2-16-04 Letter from Anne Morrison re: Historic Preservation
Who We Are

Watershed Map & Areas of Interest/Concern

Historic Watershed Maps
  • Civil War Era
  • 1902
  • 1917
  • 1956

  • Activities
  • monitoring
  • cleanups
  • other
  • letters/testimony

  • Links & Sources

    Contact/Join Us

    you are here: home > activities > letters > 2-16-04 letter

    Anne Morrison
    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
    Room 330
    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 log cabin.

    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 their development. 

    -        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.

    Best regards,

    Anne Morrison

    cc (via email):  Other members of the Fairfax County Planning Commission

    Watershed Map & Areas of Interest/Concern
    Historic Watershed Maps Activities

    Links & Sources

    Contact/Join Us
    All items copyright © 2003-2005 Friends of Burke's Spring Branch unless another source is noted. Copyright for items with identified authorship remains with the author(s); historical and other documents reproduced here are, to the best knowledge of the webmaster, in the public domain. Items under Friends of Burke's Spring Branch copyright may be reproduced for nonprofit research or educational use as long as this copyright notice is included. Please direct comments and questions to Cathy Saunders.