important part of our Summit on Sustainability. But safeguarding our historic properties– while, at the same time, ensuring property rights– requires deep thought and significant research.

    If you and your neighbors want the government to issues certificates of appropriateness, then they should make that clear.

  2. Thank you Lamar for your comment and further insight. While I understand about ensuring property rights, etc. I don’t understand why the Armour Building and the Trailways station were advocated for, but not this property. The Trailways station is privately owned and the owner who wanted to tear it down, was plagued with numerous phone calls and the HPC stood ready to file a restraining order (I know because I was asked to help prepare it).

    However, I think you are correct about the HPC in its present form not being able to do a lot. This certainly needs to change and Alexandria needs new, clearer preservation ordinances so we will know how to act appropriately next time. Unfortunately, this matter blew way out of proportion and both sides have been misquoted.

    My impression, according to our ordinances, is that the HPC has to have the city council declare a property “historic”. Or the owner can request his/her property be declared “historic”. When that is done, then a certificate of appropriateness is necessary in order to change, demolish the property. Your comments: “If you and your neighbors want the government to issues certificates of appropriateness, then they should make that clear.”
    That is what we were getting at but, according to our ordinances (my interpretation of them — correct me if I am wrong) is that only the HPC or the owner can ask the council to declare a property “historic” and then if it is declared “historic” a certificate of appropriateness has to be issued before the property’s upcoming demolition, renovation, alteration or repair. Can a private citizen request a building be designated as historic? Reading the ordinances, it does not set that out clearly. It just says (Sec. 16-61) that the HPC “shall act upon a request within forty-five (45) days after the making thereof.” Yet another reason we may need some clearer preservation ordinances so there aren’t any questions.

    Thank you for your comments. They are always welcome. I am not trying to blame the commission for failure to act, I am just asking why some properties are advocated for and some are not. Shouldn’t it be fair?

  3. Andrea, in both instances– the Armour building and the Cotton Brothers Bakery Building– the advocacy began when individuals connected with those projects alerted the commission to act. This did not occur with 2401 Monroe Street.

    But I must remind you that the Armour building is, in no way, a done deal. Although it has certainly gained a lot of attention (in large part because the non-profit that owns the building was seeking to use federal money, which required public attention), the situation has not materially changed. The City is doing what it can do– coordinating with the EPA, etc.– but ultimately, we’re all in need of preservation partners– other governmental agencies, non-profits, and private developers who are better suited to tackle this type of renovation and preservation project.

    Regarding the ordinances: I understand the commission is in the process of drafting a new set of ordinances, and we are also looking into best practices from other municipalities.

    But I think you may have some confusion about what, exactly, an historic declaration means. Believe it or not, the designation does not protect a property from demolition, even if it is on the National Register. The designation does, however, allow the property owner to enjoy the benefits of certain targeted tax credit programs.

    For the most part, only a property owner can submit a property for consideration on the register.

    Now, that said, there is a difference between a property being singled out as significant and an entire neighborhood being called a “historic district.” The HDPC can advise on the boundaries of any historic districts, but ultimately, the City Council must approve their recommendations. Again, currently, the HDPC does not have the authority to issue certificates of appropriateness. In fact, currently, the City does not issue certificates of appropriateness at all; there simply isn’t a mechanism in place yet.

    I agree that the current ordinances are a little confusing.

    Advocacy begins on an individual level– with people like you and your neighbors.

    I hope that clears up some confusion. Let me know if there are any other questions I can answer.

  4. Is there a process you need to go through before you move a home? Permits to tear it down and move it through the streets. Perhaps there should be a committee to review the removal of any homes built from the 1920’s back.. There should be process and consideration given to these things. Lack of consideration has lost the majority of our landmark homes in Alexandria in the past. Lets put some rules in effect! In talking to the director of the Louisiana History Museum, he said 90% of the historic homes and buildings have been lost in Alexandria due to ignorance and lack of concern. Something to think about.

  5. Yes. You have to go through the permitting process. You have to have the route approved and several other things. The thing is though, as long as a person appropriates all of the requisite permits, they can move, demolish, tear down a house/building…even if it is historic or in a historic district. I understand that the city is working on rewriting the current preservation ordinances and I am sure, once they are hashed out, it will be extremely clear what can and cannot be done regarding a property with a historic designation and a clear process on how to handle situations such as the above. I believe that design guidelines are also getting drafted on what is appropriate (this committee is headed by Robert Ratcliff…BTW). 🙂

  6. quote:
    “”I believe that design guidelines are also getting drafted on what is appropriate (this committee is headed by Robert Ratcliff…BTW). “”


  7. Robert Ratcliff Jr serves or did serve on the Historic Perservation Commission. perhaps this is what perpetualrenovator was referring to.

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