2351 Great Falls Street
Falls Church, Virginia 22046
February 16, 2004
Supervisor Joan DuBois
McLean Governmental Center
1437 Balls Hill Road
McLean, VA 22101
Planning Commissioner Nancy Hopkins, Dranesville District
Fairfax County Planning Commission
12000 Government Center Parkway
Fairfax, VA 22035
Dear Supervisor DuBois and Commissioner Hopkins:
I am a resident of the Dranesville district who is concerned
about a proposed development by Winchester Homes in the Haycock-Longfellow
block (RZ/FDP 2003-DR-031). I am not an adjacent neighbor of
the block (I live down Great Falls Street), but am regardless
deeply concerned about the development’s effect on both natural
and historic resources. This project should not go forward until
the developers have agreed to mitigate the impact on, or loss
of, these resources.
The natural resources at risk include Burke’s Spring Branch and
Burke’s Spring itself. This area provides
habitat for a variety of species and also protects downstream
properties and habitats through control of stormwater runoff and
through groundwater recharge. A letter of September 26, 2003
sent to then Commissioner DuBois and then Supervisor Stu Mendelssohn
from neighboring residents explains the value and recommended
treatment of these resources. That letter gives a much fuller
explanation than I can, so I will not repeat its content here.
(The letter can also be found at http://www.fobsb.org/9-26letter.htm
While serious concerns remain about the environmental impacts
of this project, I feel that thanks to the efforts of Cathy Saunders
and other neighbors on Crutchfield Street, there has at least
been more attention paid to these resources, and there have even
been some efforts on the part of Winchester to reduce their impact.
I cannot say the same for historic resources, which were also
mentioned in the letter from neighbors, yet have received even
less attention from the developers.
This lack of attention seems to stem from the fact that Winchester
Homes seems to have little understanding of what historic resources
exist or what their value is, let alone what should be done with
them. I was even more convinced of this after hearing a recent
presentation by representatives of Winchester Homes at a meeting
of the Planning and Zoning Committee of the McLean Citizens Association.
As described at that meeting, the Phase I study that was performed
for Winchester Homes by an outside consultant sounded woefully
inadequate. In the course of that study, the consultants failed
to uncover information that seems to be common knowledge among
area residents and historians. They did not locate the springhouse
ruins, and could not even determine an approximate date of construction
for the oldest house on the site, the Dye/Burke house, though
estimates of the date can be found in several readily available
sources. (Most of these sources do not agree
on a single year, but all give a date of between 1806 and 1811.)
Apparently the consultants did not do even a cursory search of
any local historic records.
My concern is that because these structures do not “look historic”
to the Winchester representatives, their historic value will be
dismissed. During their presentation, one representative mentioned
that the Dye/Burke house does not seem historic, because it has
had several additions that obscure its original structure. I
would argue that a historic house can not always be judged from
the outside. One example of this is the Ball-Sellers house in
Arlington, which looks like a 20th-century suburban
house from the street, but encloses a 17th-century
The historic resources about which I am most concerned include:
The Dye/Burke House (6718 Montour), built around
1807, which is closely associated with the rich history of our
area, including 19th century agriculture, slavery,
the Civil War, and the development of modern Fairfax County. The
fact that the house has survived the past two centuries makes
it a priceless rarity in a county in which there are few other
physical traces. It tells the story of the past 200 years in
a way few buildings, and few people, can in Fairfax County.
The McConvey house (2119 Great Falls Street) is
more recent, having been built around 1910, but is valuable in
that it is one of the few remaining farmhouses scattered along
Great Falls Street between Route 123 and Falls Church. This house
may not be associated with great events or people, but it is a
valuable reminder of the County’s agricultural past and a great
example of an older house that has been adapted for modern, suburban
living, co-existing well with its more recent neighbors.
The grounds of the houses are also of potentially
great archaeological value. Their location near a spring would
make it a possible spot for prehistoric relics or remains. (Most
Algonquin Indian activity was centered on rivers, streams, and
springs, and it is near these that most great finds in this area
have been made.) There is also a great potential for deposits
of historic, i.e., post-Native American, artifacts from the 18th
and 19th centuries. There has even been speculation
that a burial ground for the Burkes’ slaves may still be located
on the site.
The remains of the springhouse at Burke’s Spring are an important relic, one that shows the important
link between the spring and the Burke household and farm.
I urge the Planning Commission to, before approving the Winchester
Homes project or deciding final development conditions and proffers,
ask more of the developers in terms of considering historic and
archaeological resources. In particular, I would ask that:
The developers should be required, as part of their
planned Phase II study, to do a thorough evaluation of
historic and archaeological resources on the site. (Note that
they may also be required to do such an evaluation under Section
106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1964 (NHPA),
because they will likely require Federal licenses to do their
project.) The archeological study should target both prehistoric
and historic relics.
Once the existence and significance of cultural
resources have been established, the developer should be required
to mitigate the impact to, or loss of, these resources. This
mitigation should include at least the following steps:
The County should strongly encourage Winchester
Homes to retain the historic houses and incorporate them into
If Winchester Homes cannot be convinced to preserve
the buildings, they should be required to thoroughly document
the buildings using measured drawings, photographs, and a complete
description of building methods and materials, as would be performed
by the Historical American Buildings Survey.
Winchester Homes should ensure the collection and
cataloging of any archaeological data and relics found in those
studies or after. (The developers should also be aware that if
they unearth human remains of any race or ethnicity, state law
requires them to obtain a court order to move them.)
Winchester Homes should erect historic markers
that explain the significance of the Dye/Burke farm and houses,
and any other major resources found on the site.
Public access should be allowed to any preserved
resources, except in the case of a historic house being saved
for future residential use.
The County should monitor to make sure that any
state or federal cultural resource laws that may apply are strictly
enforced. These may include the aforementioned section 106 of
NHPA, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
(NAGPRA), or state laws governing unmarked graves.
But you should not do these things just because I think they
are good ideas. The County’s own Heritage Resource Objectives,
as well as the Residential Development Criteria, call for historic
resources to be considered before developing. As the Heritage
Resources Section of the Comprehensive Plan notes, “unprotected
heritage resources – resources whose significance has not yet
been evaluated and unrecorded resources on unsurveyed lands –
are particularly vulnerable to loss” due to “inadequate survey
or assessment of heritage resources during the earliest stages
of project planning” and “construction on unsurveyed lands” (p.
1). Clearly the framers of the Comprehensive Plan were aware
of the danger of losing historic resources whose significance
was not yet recognized.
I urge you to not let the County lose more historic resources,
or even an adequate record of them, simply because the developer
has not done their job in determining the value of what exists
on their site. Their supposed ignorance of the impacts of their
development should not excuse them from mitigating those impacts.
I appreciate you taking the time to read this letter.
cc (via email): Other members of the Fairfax County Planning