Mary's Landing is the first large "Creative Maker District" Project and people have a lot of questions.

If you're not familiar with it, Mary's Landing is a project proposing to build 63 townhomes on existing lots in the Creative Maker District, just across Fall Hill Avenue from the Old Hospital Building. You can see the Construction Plan here.

It is a by-right project, meaning that the approval of the City's Zoning Administrator is required, but City Council is not involved and there are no public hearings. In this administrative review process, public notice requires signs be posted on the project site, and certified mail notices sent to nearby property owners. In this way, stakeholders and the public at large are invited to submit written comments to the Zoning Administrator during the public comment period.

I was very pleased to see so many folks attend the recent Canal Quarter Neighborhood meeting about the Mary's Landing project. We learned much more about the project from the developer and the office of the Zoning Administrator. Some great ideas were suggested, and a number of concerns were voiced. I hope some of you went on to submit written comments to the Zoning Administrator. The public comment period for this by-right project closed on February 20th. Some folks are opposed to the project, and others support it, for various reasons. I wanted to take a minute to add my perspective.

I want to start out by saying that the Mary's Landing project could be a significant mile-marker for historic preservation in Fredericksburg. It's the first time a major construction project has been proposed in the Creative Maker District, providing us with a test bed of sorts, to help everyone judge the viability of a new preservaretion method contained in the Form Based Code. In that respect, this project is unique.

What's so historic about the Creative Maker District?

While the Creative Maker District in the Canal Quarter may not showcase our Civil War, Colonial, or Civil Rights past, our City as a whole offers a rich tapestry of experiences that celebrate various historical periods.

For generations, this part of town, along Princess Anne Street, was the primary gateway into downtown for anyone traveling north or south on US Route 1. This created a robust market demand for roadside amenities. Mom-and-pop gas stations, repair shops, and motels appeared all along Princess Anne Street, as well as eateries like the 2400 Diner, and Carl's Frozen Custard.

The Creative Maker District is historically remarkable in its own way. Famous people come to mind – for instance, Patsy Cline, who loved to stop at 2400 Diner; or, Link Wray, who invented the power chord when he was playing to a crowd of eager young fans at the Old Armory (which is no longer standing) at the corner of Route 1 and Fall Hill Avenue. His iconic and ground-breaking song "Rumble" changed the course of Rock-n-Roll! Check out my related article in Front Porch Magazine.

And the mid-century architecture is important to our culture, as mid-century architects emphasized functionality, minimalism, and the use of new materials and technologies, reflecting the post-World War II era's focus on modernity and progress. Many of the early and mid-century buildings in the Creative Maker District survive to this day, some with terra cotta roofs and stepped facades; others with minimalist, functional designs. Sometimes I wonder if we might be the last generation to enjoy having them around? Let's hope not.

Sadly, "demolition by neglect" is a common threat to old buildings like those in the Creative Maker District, caused by factors like harsh weather or lack of maintenance. Vacant or underused buildings are especially at risk. Once a building reaches a critical state of disrepair, for public safety reasons demolition may be the only option.

How do we protect the mid-century gems in the Creative Maker District?

‍The Creative Maker District lacks the protections afforded to buildings in the Historic District, leaving older structures vulnerable to demolition without City oversight or intervention. The challenge lies in finding ways to promote the preservation and adaptive reuse of these unique and historically significant buildings in the Creative Maker District, and mitigate the risk of demolition.

To start, when I was the chair of the ARB, we identified around 30 buildings in the Creative Maker District as "Character Structures" worthy of being saved (see the illustration here). Naturally, one way to achieve that is by encouraging adaptive reuse - breathing life into unused or underused buildings - rather than demolition.

What does all of this have to do with the Mary’s Landing Project?

As noted above, by-right projects like Mary's Landing don't come to City Council or the Architectural Review Board for approval, but instead are reviewed and approved/rejected at the administrative level by City officials who work in urban planning, construction, fire, law enforcement, and public safety. To ensure that the Mary's Landing project meets the City's goals, City staff has three tools:

·      the Creative Maker District Overlay

·      the Form Based Code overlay, and

·      the underlying zoning district requirements

When the Creative Maker District and the Form Based Code intersect, it presents a promising approach to historic preservation for structures outside of the Historic District:

·      The Creative Maker District’s officially designates Character Structures, promotes their adaptive reuse, allows for expanded use categories, and fosters the attraction of new small businesses; and

·      The Form Based Code sets guidelines for the size, massing, scale, orientation, fenestration of new buildings, and green spaces, encouraging growth that will be harmonious with the small-town aesthetic of Fredericksburg.

One way to encourage adaptive reuse of Character Structures is with the 25% "green space" set aside requirement of the Form Based Code, and Mary's Landing project is a good example.

The Medical Arts Building, located at the corner of Fall Hill Avenue and Elm Street, is part of the same tract of land as the project site (GPIN 7779-78-9885), and it is designated as a Character Structure. This designation allows the developer to use the building footprint to satisfy the green space requirement of the project. If the building is ever demolished, it cannot be rebuilt, converting the area into new green space. Mary's Landing project is leaving the Medical Arts Building intact to satisfy the 25% green space requirement, and expects to adaptively reuse the structure in the future. The old homes in this block will not be demolished, as they are not part of the project site. You can see this by comparing the project map against the aerial photo shown in the collage (see above).

I know the green space credit sounds a bit counterintuitive at first. Setting aside a Character Structure for adaptive reuse, however, and counting it as green space to satisfy the 25% green space requirement, may be a very sensible preservation strategy. We talk a lot in preservation circles about ways to avoid "demolition by neglect", and this is one approach that could bear fruit. This local developer appears amenable to voluntarily setting aside additional green space and protecting some of the older trees. Stay tuned for how things develop once the Mary's Landing project has worked its way through the Zoning Administrator's review process. We’ll see how all of this unfolds, as time often tells the whole story.