vanessa-newVanessa Remmers covers Stafford County government and schools for and The Free Lance-Star.

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Amy’s Cafe gets OK for deck, trellis

Renovations to the facade of one of the “most visually important buildings” in Falmouth Bottom will soon start.

The owners of the building that houses Amy’s Cafe got the approval for the work from the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday afternoon.

It’s not normally the board that makes that call–the county’s Architectural Review Board does. The five-person board is tasked with overseeing preservation in Stafford’s historic overlay districts, including the Falmouth one, established 28 years ago.

The ARB had given the OK for the other 12 projects that new owner Paul Eakin had proposed for the house, constructed around 1820 at 103 W. Cambridge St. But they had denied plans for a new deck and a trellis that Eakin and restaurateur Amy Johnson said would encourage more business in the warmer months.

Amy’s Cafe

ARB chairman Norman Schools told the board that the board’s decision was not arbitrary and that they were open to alternatives. The proposed materials are not historically significant, and the building’s facade could be masked by the trellis, he said.

But Eakin saw the appeal to the board (the last appeal like this was more than a decade ago) as a last resort. Architect Sabina Weitzman of Fredericksburg said preservation doesn’t mean freezing a place in time–instead, buildings should be kept in constant use.

Last year, Eakin, who lives on the second floor above the cafe received a $60,000 grant from the county’s Economic Development Authority for improvements to the building. Last year, the county installed sidewalks beside and in front of the house as part of the Belmont-Ferry Farm historic trail. Eakin also offered a new lease for the restaurant, allowing it to stay open later in the evenings.

Supervisors continued their support for the house and business with a 4-3 vote to allow the plans for the deck and trellis to proceed as proposed, overruling the ARB.

Cord Sterling, Jack Cavalier and Ty Schieber voted against. Sterling and Schieber worried about setting a precedence, and the moral, legal and political implications that could arise. Cavalier said the decision should be left to the experts–architects and committee members.

Voting yes were Bob Thomas, Susan Stimpson, Paul Milde and Gary Snellings, who told of his elderly mother trying to navigate the current patio, which is in rough shape.

“Historical buildings remain intact because of the people that occupy them. No matter how old the house is, if that home is not occupied it’ll deteriorate quickly,” Snellings said.

Thomas said he didn’t think a compromise would be able to be reached at the ARB level, and Stimpson had concerns about government interfering with property rights.