County supervisors have delayed action once again on knocking down a privately owned house on Ashburn Road.
The county board on Dec. 11 held a public hearing on declaring the property a nuisance and ordering the removal of the unoccupied house on the property and possibly saddling the property owner with cost of that work through a lien. But instead of moving ahead, supervisors delayed a decision until July 2020 at least. Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said that was to give the property owner more time.
“They’d had some time to try to get a historic designation or sell the property, however, frankly, they need a little more time,” Buona said.
The property owner, Carmen Felder of Leesburg, has sought and, so far, been unsuccessful in selling the property or winning a historic designation for it. But she has said the property not only represents a generational investment for her family, but a piece of history in the area.
Felder, a marketing professional, is among other things co-founder of former Redskins player Santana Moss’s charitable nonprofit, 89 Ways to Give.
Buona pointed out that although it lies near a historic district in Old Ashburn, the property is not inside those boundaries. He said he’d like the county’s Heritage Commission to dive into the deeds on the property to decide whether it’s “truly historical.”
According to Felder’s representative, Jim Sisley, the at-large appointee to the county Planning Commission and the owner and principal broker of Paladin Real Estate, tax records document the sale of a half-acre property on that site on Feb. 20, 1889, by a couple from Alexandria to Sally Simmons for $135. He speculated she may have been a single black woman teaching at the nearby Ashburn Colored School, making her a rare property owner at the time.
And if the building is demolished, the options on that lot will become very limited. The required building setbacks on either side of the long, narrow property overlap—meaning there is no area in the property where it would be legal to build. The only place building could take place now is inside the footprint of the existing structure. If that goes away, so does the grandfathering for a building there. The property is about 640 feet long along the road, and only about 100 feet wide at its widest point, according to county mapping information.
It is also an island of outdated zoning. It is zoned for industrial development in an area of residential and rural commercial zoning and development. When the rest of the area was rezoned away from the industrial park vision of a previous county comprehensive plan, this property was left behind.
The county has delayed taking action on the property before. According to county report, Felder was first sent a blight notice on March 29, 2018. Since then, Felder and the county have been in correspondence about securing, mowing and cleaning up trash on the property, and about selling it. With that work underway and the building secured against entry, county zoning officials deferred enforcing the ordinance.
On July 26, 2019, with no change in ownership, county staff members pushed ahead on a blight abatement plan.
Under the county’s blight ordinance, if someone submits a complaint to the county, and the property owner is unresponsive to a notice requiring a blight abatement plan, the county can take action. The ordinance defines a “blighted property” as any individual commercial, industrial, or residential structure or improvement that endangers the public’s health, safety, or welfare because the structure or improvement upon the property is dilapidated, deteriorated, or violates minimum health and safety standards.” It must be vacant, lacking in upkeep, and unfit for human occupancy.
Felder said she took over the fight for her mother, who formerly lived in the house.
The parcel is one of the properties supervisors had in mind when they adopted a local blight ordinance.
“When we passed the blight ordinance about two year ago, there were three properties in the Ashburn area that we had complaints on,” Buona said. “Two of those properties, the blighted structures have been removed.”
Supervisors voted 8-0-1, with Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) absent, to continue the public hearing until July.