Woodland House Replica Rising From the Ashes

January 28, 2014 by · 3 Comments 

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
January 28, 2014

The Woodland House, an historic home which essentially was razed by the building’s new owner in violation of the City’s historic preservation ordinance, is now being rebuilt on the same site at 302 N. Lee Street after officials lifted a stop work order.

Construction was allowed to be resumed on the new home, which will be a replica of the original home, after the owner agreed to donate $2,000 to the City for historic preservation efforts and after the contractor that razed the home was fined a civil penalty of $100.

It may not sound like much of a punishment, and officials haven’t explained why that modest penalty was chosen. But a source familiar with the ordinance said the City didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.

“Essentially the work stoppage period was the only punishment available since there is no city code supporting fines for this type of violation.  This is one of the many things that needs to be fixed in the code,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.

The saga of the Woodland House began years ago, when the previous owner, Anton Schefer, wanted to subdivide the big lot it sat on and tear down the 1890 vintage home, which was in poor condition.

The City denied that request, and the home eventually was sold to a builder, who was required under the preservation ordinance to market the home for a full year at fair market value before he would be allowed to tear it down. He would be allowed to demolish it if and only if a buyer did not come forward to pay the fair market value for the home.

A buyer did come forward who promised to save the home, paying $1,120,000 for the dilapidated but beautiful structure. He appeared before the City’s Historic Architecture Review Board (HARB) as required, which approved his plans to renovate the home.

But at some unknown point in the renovation, the owners, Farrukh Hameed and Monique Milas, according to city records, decided the house was too damaged to be saved, and the contractor left virtually nothing standing except the framing for one wall and the foundation.

An angry historic review panel told Mr. Hameed that it was not his call to make and that he should have returned to the board for a new approval. City Attorney John Foster agreed that the owner’s actions constituted a violation of the ordinance.

But with the house already gone and the preservation ordinance apparently lacking any teeth, they mutually agreed to the modest penalty and the donation to the City in exchange for the lifting of the stop work order.

“Work continues on rebuilding the structure, and City staff make regular “sidewalk surveys” on the progress of construction to confirm that the “restoration” takes the form approved by the HARB in June 2012,” said City Spokeswoman Susan Finarelli.

That means that the new home will look like the original, complete with a wraparound porch, even if it is just a copy.

Angry Preservation Board Lashes out at Woodland House Owner

August 21, 2013 by · 15 Comments 

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
August 21, 2013

An angry Historical Architectural Review Board lashed out at the owner of the Woodland House Tuesday night, accusing him of violating a sacred trust and the Falls Church City historic preservation ordinance by dismantling most of the historic 123-year-old home located at 302 N. Lee Street.

Farrukh Hameed, who bought the house last year, was asked to explain how he could come before the panel in 2012 and ask for the right to renovate it, only to turn around and raze nearly all of the structure — an action which led City officials to issue a stop work order Aug. 6 demanding that all construction activity cease.

Mr. Hameed said he never intended to tear the building down, and had hoped to save it. But after beginning renovations, he and his contractors determined the house was in such bad shape it couldn’t be saved. At that juncture, they decided they could only save what amounted to a small bit of the interior framing on the first floor and the original foundation and demolished the rest.

The board testily explained to Mr. Hameed that that wasn’t his call to make; he instead should have come back to the board and asked for a right to raze the house, rather than “alter” it, which is what the board had previously approved.

This led to a back-and-forth about what constituted a “razing” of the house and what the definition of the word “restore” would mean in this context, as Mr. Hameed insisted he still plans to rebuild the home.

“My intent is still to restore the house to how it looked before,” he said.

That brought a rebuke from board member and local architect Charlie Moore, who said building a new house with the identical appearance of the original one is not a restoration but a duplicate.

“I don’t want to live in a city where people tear down historic houses and build copies,” he said.

There were many other such back-and-forths, and Mr. Hammed and his attorney, Bill Baskin, several times argued that City staff contributed to the problem by approving the owner’s plans and issuing building permits. Mr. Moore disagreed, as did the City’s outside counsel, J. Patrick Taves, who was filling in for vacationing City Attorney John Foster.

“The bottom line is that the house hasn’t been preserved; it has been torn down,” Mr. Moore said. “It was incumbent upon you to come up to the city” for approval to tear it down.

“It’s not appropriate for you to point your finger at the city,” Mr. Taves added.

Vice Mayor Dave Snyder, the City Council liaison to the HARB, also chimed in on that issue, saying that the city’s approval of Mr. Hameed’s architect’s plans “did not exempt” him from the historical preservation requirements.

But Mr. Hameed responded to such parries by saying the process was confusing, and said city staff should have directed him back to the HARB a second time after approval of his plans.

