Preserved & Developed:
Washington/Torreyson Farm House

Preserved & Developed:
Washington/Torreyson Farm House

Preserved & Developed is a series of articles by Preservation Arlington highlighting local development projects that have involved both development of a site and preservation of historic resources. The projects highlight a wide range of challenges and solutions over many years. At the time they were completed the projects represented a commitment by the developer and the community to embrace the future and preserve the past. Preservation Arlington is awarding each project a gold, silver, or bronze star based on the extent to which the project protected historic resources within its particular constraints.

It isn’t often that a request comes before the County Board to down-zone a property, but that was the first step in a successful plan to preserve the Washington/Torreyson Farm House at 1600 North Lexington. The deal included a plan to redevelop a portion of the property on which it had stood since 1910 with a modern LEED Silver single-family residence.

1600 Lexington early 2000Located at the entrance to Westover at the corner of North Lexington and 16th Street North, the Washington/Torreyson Farm House sat on a 14,000 sf lot that was 70% zoned for single-family residences (R-6) and 30% zoned for apartment dwelling (RA14-26). The property is in a transition area with single-family homes on two sides and two-story garden apartments on the others. Because of the lot configuration, the only way to do a “by-right” subdivision of the property would involve demolition of the original house and clearing of the site.

Built in 1910, the house retained much of its original character despite several one-story additions. The applicants lived in the house and expressed a desire to restore and stabilize the property while also being able to create a second buildable lot. The best way to preserve the house and make a buildable lot was to use the county’s Unified Residential Development (URD) tool, which provides flexibility with a package of variances that will allow for development to occur while protecting specific resources.

1600 Lexington 1900 mapThe URD for 1600 Lexington provided a set of variances for lot size, front yard setback, rear setback, and minimum sideyard setback. In addition to preserving the house, several trees were called out for preservation including a 36″ black walnut, 15″ and 26″ cedars, a 18″ pine, and another 17 trees on the site.

The new house incorporated the best design elements available at the time. It has a net-zero run off for a 10-year storm event because of green roofs, water retention systems and porous driveways and patio materials. The new building is architecturally different than the existing house and has now been LEED Silver certified.

At their January 27, 2007 meeting, the County Board approved the rezoning and URD request. The staff recommendation said, “The proposed development conforms to established URD goals designed to retain and enhance community resources. The design also incorporates a number of historic and environmentally sensitive practices and elements, which will ensure the protection of important community resources.” One condition of the URD approval was to seek historic designation of the Washington/Torreyson Farm House. But for now, the first step was complete.

1600 Lexington Close At the April 24, 2010, meeting of the Arlington County Board the second step was taken — the creation of the Washington/Torreyson Farm House Historic District, along with appropriate design guidelines. The new owners of the property were supportive of this request. The Washington/Torreyson Farm House has been modified and some elements have been removed, but it retains the general character of the original structure.

Although real estate records show it was built in 1910 it was probably built in the late 19th-century. Through the first quarter of the 1900s the house served as a tenant house for the adjacent Torreyson Dairy. The research is not conclusive but the county believes the house was built as early as 1879 for, or by, an African American named James Washington. James Washington had purchased the land from Basil Hall.

The county’s Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board found that the property and house met five of the eleven designation criteria. The HALRB unanimously support the creation of the district. The Planning Commission supported it 8-2. The extensive and thorough staff research on this property can be found as an attachment to the public hearing item. With careful and thoughtful planning, a part of Arlington’s past has been preserved and a new house for the future has also been built.

The original applicant for the URD sold both properties after having received the URD and having developed the new house.
Preservation Arlington appreciates the time and effort that went into finding a way to not only preserve a 19th century house but to make room for a LEED Silver Certified modern design 21st century home. And then, taking the extra step and establishing the Washington/Torreyson Farm House Historic District, Preservation Arlington awards this project a “Gold Star.”
1600 Lexington from street

2 thoughts on “Preserved & Developed:
Washington/Torreyson Farm House

  1. Is this an early April Fool’s joke? The new building is HIDEOUS; its style/architecture doesn’t REMOTELY fit with the character of the historic house.
    A gold star for this? Can you hear me laughing. MUST be a joke.

    1. Sandy… Thanks for the note. The last picture in the post I think drives home your point exactly — the two houses are not a match. And that is often a big discussion in historic preservation circles — should the “new” building match the old building, sympathize with it, or be completely different. I don’t think anyone agrees on that.

      One of my more favorite examples is the ultra modern library that was build behind the very classical style Central Library in downtown Indianapolis.

      The basis for the Gold Star in this case is based on two key components:

      First, that this happened at all, as the easier solution would have been to subdivide the lot more evenly into two lots and sell them to a builder, essentially guaranteeing the demolition of the historic house.

      Second, the owners chose to designate the Washington/Torreyson Farm House a local historic district. This provides the strongest protection we have available for a property in Arlington. Although not a guarantee that it will never get demolished it does make it much more unlikely to happen.

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