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Fairfax County pushes McLean school to document history before it’s demolished

The Madeira School in McLean could undergo an extensive overhaul if its application goes through, but down the road, Fairfax County staff say the school might consider being designated as a historic district, among other long-term changes.

The all-girls private school is seeking to tear down several buildings on its Georgetown Pike site so they can be replaced with new educational facilities, like a science and technology hall and new stables.

In an extensive report on the project, county planning staff raised objections to a couple of items, but generally expressed support for the plan and recommended approval.

“Staff finds that the application, with the proposed development conditions contained in Appendix 1, is in harmony with the Comprehensive Plan and the standards set forth within the Zoning Ordinance,” staff said in the report. “For these reasons, staff supports approval of this application.”

Among the buildings being demolished are a farmhouse built in 1930, a cabin moved to the campus in 1989 — but the original date of construction is unknown — and a science building constructed in 1975 with a unique architectural style.

While staff recommends approval of the demolition, the recommendation comes with the condition the school obtain background information on the buildings and thoroughly photograph them before they are knocked down.

Moving forward, staff said the applicant should nominate the Madeira school property as a historic district:

Staff believes the history of the development of the school in the 1930s, as well as the community impact of the school, make it a potential candidate for listing on the Inventory of Historic Sites. If a nomination is completed, the History Commission will then review the nomination and determine if it meets inventory criteria. The listing on the Inventory of Historic Sites is an honorific designation and does not place any additional use or development restrictions on the property. It is used as an educational tool to create awareness of historic structures.

Staff also noted that listing the school on the inventory could provide an opportunity for the Department of Planning and Development to identify mitigation strategies to avoid negative impacts from future development.

Staff are also working with the applicant on transportation improvements at the site — namely, a realignment of the entrance to the school. The school has not agreed to the modification, since it argues that there is no planned increase in school capacity.

Despite the disagreement, staff said the issue was relatively minor.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on Madeira School’s special exception amendment application at 7:30 p.m. on May 19, with a Board of Supervisors hearing scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on June 8.

Image via Madeira School

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