As Ann Andrus of the Department of Historical Resources began a public information meeting on the Martha Jefferson neighborhood, a raucous yell came from a child in the back of the Burnley-Moran Elementary auditorium. Andrus didn’t flinch, but mothers—there were many there—turned to look and smile. It was all part of the informality of the October 24 session to present the department’s findings regarding the proposed classification of the neighborhood that includes the Martha Jefferson hospital and the Maplewood Cemetery.
In 1839, construction began at 810 Locust Ave. on a plantation that survived the Civil War. From there, development branched out, most significantly around the turn of the 20th century when the Locust Grove Investment Company—a group of wealthy Charlottesville entrepreneurs—constructed a number of houses that, as the neighborhood’s historical researcher Lydia Brant explained, still "retain a remarkable degree of architectural integrity." "It’s a very intact example of development of its kind," she said.
Last week, many neighbors surrounding the Martha Jefferson Hospital came out to support a proposed National Historic District Designation.
The 30 or so people in attendance were then treated to an explanation of what National Historic District Designation does and does not do. Mostly honorary, the designation recognizes the architectural and historic significance of an area and qualifies a property owner for state and federal Rehabilitation Tax Credits. It does not require government approval of housing changes or demolition.
Nearly all of the public’s objections to federal and state designation typically arise out of the fear that it will lead to local preservation status, a measure which brings the individual properties under the control of the local Board of Architecture. This classification means that a private owner must receive Board approval before making exterior changes to their house.
Two days before the meeting, I strolled along Locust Avenue and adjoining streets with one of the neighborhood’s residents, Melanie Miller, who has helped lead the charge for the region’s recognition. "Some people are fine with the national and state [designation], but they don’t really want local designation, because they don’t want anyone telling them they can paint their house purple or not," she said. "I can see that."
According to Mary Joy Scala, the city’s historic planner, paint color is handled administratively and usually receives approval unless it’s "hideous." As she explained at the meeting, the city currently has five national register districts and all but one is also locally controlled. That suggests that national recognition could lead to local regulation.
Nevertheless, resident reaction was unanimously positive to the possibility of national and state recognition. The neighborhood’s nomination will next go before the National Register and State Review boards at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond on December 5.
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