Loudoun County’s plans to put a new fire station in Aldie hit a roadblock when the county’s Historic District Review Commission denied permits to demolish buildings on the construction site. This week, county supervisors signaled their intent to solve that problem by removing their land from the historic district.
It is the latest twist in the years-long effort to find a location for the new station. The proposed building site, adjacent to the current station in the center of Aldie, was purchase by the county after neighbors living around another tract the county bought successfully blocked the project in court.
In February, the Historic District Review Commission denied applications by the county staff to raze a non-historic garage and a cellar house that is deemed historically significant in the village’s historic district. The panel also ruled that the designs of the 20,000-square-foot fire and rescue station did not comply with historic district guidelines.
The county is applying to itself for those permits. County staff appealed that decision to the Board of Supervisors. But now supervisors may sidestep the commission’s decision entirely by simply removing the historic designation on that part of the property.
On Tuesday, board members questioned the commission actions as well as the historic significance of the run-down structures on the site.
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said, “it’s pretty clear that what the Historic District Review Commission was attempting to do was to make it difficult for the county to move forward on this project by being overly expansive” in what it considered historic.
“If the board had been seeking to ram a fire station through on this location, then we would have already done so,” Letourneau said. “In fact, there’s been an incredibly deliberate and long-lasting process that has continued to this day to try to find alternatives.”
While supervisors have struggled to find a location for a new firehouse, they have heard complaints that the current fire station is undersized, outdated, prone to flooding, and making firefighters ill through exposure to rat droppings, spider bites, and mold.
Board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said the search for a site has spanned four board terms.
“We have looked, and looked, and looked, and looked for sites, and we just have not been able to make anything work,” Buona said. “And I am not exaggerating to say I have been in several dozen closed session to discuss potential sites over the years, and every time we think we have one, something happens.”
District Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) called the move to remove the land from historic district “outrageous.”
“We’re just going to skirt our own system by just changing the rules and saying, ‘eh, it’s not in the historic district anymore,’ so we can just move forward,” Buffington said. “Is that really what we want to do as a county? Would we do that if the applicant was anyone other than ourselves? I don’t think so.”
“This isn’t somebody else’s historic district, this is our historic district, it was determined by us,” said Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin). “So I don’t think this shows very good faith, that when we get into a bind we just decide we’re going to carve it out.”
Supervisors voted to begin the process of amending zoning to remove a portion of the property form the Aldie Historic and Cultural Conservation District 6-3, with Buffington, Higgins, and Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) opposed.