Clarke May Gain New Historic District

Clarke County may soon have a new historic district. The proposed Chapel Rural Historic District, if approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, will add 16,700 acres to the County’s several other historic district designations. According to state officials, the historic district designation carries no restrictions for landowners but does offer valuable tax incentives to property owners who improve land and buildings within a historic district.

“Clarke County began telling the story of its history by designating historic districts in 1993” said Maral Kalbian, an architectural history consultant who has worked with the County for more than 20 years. “For an area to gain official historic district status it has to be more than just old. The land and buildings must preserve certain level of historical integrity. The area proposed for the Chapel Rural Historic District tells a story about growth and development in Clarke County.”

Kalbian said that the Chapel Rural Historic District includes many churches, commercial building as well as several historic African American communities including Claytonville, Pigeon Hill and Josephine City.

Map of proposed Chapel Historic District (click to enlarge)

About twenty citizens attended an informational session about the proposed district held Wednesday night in Berryville. Kalbian, along with Virginia Department of Historic Resources regional director David Edwards, told the citizens that if approved, the new district will be “honorific” only and will not place any restrictions on landowners.

“The honorific designation means that the communities within the designated area are well preserved in terms of land use and architecture” Edwards said. “While the designation recognizes the area’s rich agricultural heritage, property owners will not face additional restrictions at any level. However, there are benefits though.”

Edwards said that National Register Historic District designation confers financial benefits on historic district property owners by encouraging the owner of a contributing building within the registered district to claim investment tax credits for certified rehabilitations. The rehabilitation tax credits are dollar-for- dollar reductions in income tax liability for taxpayers who rehabilitate historic buildings. Additionally National Register designation makes properties eligible for matching federal grants to historic preservation, when available.

In addition to the financial tax advantages, Kalbian and Edwards emphasized that the designation increases public awareness of a community’s historic resources and encourages preservation but does not restrict a private property owner’s use of private funds. Because historic designation is authorized under by Federal legislation, it mitigates the negative impact of government-funded projects through mandated review of how such projects may impact land in a historic area.

“When people hear about a historic district they usually think of local zoning overlay districts” Kalbian said. “This designation has nothing to do with historic districts administered by localities like Berryville or Boyce. This historic district is administered by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the National Park Service.”

Kalbian said that there are approximately 400 similar historic districts across Virginia. She said that about 45% of Clarke County is now under historic district designation since the White Post historic district was first established in 1986. Since then the County has added 19K acres in the Greenway Districts, 10K acres in the Longmarsh District as well as the Cool Spring Battlefield District and the Bear’s Den Historic District.

Edwards said that the Virginia Department of Historic Resources “is very supportive of the new historic district”. Even so, there’s plenty of work to be done before the designation will be officially considered. Kalbian must still conduct an architectural review for every property in the district.

“As soon as the leaves fall I will begin documenting every building on the 16,700 acres” Kalbian said. “That includes taking a digital photograph of each structure and creating an architectural description.”

Department of Historic Resources regional director David Edwards addresses citizens about the proposed Chapel Historic District - photo Edward Leonard

Kalbian hopes to have her field work completed in April so that the application for the district can then be forwarded to the state. If state review finds that the area is deserving of historic designation, the application will be forwarded to the National Park Service for consideration of inclusion on the National Register.

“National Register designation officially recognizes the cultural, architectural, and landscape features of a historically significant area, bringing them to the attention of the community, state, and nation” explained DHR’s David Edwards. “Ideally, listing furthers community efforts to preserve the area’s historic and natural features.”

Edwards also said that by law, an environmental impact study is required for any federally funded projects – such as road building, utility installation, and public housing projects – in a historic district. Also, certain state projects are reviewed for their impact on historic resources. If any project is deemed to have an adverse effect on historic buildings, archaeological sites, or landscape features within an historic district, those impacts must be considered and mitigated to the extent possible.