Precedent-Setting Victory For Property Rights: Local Historic District Abolished

January 15, 2003

By L. M. Schwartz, Chairman, The Virginia Land Rights Coalition

The Virginia Land Rights Coalition Bulletin/News Article

MONTEREY, VIRGINIA - On December 19, 2002, the Monterey Town Council voted 4
to 2 to abolish the town's historic district. In a public meeting, with
members of the Highland County Board of Supervisors and the Highland County
Planning Commission present, Council pointedly ignored the Planning
Commission's unanimous recommendation to retain the district in the zoning
plan. The vote was a precedent-setting action, which is generating
repercussions throughout the Commonwealth.

The Monterey Historic District, in place since 1981 and encompassing the
whole town, was one of about 200 local districts throughout Virginia. Dr.
Robert Carter, Director of the Community Services Division, Virginia
Department of Historic Resources in Richmond, stated: "Our department is not
aware of any other local government in Virginia that has dissolved its local
historic district."

Monterey (est. 1848), a small Allegheny Mountain community in the western
part of the Commonwealth, is the county seat of one of the most sparsely
inhabited rural counties in the East, with a total county population of
approximately 2,600 and an economy mainly based on cattle, sheep and

For 20 years, town residents and property owners have chaffed under what has
been termed an "unneeded layer of government." A majority of residents were
fed up with what they called "arbitrary decisions," "ego clashes,"
"arrogance" and "bureaucratic restrictions" on economic development, home
improvements and private property rights by the Architectural Review Board
(ARB) which applied Historic District "Guidelines" for new construction,
renovation and demolition. The "Guidelines" were, in fact, not guidelines,
but enforceable local regulations patterned on federal and state standards,
and their formulation and publication were partially funded through the
National Park Service.

The ARB was headed by Donovan Hower, a retired federal bureaucrat and former
county planning commission member. He has advocated increased local taxation,
promoted federal and state interference in local decisions and more controls
on agriculture interests, and has lobbied for an additional historic district
to control private property use in the village of McDowell. The village is
the site of the Battle of McDowell, a Confederate victory during Stonewall
Jackson's Valley Campaign. Until recently, Mr. Hower served as the Secretary
of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District Commission,
a surrogate agency for the National Park Service, which is acquiring and
promoting control of private Valley land associated with "historic
battlefields." He was appointed by the radical environmentalist Bruce
Babbitt, former Secretary of the Interior under President Clinton.

In addition to the historic district, Monterey was designated as one of
twenty-eight DHR Certified Local Governments (CLG). According to the DHR,
"The [CLG] program was created by the National Historic Preservation Act of
1966, as amended in 1980, and establishes a partnership between local
governments, the federal historic preservation program, and the Department of
Historic Resources … [allowing] local governments a way to participate more
formally in the state and national historic preservation programs."

The "programs" include an array of "tax-credits," "grants" and "educational"
efforts, many of which promote and implement federal, state and local
controls of private property under the banner of historic preservation
(conservation) easements, preservation planning, and economic/tourism
development and promotion.

Due to the action of the Monterey Town Council, Dr. Carter stated the CLG
status will probably be canceled because "one of the benchmarks for
certification under the federal certified government [program] is that the
local government has an [historic district] ordinance…and it's certainly the
first time in Virginia that a Certified Local Government has done it." [acted
to revoke its local historic district]

A heated debate over the dissolution of the Monterey Historic District began
in March 2002, but has simmered for years. The debate centered on options to
eliminate the district, modify its impact and boundaries, or keep the entire
town within the district. It was punctuated by temper tantrums and emotional
outbursts from a small group of tourism-related special-interests,
preservationists and newly arrived suburbanites, and further inflamed by what
was widely seen as biased reporting, inaccuracies, omissions and one-sided
editorials from the Monterey newspaper, The Recorder.

The newspaper leveled what residents considered unfounded accusations of
unethical conduct, violation of the law, imprudence, arrogance and low-level
political maneuvering against the Mayor and Council members who favored
eliminating the historic district. At one point, Monterey Mayor Janice Warner
refused to speak with the newspaper due to the paper's blatant distortions
and refusal to print her comments. Councilman Francis Fenn stated in the
September 13, 2002, issue, "My main problem is...what was said in that
editorial was basically not true…You are just trying to keep a controversy

An April public hearing degenerated into a chaotic frenzy of rudeness when
preservationists shouted down the Mayor and Council, calling the hearing a
"farce" and storming out of the meeting room. Throughout the public hearing,
and during the nine-month long, countywide debate, Mayor Warner stood out as
a polite, levelheaded public servant -- in stark contrast to belligerence
clearly intended to intimidate and humiliate her and Council members.

