The Manassas City Council is split over whether to allow a developer to tear down a cluster of Old Town buildings to make way for office space.
Area businessman Harold Logan believes the downtown would be better served with a small, brick, federal-style office building on the triangle of land where Centreville Road merges with Church Street. The two houses on the property, one built in the late 1800s and the other in the 1920s, have been abandoned for years.
The city’s Architectural Review Board, however, ruled in January that the structures were significant enough that they should stay on the real estate market for at least six more months. But on Monday night, council members found themselves unable to agree on whether to allow the ARB’s ruling to stand.
In a 3-4 vote, Mayor Marvin L. Gillum casting a tie-breaking vote, council members defeated a motion to uphold the ARB’s decision. But instead of allowing Logan to move forward with his plans to demolish the buildings, the council then voted 4-2 to table the issue until a future meeting,
“We should meet as quickly as the city manager can establish a date,” said Vice Mayor Harry J. “Hal” Parrish II, who switched sides on the vote to table.
The council has increasingly found itself having to weigh economic development needs against preservation interests as it hears appeals to decisions made by the ARB, which enforces guidelines for the downtown historic district.
Last year, the council voted to allow Trinity Episcopal Church to tear down a house for an expansion, overturning a previous ARB decision. An ARB decision concerning air conditioning units on the roof of the Center for the Arts was also reversed.
At the Monday night meeting, Councilman Ulysses X. White asked fellow council members not to interfere with the ARB’s interpretation of historic guidelines.
“We rely so much on our historic district,” he said. “But as time goes by, we allow our historic buildings to slowly slip away.”
Councilman Eugene R. Rainville spoke of history as an asset for the city.
“I think we should do everything we can to save these buildings,” he said. “That’s why Manassas is so important, because of its historic heritage.”
Other council members, however, wondered whether the buildings were worth the effort.
“These properties are one-step up from condemnation,” said Councilwoman Judith S. Hays. “They really deserve to be demolished.”
Staff writer Chris Newmarker can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 119.