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Arlington Approaches Historic Property Owners

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The Colonial Village Shopping Center, built in the 1930s, is on Arlington County's list of essential historic properties.
Michael Pope
The Colonial Village Shopping Center, built in the 1930s, is on Arlington County's list of essential historic properties.

Colonial Village Shopping Center isn't what most people would consider a historic site. But Arlington County disagrees.

"Arlington's history is so different than a lot of the history that surrounds us in the metropolitan area," says Cynthia Liccese-Torres, the county historic preservation planner.

"What makes Arlington, Arlington, are these types of buildings: the garden apartments, the shopping centers that were designed to originally serve them, as well as some of the early commercial buildings such as what we have in the original downtown of Clarendon," she says.

For years, the county has been building a historic resources inventory to document all the properties that speak to Arlington's 20th century history. The eclectic list includes a post office, a gas station and, yes, the Colonial Village Shopping Center.

"Maybe there's something historic about it, doesn't seem that way," says Christopher Hadley, a manager at Ray's Hell Burger, located in the plaza. "It's just an older shopping center with a small parking lot. It just doesn't seem historic to me."

Arlington County disagrees. In the coming months, the county will be approaching property owners to see if they want to be part of the newly created county historic districts. Unlike federal or state historic designations, the local designation would protect the building from being demolished unless a buyer can't be found to save it.

Edward Berenbaum, a realtor with Century 21 who works on the other end of the Colonial Village Shopping Center, says the building is worth saving, although he predicts most property owners will decline the invitation to create new historic districts.

"That might eliminate somebody for a buyer, and the more potential buyers you have, typically the higher the price because you've got more people bidding against each other."

But historic preservation advocates say more is at stake than money. As development pressures increase, they say, more and more of these buildings may be threatened in the future.

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