However, it’s not clear why that should be the case. The City’s Planning Department granted a building permit in March for “renovations and additions with attached garage,” according to the city’s web site. There is no evidence a demolition permit was approved, except for one approved for ASR, the home’s previous owner, who was given permission to tear down an old garage at the site in 2012.

The meeting went on for nearly two hours in similar fashion, but eventually all the parties realized that the horse had left the barn and the question now is what happens now that the house already is gone.

Mr. Taves said Mr. Foster has determined that Mr. Hameed’s actions amount to a violation of the law, and he added that it would be up to Zoning Administrator John Boyle to determine a penalty.

The board voted to require Mr. Hameed to come back for approval after the fact to raze the structure, and also suggested that perhaps as part of that approval there could be some other, unspecified changes required.

Residents in attendance suggested some penalties Mr. Hameed could be required to pay. One said he should be forced to hire an architectural historian to oversee the project, while another said he should have to put up a bond that would be released when the house is completed in accordance with the approved plans.

Historic Woodland House All But Gone

August 17, 2013 by · 18 Comments 

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
August 17, 2013

The historic Woodland House, a much beloved 123-year-old home, is virtually gone.

The house, which was in poor condition, was intended to be protected under the City’s historic buildings regulations when new owners applied for a building permit to renovate and expand it in 2012. But the owner took down virtually all of it during the renovation process, leaving only the foundation and a small amount of the original framing.

When officials saw that little of the old house was left, they issued a stop work order demanding that construction activity cease. A hearing on the issue before the Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) is scheduled for August 20.

The city’s actions would appear to indicate they believe a violation of the building permit has occurred, and that penalties may be forthcoming. But that may not be the case. Asked about the city’s position, spokeswoman Susan Finarelli said only: “At this point the City Attorney is reviewing the City Code and state law, and the next step is the HARB meeting, where the matter will be discussed.”

The owners of the home, Farrukh Hameed and Monique Milas, according to city records, could not be reached. But a source familiar with the situation told the Times they may have felt the house could not be saved once they got deep into the renovation.

The source added that there has been some disagreement at City Hall about whether the near complete demolition of the house constitutes a violation of the permit or the historic buildings ordinance. At least some city officials argued in internal discussions of the issue that “since there is one wall standing, it is an alteration,” and thus not illegal, said the source, who asked not to be identified.

Whether it’s ruled legal or not, the house is still gone, which will be disappointing to legions of its local fans. The fate of the 4,400 square foot structure, which once boasted a huge wraparound porch and sat on over an acre of land prior to a recent subdivision of the lot, has been in limbo and the subject of emotional debate in the City for several years.

Over 70 residents signed a petition in 2010 asking that it be saved; the HARB ruled that the previous owner, ASR Designer Homes, which bought it from the Shefer family at an auction, needed to attempt to sell it at fair market value for up to one year to see if a buyer would come in and save it.

ASR’s 2011 real estate listing for the property said the house “may NOT be torn down” and that a building permit already had been obtained to restore the exterior.

When a buyer did materialize and paid $1,120,000 for it, it appeared the house would be repaired. But that has proven not to be the case.

The address of the home was 610 Fulton Avenue, but after the subdivision, it is now 302 N. Lee Street.

Saving of Historic Woodland House and Poplar Tree Moves Closer

February 3, 2012 by · 5 Comments 

By STEPHEN SIEGEL
Falls Church Times Staff

February 3, 2012

The historic Woodland House at 610 Fulton that so many residents asked be saved has moved closer to survival with the emergence of a buyer who is interested in renovating the 120-year-old home.

If the buyer’s contract goes through, it also would lead to the survival of the spectacular and much-loved tulip poplar tree on the property.

The possible sale is ultimately the result of a city ordinance that requires a home deemed historical to be placed for sale for one year at a price determined by an independent appraisal. If no one buys it, the owner then has the right to demolish it.

Many people, including some local real estate agents, scoffed when the Woodland House was listed at the appraised price of $1,120,000, because it needs extensive rehab.

But owner and agent Joey Randhawa, of developer ASR Designer Homes, said he received serious interest as soon as he listed it on Dec. 21. Prospective buyers immediately came armed with contractors who would do the necessary work, he said.

The house went under contract after just three weeks on the market. But Mr. Randhawa cautioned that it’s not a done deal; the buyer’s contract contains contingencies that run through February — which could cause the contract to fall through. He declined to elaborate, citing the buyer’s request for privacy.

But the quick contract and general level of buyer interest in the house is certainly a good sign for the structure’s eventual survival and renovation; even if this contract fails, 10 more months would have to elapse without a sale before the house could be torn down.

As far as the poplar tree goes, it, too, would be saved if a buyer executes a contract — but not by force of law. Instead, it would be saved either voluntarily or by developer generosity: Mr. Randhawa says he will put in the deed a requirement for any buyer to keep the tree for some number of years — a number yet to be determined.

