Herndon Town Council Reverses Historic District Review Board

Code allows for appeal.

    725 Elden Street, Herndon, two structures on a 70,000-square-foot lot Screenshot via Herndon Granicus  

The Herndon Town Council overturned the unanimous vote of the Historic District Review Board to deny a Certificate of Appropriateness for the demolition of "two contributing structures in the commercial district." The structures are on a lot, “about 70,000 square feet,” according to remarks by David Stromberg, zoning administrator for the Town of Herndon. The council's decision was made by a narrow margin of 4 to 3 on June 13.

The structures are a two-story former residence until 2019, rezoned commercial, and a one-story accessory building at 725 Elden Street, next to the Adams Green Funeral Home and Crematorium. Kathryn Adams is responsible for managing financial operations at the funeral home. Adams Herndon Holdings, LLC is the property owner and appellant, represented by agents Michael L. O'Reilly, The O'Reilly Law Firm, and David Kipper, Golden Real Estate Services. 

Town staff recommended affirming the decision of the Historic District Review Board.“There will be no new evidence presented at the hearing,” said Lesa Yeatts, town attorney. “This is what is called a decision on the record.”

O’Reilly argued that the review board did not correctly analyze the nine “matrix requirements.” He reviewed each, noting how the criterion complied with section 78-60.3(f) standards and the Historic District Guidelines. Thus, the HDRB should have approved a certificate of appropriateness for demolition. 

Does the house qualify as a historic building? “The house is not registered (on the National Registry of Historic Places), and the information that's been provided to you that says it is, is just flat-out incorrect. The District is listed. So the building doesn't qualify.”

O’Reilly inquired about what historical events have occurred in the building or structure. Staff reluctantly agrees it doesn’t meet the criteria, only saying it’s related to many historical people, according to O’Reilly.

Adams addressed the Council after being sworn in by the court reporter, saying she was not speaking to the appeals process completely but appreciated being heard. Adams said she had been silent during the process, and there was danger in that because many people she didn't know started to speak for her. 

“They don't know me, and the things that they have said or assertions they've made are inaccurate. I'm not a real estate developer. I don’t aspire to have a fiefdom of funeral homes and don’t want to destroy the historic downtown … My business model has to change, and tonight your decision may affect the changes that I'm making … I am out of physical space for our operations,” Adams said. 

According to Adams, the baby boomers have started to die; the wait time for interment at Arlington National Cemetery is over a year. “Your loved ones remain on our premises for quite some time … The deceased take up space … With the increasing diversity…we’ve seen a huge increase in new types of services … a lot of Hindu and Buddist.”

Adams urged the council not to confuse her lack of specific plans for the property “with a willy-nilly approach” on her part. “I make very thoughtful and careful business decisions. And like any new building, the town and the committees will have a chance to comment on the structure that I propose, and I will go through the process. I fully agree that any proposed structure should blend in aesthetically with its surroundings.”

Stromberg argued multiple points, including that the building is contributing to the historic district and according to ordinance definition and is “on the National Register of Historic Places,” He added the building report does not state it is unsound and the applicant did not explore relocation.

Following public hearing comments and a lengthy discussion lasting hours, Councilmember Cesar del Aguila motioned to approve the appeal for HDRB number 23-001 upon filing evidence in the record that HDRB’s decision was incorrect based on the reviewing standards. The council approved the action. Councilmembers Cesar del Aguila, Pradip Dhakal, Donielle M. Scherff, and Naila Alam voted yes to overturn the review board approval; Mayor Sheila Olem, Vice Mayor Clark Hedrick and Councilmember Keven LeBlanc voted no.

Appeal to Circuit Court 

According to the Historic District Overlay section in the Zoning Ordinance, Sec. 78-60.3. - Historic District Overlay (HDO), there is an appeal process of the town council's decision to reverse the Historic District Review Board ruling:

(9) Appeal of a town council decision to circuit court. The applicant, any person jointly or severally aggrieved with a property interest in land abutting or across the street from property which is the subject of a final decision of the town council pursuant to subsection (8) above, any person with a property interest in land in the historic district overlay, who is aggrieved by a final decision of the town council, pursuant to subsection (8) above, or the town, may appeal the decision to the Circuit Court of Fairfax County pursuant to Code of Virginia § 15.2-2306. If appealed, a petition at law shall be filed setting forth the alleged illegality of the action by the town council, provided that such petition shall be filed within 30 days after the final decision is rendered by the town council. The filing of the petition shall stay the decision of the town council pending the outcome of the appeal to the court, except that the filing of the petition shall not stay a decision of the town council denying the right to raze or demolish a historic landmark, building or structure.