Understanding the Alexandria Board of Architectural Review Process

If you plan to remodel a property in Old Town Alexandria, there is a good chance that your project is subject to the oversight of the Alexandria Board of Architectural Review (BAR). The BAR is responsible for approving the “appropriateness” for new construction projects and exterior alterations visible from streets and public alleys. Should you choose to build an addition or even replace windows and exterior doors, then the BAR must approve the work before a permit application can be submitted.

Outside of Old Town, there are historically significant properties overseen by the BAR that are designated as “One Hundred-Year-Old Buildings” – although not all 100-year-old buildings in Alexandria fall under this designation. This interactive map shows the “One Hundred Year Old Buildings” as well as other properties subject to additional regulations. Here is another map zoomed in on the Old and Historic Alexandria/ Parker Gray District boundaries.

The BAR consists of city staff and a city council-appointed seven-member board. The city staff can recommend approval of projects by the full board, as opposed to administratively approving projects that meet certain guidelines outlined here and here.

Projects that are not “administratively approved” by staff can be recommended for full review by the seven-member board, with a process that involves a public hearing and specific presentation of information, including detailed architectural elevations depicting how the project will appear from public streets. Continue reading to find out more specific information concerning each application type. 


Administrative Approval

The administrative application and review process is designed for minor alterations, repairs, or maintenance tasks that do not significantly impact the historic or architectural character of a property or district. Typical projects that fall under this category include: repainting a building in the same color, repairing or replacing roofing materials with similar ones, installing compliant signage, making minor landscaping changes, and routine maintenance. These applications are reviewed and approved by BAR staff, making the process relatively quick and straightforward, often completed within a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on staff workload.


Full BAR Approval

The full BAR review application is required for substantial changes that could affect the historic or architectural integrity of a property or district. This includes: major additions, new construction, demolitions, and significant exterior alterations. The application packet for a formal BAR hearing is detailed and requires architectural elevations that show how the project will appear from the street. Applicants typically start with a pre-application consultation to understand requirements and gather feedback. After submission, the application process takes about two months, and undergoes a staff review for completeness & guideline compliance, followed by public notification & a formal BAR meeting where the project is presented, discussed, and decided upon. The city will not review a permit application for a project until the BAR has signed off on the project first.

While administrative applications offer a faster, simpler, and less costly approval process for minor projects, the full BAR review ensures that significant alterations undergo thorough scrutiny, incorporating public input and adhering to preservation standards.


Rust Construction and the BAR

The Alexandria Old and Historic District was established in 1946 but it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that preservation of Alexandria’s buildings became the priority we take for granted today when concerned citizens pushed back against “urban renewal” projects that demolished “blighted” buildings with little regard for their historical significance. Historically Black neighborhoods in Old Town were disproportionately affected. It was during this time that Tom Rust Sr. (Rust Construction)  and his brother John Rust. AIA (Rust Orling Architecture) built a name for themselves as experts in historic restoration and place appropriate design. Some of Tom Sr.’s  favorite projects involved early renovations of the Stabler Leadbeater Apothecary Museum and stabilizing Alexandria City Hall’s clock tower. John Rust was involved in the development of the design guidelines used today by the BAR. Since the 1960’s Rust Construction has been involved in the design and remodeling of historically significant properties all over Old Town. We are intimately familiar with the neighborhood and its history. Contact us today to discuss remodeling your historic home.


Additional Resources:

Citywide map of properties subject to BAR oversight

Old Town and Parker Gray Historic District Boundaries

BAR Application Guidelines

BAR Design Guidelines

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