The Falls Church Times erred in December when it wrote that the city had required the developer to save the tree; in fact, it hasn’t and can’t do so, because the tree has not been labeled a “specimen tree.” The Times had it right previously, when it wrote last year that city officials were not empowered to save the tree, even if they wanted to. The Times apologizes for the error. Instead, the tree is being saved voluntarily by Mr. Randhawa and ASR.

Magnificent poplar tree on property is over 100 years old.


Asked why the developer was being so generous — he could build and sell a near $1 million house on the lot with the tree, which has been legally subdivided away from the Woodland House lot — he responded via email:

“This is our good will to the community to give anyone the opportunity to buy the house and the large tulip poplar.  I verbally told the planning commission this is our plan, it is not in writing.  If we want. we can build on (the lot) and tear the tree down tomorrow — it’s our property and our right, but that is not our goal and not what we want to do in this neighborhood.  We are making an effort to appease the community.”

Pressed further, Mr. Randhawa said via email that he is taking the long view.

“I do not want any negative feelings towards my company and I have always tried to build in neighborhoods to improve them and increase the value and appeal of a neighborhood…I want to keep all the neighbors happy and on my side for the construction and sale of the houses on (two nearby lots he is building on).  I am young and will be building here for many years and would like to keep working in the City and keep our mutually beneficial relationship.

“It is a long term plan but it served my parents who founded my company well and I would like to continue their vision,” Mr. Randhawa said.

However, his generosity may not be needed in this case: the buyer under contract wants to keep the tree while adding on to the back of the Woodland House.

Poplar Likely to be Cut Down Under New Woodland House Plan

March 3, 2011 by · 5 Comments 

By STEPHEN SIEGEL
Falls Church Times Staff

March 3, 2011

The developer of the historic Woodland House, whose first subdivision proposal was rejected by city officials, has submitted a new plan that appears likely to be approved.

The proposal for the house and lot, at 610 Fulton Street, would still protect and rehab the historic house. It also would add two new homes fronting Fulton. But it would require the cutting down of the huge and much-loved tulip poplar tree near the corner of Fulton and Lee that many city residents wanted to protect.

While the city has yet to approve the plan, conversations with city officials suggest the new proposal is “by-right,” meaning it meets all the zoning requirements and will almost certainly be allowed to proceed.

Whether or not city officials want to save the tree, it appears they are not empowered to do so. That’s because the poplar sits on private property; is located where the footprint of the house is allowed; and because it has not been designated a “specimen” tree by the previous property owner, which would require its protection.

That will be upsetting to many residents, who have, in comments to the Falls Church Times and other forums, expressed hopes that the tree could be protected.

However, preservationists, 70 of whom signed a petition last year asking the city to disallow any subdivision of the one acre property, may be cheered because the new proposal calls for two fewer homes than the earlier rejected plan, which also had a controversial “pipestem” house, in which one house sits behind another one, rather than fronting a street. The pipestem house was eliminated in the new plan.

The first proposal was rejected because it did not meet setback requirements for the site, city officials said. Their decision prompted some criticism from developer ASR Designer Homes, which argued that the city shouldn’t have required such large setbacks from Cedar Street, a street that appears on maps but only amounts to a city-owned but unpaved alley that runs from Fulton to the Washington and Old Dominion Trail on the east end of the lot.

The Woodland House dates to the 1890s, and had been in the Shefer family since the 1960s. It may have been built by the grandfather of Jickie Styles Crocker, whose mother lived there until the Great Depression. Crocker reported to the Village Preservation and Improvement Society last March that the home had served as a school at one point.

The most recent owner, Anton Shefer, died in February 2010, and the house and lot were sold for $2,150,000. It is said to include six bedrooms and three bathrooms, encompassing a total of ten rooms and 4,393 square feet.

The Falls Church Tree Commission passed a motion October 27 urging the City Council “to investigate all options” for saving the huge poplar. Taking up nearly a quarter of the more than one-acre lot, the tree measures 70- to 74 inches in diameter and may be up to 150 years old.

City Rejects Initial Woodland House Subdivision Plan

January 8, 2011 by · 9 Comments 

BY GINGER PINHOLSTER
and STEPHEN SIEGEL
Falls Church Times Staff

January 8, 2011

Falls Church City officials have rejected a developer’s proposal to subdivide the one-acre site of the storied Woodland House at Fulton Avenue and North Lee Street, but the fate of the property and of a giant tulip poplar tree remain uncertain.

The property, which was purchased at an auction by ASR Designer Homes, includes a much-loved former school house that 70 residents petitioned to save last year. The petition asked the city to prevent any subdivision.

