Albemarle County is in the first phase of a four phase review of the Comprehensive Plan, and the Albemarle Historic Preservation Committee was consulted on the Comprehensive Plan at their meeting on April 25, 2022. Specifically they were asked two questions by Margaret Maliszewski, one of Albemarle’s planning managers.
“What opportunities exist for achieving our historic preservation goals, objectives, and strategies?” Maliszewski asked. “Are there new, or current, or ongoing threats to the county’s historic resources?”
Ross Stevens said he wanted the committee to play a larger role in the county’s land use process, particularly as it relates to demolitions of structures that may be historic but not protected. He specifically singled out a manor house called Dunlora that will be removed as part of a by-right development.
“I think we should be called upon for our advice and consulting of these structures and be part of the mix instead of just documenting stuff afterwards,” Stevens said. “I think we should be brought in to give our advice just like the Planning Commission does for the Board of Supervisors. I think we should be that resource to provide data and information regarding these properties.”
Another member, Liz Russell, agreed and said the committee currently has little venue to make their views known.
“And even if only on things like rezoning and special use permits and things that go up to the Planning Commission and the Board,” Russell said.
Russell is also a member of the Charlottesville Planning Commission.
Betsy Gondes-Baten said she would like the county to pass a historic preservation ordinance to protect certain structures.
“It would also provide an opportunity in that we would be able to qualify for certain funds for surveys and nominations and that sort of thing,” Gondes-Baten said.
Russell said an ordinance would take more support from the county’s elected and administrative leadership.
“So how do we educate not only the public but also our own leadership about the benefits, not just for protecting historic resources, but what other benefits?” Russell asked. “How do we make those links between the benefit between historic preservation and economic development? The benefits of historic preservation and sustainability? And I think now is the time to begin connecting those dots.”
Russell said preserving naturally occurring affordable housing is also a role that historic preservation can play.
“Older housing stock,” Russell said. “More modest turn-of-the-century, 1920’s, 1930’s, 1940’s. These houses are out there serving a role in our community in terms of affordable housing.”
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley threw cold water on the idea of historic preservation playing a stronger role in Albemarle.
“I sometimes have to be [what] I’ll call it the reality check,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. “I know Betsy keeps bringing up the ordinance. That’s something you all would have to develop and we’d have to see what that is and what it means and what it entails. At this point I have no idea what kind of ordinance we want.”
LaPisto-Kirtley acknowledged many people have passion for historic preservation, but she did not think it was the county’s role to make it happen. She said it was unlikely more staff time be dedicated to the topic.
“I’m not going to lie,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. “We’re up to our necks in all kinds of different things as people on the staff know we’re doing a lot of things at the county level. There’s a lot going.”
LaPisto-Kirtley suggested a private foundation be set up to raise funds for historic preservation efforts. She said many homestays are being set up in larger historic buildings and their outbuildings.
Russell said she was disappointed by Supervisor LaPisto-Kirtley’s response.
“That is one of the most discouraging things I think anyone on this committee could hear from a Supervisor who is appointed to be on this committee to advocate for us,” Russell said. “Historic preservation is a chapter in the county’s Comprehensive Plan because ostensibly the county values it just as it values economic development, the environment.”
LaPisto-Kirtley said she was simply being realistic.
“This is an important committee,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. “[But] this is not the top priority because of everything else going on.”
For the rest of the meeting, the committee members discussed ways to advance an ordinance, beginning with research into what other communities have done.
If you were to attend any of the three Comprehensive Plan meetings this week, what would be on your mind?
Watch the April 25, 2022 Albemarle County Historic Preservation Committee:
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