Dire predictions by pro-district forces filled the newspaper's pages,
claiming if Monterey should break its 'holy covenant,' federal grants,
subsidies, tax rebates and technical assistance would be cut off and the
entire county would likely be cast into 'the fiery pit.' Property values
would fall off the charts, unscrupulous developers would turn the "unique"
community into a clutter of crass commercialism, the 'healing river' of
tourist dollars would go dry, town and county insolvency was imminent, and
the end of the world was nigh.

Amidst apocalyptic prophecies of doom, another contest was coming to a head.
Town elections were scheduled for early May 2002. At stake were the mayor's
and all six council seats. Mayor Warner, along with incumbent Councilmen
Francis Fenn, Tony Stinnett and Bill Niswander, who each expressed
reservations about the wisdom of retaining the district, were overwhelmingly
reelected. Council members Tom Atkeson and Jean McWhorter, who strongly
supported a historic district, were soundly defeated. Mr. Atkeson, in a bid
for Mayor Warner's job, was sent home with his tail between his legs. Two
other pro-district candidates were also defeated. Mrs. McWhorter, in a
subsequent letter to the editor of The Recorder, alleged the Mayor's and
Council's actions were somehow comparable to Hitler building "so many
smokestacks." Mr. Atkeson, in his own letter, termed the Mayor's and
Council's actions "cowardly and despicable."

But at the polls, Monterey voters spoke in strong opposition to the historic
district and its supporters: it was time to end the foolishness. Four elected
representatives took heed and acted, including Councilman Don Dowdy who at
first favored keeping a district, but changed his mind after hearing from

In a recent interview, Mayor Warner expressed her pride in the four
Councilmen's resolve to represent the voters' best interests, to resist
outside, special-interest pressure and to end a source of divisiveness which
was sidetracking the energies of the Council from real issues of importance.

Thoughtful, unbiased residents believe Monterey and Highland County will not
only survive, but will prosper to an even greater degree without a government
historic district bureaucracy or, as one resident put it, the "oxymoronic
designation of Certified Local Government" to sap individual initiative and
community pride. The people of Monterey and Highland have built, preserved
and restored hundreds of historic homes and structures during the past 200
plus years, and they will continue to do so, without historic districts and
without requiring infusions of taxpayer's dollars.

Councilman Bill Niswander struck at the heart of the matter when he stated,
Monterey "doesn't need the federal government coming in here and telling us
how to do and what to do … We don't need the feds."

Commentary: Americans are recognizing that it is not just the physical
servitude of taxation and bureaucratic control which are bringing our society
to its knees, but also the demeaning servitude of mind and spirit, and the
sloth of statist dependence demanded by an elitist, moneyed
class--self-anointed arbiters of our culture who have no scruples about
profiting at the expense of the average American as long as petty despotism
and personal gain can be cloaked behind high-minded terms such as "historic

Federal involvement in state and local preservation issues is
unconstitutional and thus unlawful, and should be terminated. While there is
much valuable work done by the Virginia DHR, with authority and justification
for certain of its programs at the state level, most of its work could and
should be carried out by private organizations and individuals without
taxpayer funding or state interference.

Monterey's decision is testimony to the independence, integrity and common
sense of the people of Monterey and Highland County in the face of hostility
from special interests and a press who make a mockery of the real history of
American greatness. It is a significant victory for private property rights
in Virginia, and sets an example for similar actions in other jurisdictions.
Mayor Warner and the four Councilmen should be congratulated for their
historic decision.

The Virginia Land Rights Coalition, working to inform property owners of the
dangers of government run historic districts, advocates true historic
preservation through voluntary initiative. We believe the most effective way
to reclaim America from the clutches of socialistic big government, to
restore and revitalize our communities, and instill pride in our heritage, is
by informed citizen action at the local level. By the forceful assertion of
the individual's sacred rights to Life, Liberty and Property, Americans must
hold all officials accountable to Constitutional principles. The concepts of
Local Sovereignty and Subsidiarity must be reaffirmed in every American
community, as they have been in Monterey, if we are to preserve our historic
and cultural legacy, and our freedoms.

© The Virginia Land Rights Coalition, January 15, 2003

POB 85

McDowell, Virginia FOC24458


L. M. Schwartz, Chairman

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