The initial proposal by ASR included plans to save and restore the home, but it also would have added four new houses to the site, including one “pipestem” lot that would sit behind a house fronting the street.

The proposal was rejected because setbacks did not meet the zoning requirements, said property owner Deep Randhawa of Randhawa Architects & Builders, which is affiliated with ASR. As of Friday, a city zoning map showed the property to be designated as R1-B, which mandates 25-foot front, 10-foot side, and 30-foot rear setbacks from the property lines.

“We did apply for the subdivision of that property,” Randhawa said. “What we submitted was incorrect, as per the standards for setbacks in the city. They revised the setbacks of that particular zoning which applied to us.”

A city-owned “paper street,” which is largely undeveloped but identified on maps, has further complicated matters, Randhawa said. Although the paper street, known as Cedar Street, was littered and overgrown, he said the city told him he would need to maintain “a rather large setback” from it.

Randhawa said Friday he still intends to restore the historic home, and he will submit a revised subdivision plan to the city soon.

But the tree may or may not be saved. “Our situation is very clear and very simple,” Randhawa said. “If it is on one of the lots where a house goes, the tree has to go. If it is away from the house and doesn’t affect the building, we have no interest in getting it down.”

Beginning last week, area neighbors have witnessed a dramatic cleanup of the Woodland House site, which includes two adjoining properties on North Lee Street and on Pennsylvania Avenue. In addition to removing brush and undergrowth, Randhawa’s crew removed multiple refuse carts.

At one point, Randhawa said, a man from the neighborhood accosted the cleanup crew. “He was yelling and screaming to our workers … These guys are out there in winter … trying to clean up that mess in bad weather, and we were paying for it, and they were upset.”

But he added that another neighbor stopped by to applaud his plans for restoring the house.

The Woodland House dates to the 1890s, and had been in the Shefer family since the 1960s. It may have been built by the grandfather of Jickie Styles Crocker, whose mother lived there until the Great Depression. Crocker reported to the Village Preservation and Improvement Society last March that the home had served as a school at one point. The most recent owner, Anton Shefer, died in February 2010, and the house and lot were sold for $2,150,000. It is said to include six bedrooms and three bathrooms, encompassing a total of ten rooms and 4,393 square feet.

The Falls Church Tree Commission passed a motion October 27 urging the City Council “to investigate all options” for saving the huge poplar. Taking up nearly a quarter of the more than one-acre lot, the tree measures 70- to 74 inches in diameter and may be up to 150 years old.

70 Neighbors Petition to Protect Historic Woodland House

May 24, 2010 by · 41 Comments 

1890s house at 610 Fulton Avenue: After owner’s passing in February, property is up for auction and possible subdivision. (Staff photos by George Southern)

By ANNETTE HENNESSEY
Falls Church Times Staff

May 24, 2010

Woodland House at 610 Fulton Avenue sits on over one acre of property in the center of Falls Church City.  Originally built in the 1890s, the house has been in the Shefer family since the 1960s, but the owner died in February 2010.  The house and surrounding property is expected to be sold by sealed bid auction next month.

Neighbors are concerned that, since the house sits on one of the few large residential tracts remaining in Falls Church City, the property could be subdivided into standard lots. In addition, the property contains a dramatic poplar tree that is at least 100 years old and which occupies virtually the entire southwest corner, or about one-quarter acre.

Therefore, the neighbors claim in their petition to the city, “the siting of the house together with the tree would complicate a developer’s plan to subdivide the property and construct dwellings, whether multiple single family or townhouses or other types of residential units.”  They expressed their concern that the size and location of the lot would create pressure on the City to compromise the historic house and its property “in the name of economic development of the City.”

In the petition, the neighbors call on City Hall to preserve both the historic home and poplar tree, establishing an official position, either by legislation or resolution, against development of the property.

Auction by sealed bid is expected in June.

The Way It Was: Woodlands House c. 1970

May 26, 2010 by · 6 Comments 

By Falls Church Times Staff

May 26, 2010

Barry Buschow passed us the above photo of the Woodlands house at 610 Fulton Avenue taken around 1970. He also shared some information he obtained from Kathleen Riley Sides Crocker. She writes:

“My grandfather had the house built (I believe) and my mother was there from the time of her birth until approximately the Depression.

“I never lived there, and was only in it once — and only the first floor. The subsequent owner, Mrs. Schaefer, had a luncheon for family members when Aunt Betty (Styles) asked to see the house. I was not allowed to go upstairs.

“The enclosed porch to the left of the front door was added later. I don’t know who lived there when it was originally sold — may have been the Schaefers. I believe the school was the Schaefer School for special needs children. Then it went to a relative of the Schaafers and fell into disrepair.

“The kitchen was an add-on at the back of the house. The stable and garage were off to the right behind the house.

“Mom used to play a balloon game in the dining Read more

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