The Woolen Mills Historic District
The Woolen Mills neighborhood of
Is Woolen Mills historic?
Written history first mentions the Woolen Mills area before the Civil War, as a busy riverport named Pireus. The reasons for Pireus’ importance were geographic.
There are some points that make the Woolen Mills particularly interesting in history. The Mills was significant in the Civil War, as a Southern industrial center, source for uniforms, and site of wartime destruction. Pireus is interesting as a remnant of a bygone way of life based on the river, when
Why hasn’t it been established as a historic district already?
According to resident Bill Emory, some people in the neighborhood are afraid that historic designation may hurt the resale value of their property by restricting future uses.
Beyond uncertainties about the effects of historic designation lies the issue of responsibility. The growth of
How would a historic district contribute to the neighborhood?
Historic designation at different levels has different effects. Listing on the National Register provides:
1. Consideration of historic status in any federal project that may affect the site (meaning an Environmental Impact Statement; projects include federally funded road construction),
2. Availability of a 20% tax credit for rehabilitation of historic properties that produce income (not owner occupied), and
3. Availability of Federal grants for preservation.
After listing, the state of
1. Grants to local governments to document and preserve historic buildings,
2. Some financial and complete organizational assistance in surveying and planning preservation projects,
3. The option to owners of setting historic preservation easements, which restrict what can be done with the land, but also create significant tax advantages for federal income tax (100% of easement value deducted), state income tax (50% of easement value credited), property tax (taxable value of property is reduced), and estate tax (reduced estate value, plus 40% of land excluded from taxable sum),
4. Availability of a 25% state income tax credit for rehabilitation of historic properties, regardless of whether the owner lives there or not, (this credit can be combined with the 20% federal tax credit for income-producing property), and
5. Qualification for state grants to local governments and nonprofit organizations for historic preservation projects and maintenance.
1. Nothing yet. They are currently working on the creation of a Historic Overlay District in their zoning ordinance. None of the Woolen Mills lying in the County is listed on the National Historic Register. The closest listed property in
1. Design control, meaning that any new development or change to the exterior of a building in the historic district is subject to review by the Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review on criteria based on “economic feasibility and compatibility of the proposed construction/alteration with the site and other properties in the design control district… [and] that the proposed rehabilitation work complies with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation” (Chapter 7: Historic Preservation, 2001 Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan). Projects can be denied by that body.
That is the full landscape of government programs offered to historic areas like the Woolen Mills. The benefits of the state and federal incentives are fairly unambiguous. Several studies (see for example, “The Impact of Historic District Designation on Property Values: An Empirical Study,” Schaeffer) point to rising property values and greater long term stability of property values in nationally designated historic districts. This improvement in property values may be seen as a potential threat to neighborhood diversity and the goals of affordable housing. A mitigation strategy may be appropriate. Stu Armstrong of the Piedmont Housing Alliance suggests that reverse mortgages may be helpful. Reverse mortgages pay owners the value of their property in one or more payments and then accrue interest in the form of a lien on the property. Reverse mortgages are unavailable to those under 62 years old in the
Resident Bill Emory has suggested that the Woolen Mills may be an attractive destination for tourists interested in industrial and Civil War history. A tour of the village could add to the existing mix of attractions at
Perhaps the most important effect of historic district status may be the consciousness of Woolen Mills history among residents. The preservation of historic buildings and open space can be a source of civic pride and neighborhood identity.
Would property rights be affected?
State and federal registers do not hinder property rights in any significant way. It becomes more difficult for a federally funded project to threaten a historic district, but this is considered to enhance the security of neighborhood investment, a benefit to property owners. Historic preservation easements are established by property owners, and they offer major tax benefits to balance the property rights sacrificed.
Design control at the local level affects property rights, specifically development rights. The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review can deny a development that they feel is incompatible with the neighborhood. This can also be viewed as a protection of property rights, by preventing projects that threaten the neighborhood. Research on local historic districts indicates a modest decline in property values, most likely due to uncertainty on what will and will not pass muster (Schaeffer). However, a different study of local historic districts in
How can the Woolen Mills Historic District be created?
The Woolen Mills Historic District currently in the pipeline may be problematic. The City of
The Woolen Mills Historic District could become something very different, however. Listing the entire Woolen Mills, including the old mill buildings, the graveyard, and the Marchant House would create a bureaucratic sense of unity that annexation destroyed. Listing would also create some leverage against potential large, federally funded road projects, such as a new onramp to Interstate 64. It would also open up some new financial opportunities to the Woolen Mills as a whole that could create a critical mass for significant preservation efforts, with potential effects on tourism and other businesses.
The establishment of the local historic district could be significantly improved. A similar system to
Design control can be shifted to allow greater local control. One method is the Form-Based Code. In this model, the neighborhood meets for a one-week design charette to plan out what they want for the neighborhood. Then whatever fits that becomes the design code. This eliminates the uncertainties of design control by spelling everything out up front. It also puts the neighborhood in the driver seat, protecting it from development that is disruptive to the historic fabric of the neighborhood, while allowing substantial flexibility for creative new designs. “The new codes, he says, focus less on what's forbidden and more on what's desired--the kind of town or city that people indicate they want. Mixed use is welcomed back. Basic rules are specified--for example a range of acceptable building types from apartments and townhouses to detached villas or high-rise towers (leaving individual design, for the most part, to owners)” (Peirce).
The Woolen Mills Historic District, done right, can be very exciting. The historical importance of the area suggests that measures should be taken to preserve it, and there is no shortage of state and federal support to do so. Support at the local level is not yet ideal, but
1. Britton, Rick. 2006. “The Charlottesville Woolen Mills, Clothing a Nation.” http://www.historicwoolenmills.org/Charlottesville.html
. 2000. “ Albemarle County County Historic Preservation Plan.” Albemarle
3. Schaeffer, Peter V. 1991. “The Impact of Historic District Designation on Property Values: An Empirical Study.” Economic Development Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 4, 301-312.
4. Emory, Bill. 2006. “The Woolen Mills Neighborhood,
5. APVA Preservation
6. Coulson, N Edward. 2001. “The Internal and External Impact of Historical Designation on Property Values.” Journal of Real Estate Finance & Economics, Vol 23, No. 1, 113-24
8. Durning, Alan. 1998. Tax Shift.
9. Peirce, Neal. 2003.“Zoning: Ready to be Reformed?” Washington Post Writers Group.