The Week Ahead….

The Week Ahead….

by Larry Janezich

December 17, Monday

Capitol Power Plant Air Quality Permits

Nearby residents are worried that the Capitol Architect’s request for permits will allow continued operation of the plant as a coal powered rather than a natural gas facility.  Details will be forthcoming at a public hearing held on the request for the air quality permits at 5:30pm at the District Department of the Environment offices at 1200 First Street NE.  Interested parties wishing to testify at this hearing must submit in writing their names, addresses, telephone numbers, and affiliation, if any, to Mr. Stephen Ours at DDOE by 4:00 p.m. on Monday, December 17, 2012.   No written comments postmarked after December 17, 2012 will be accepted. 

December 18, Tuesday

CHRS Board of Directors meets at 6:30pm at Capitol Hill Townhomes, 750 6th Street, SE, 2nd floor.

December 19, Wednesday

ANC Scheduling

ANC 6B Executive Committee meets at 6:30pm, Hill Center.  The Executive Committee will set the agenda for the first meeting of the newly elected ANC6B on Tuesday, January 8

 December 19, Wednesday

Vacant and Blighted Houses

ANC 6B Outreach and Constituent Services Task Force will meet from 7:00pm – 9:00pm at Hill Center.  At the meeting, the task force will review ANC 6B’s inventory of vacant and blighted properties and 2013 technology initiatives. 

Thursday, December 20

Zoning Regulation Re-write

ANC 6B’s newly created Zoning Regulations Review Task Force will hold its initial meeting on 7:30pm – 9:30pm at the Hill Center.  The objective of the task force is to review the Office of Planning’s proposed rewrite of the city’s zoning regulations (see and make recommendations to ANC 6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee.  ANC 6B residents interested in assisting the task force in its efforts are encouraged to attend.  Residents with questions about the task force should contact either their 6B Commissioner or the task force chair, Commissioner Dave Garrison ( 

Thursday, December 20

The Difficulty of Adding a Third Floor in the Historic District

Historic Preservation Review Board meets at 9:00am at 441 4th Street NW, Room 220 South.  One of the cases it will hear illustrates the  problem of trying to add additional space to a home in the historic district.  Residents at 426 11th Street, SE, are seeking approval from the HPRB for a third story roof addition to accommodate a growing family.  The applicant sought the approval of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society – who weighs in on these matters invoking the same right any citizen or any civic organization has to submit an opinion to HPRB – for the project, but failed to meet the criteria of the Society’s Historic Preservation Committee, who submitted a letter to HPRB opposing the addition because a fraction of it will be visible from public space.  HPRB’s Zoning Committee, on the other hand, found – regarding the applicant’s application for zoning relief to allow a third story addition and roof deck – found that the addition “does not substantially visually intrude upon the character, scale and pattern of houses along the street frontage.”  ANC6B, who also opines on historic preservation and zoning matters – under the dictum that its opinion be given “great weight” by government agencies – was unable to render a recommendation, deadlocking twice on a 5-5 vote on the question of approval, and voted to take “no position” before HPRB.   Aside from demonstrating one of the disadvantages of living in the Capitol Hill Historic District, the case points up the fact that there is no uniformity of standards on these questions, a complaint raised by the applicant before ANC6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee.  Indeed, the criteria appear to be in part subjective, given the language in the CHRS’s Historic Preservation Committee’s protest to HPRB: “visibility is by necessity something to be judged on a case-by-case case basis due to such variables as a structure’s location, configuration, and relationship to its neighbors and placement in a block.”  According to Brian Flahaven, ANC6B Commissioner, the HPRB staff as well as the CHRS will oppose the current concept of the proposed addition.   If the opposition prevails, the applicant will be far from the first resident to have spent thousands of dollars in planning for an addition and then be denied approval by HPRB.


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5 responses to “The Week Ahead….

  1. Tom G

    Larry, it seems to me that this blog entry might be a bit incomplete.

    One of the reasons Capitol Hill is a place where many people want to live is because of its sense of place, which in turn is created in large part by the architecture of the relatively brief period when much of the Hill was built. The Historic District was created in the 1970s because parts of the Hill, even 40 years ago, were being torn down and replaced. There is real benefit to the Historic District, and to those of us who live in it, but you do need to maintain its architectural character.

    When people buy homes on Capitol Hill, they know or should know about the Historic District and what the requirements of such a district are.

    I agree regarding visibility that there may not be a bright line distinction, but visibility is obviously a large part of maintaining architectural wholeness. Shouldn’t people who buy on the Hill understand that such decisions aren’t necessarily going to go their way?

    • Hill Resident

      Tom G,

      I don’t think the issue is knowledge of the historic district or the fact that the city authorities (and the local preservation fanatics to whose preferences they frequently submit) may decide against a homeowner.

      What is infuriating for people is the capricious and inconsistent way in which those regulations are enforced and the extreme difficulty in getting a definitive “this is what you need to do to pass muster with the HPRB” statement from anybody. A key element that is missing from both the Historic Planning Office staff and the Restoration Society is predictability.

      Having worked with both on several projects over the years, I can confirm that if they are lukewarm on your project a huge passive aggressive streak emerges in both, as they send you back for ever more revisions and adjustments of drawings and plans, sand bag you at hearings, and generally slow walk the process until you have exhausted your funds before you even apply for permits. So much of that time, hassle, and wasted money could be avoided with clear up-front standards.

      Yes, yes. The HPO staff is supposed to interpret the law and work with the homeowner and so much of this stuff is so subjective and nuanced that it’s really quite impossible for the laity to understand. Balderdash. Listening to Tersh Boasberg praise the debacles with which Amy Weinstein has littered the Hill is enough to convince any fair-minded observer that the reason to avoid predictability is to slant the game towards a cabal of insiders with plausible deniability that is what is really going on.

      The ANC, the needs and wants of the vast majority of the community, and the needs of families with young children that want to stay on the Hill can safely be ignored as long as the insiders are feted and protected.

  2. Mary Fraker

    Perhaps the homeowner should hire Stanton/Eastbanc’s attorney.

  3. KBM

    Tom and “Hill Resident,”

    As the homeowner, I do thank Larry for his post and would agree there is a lot more to say. He could have composed a short paper, I’m sure – and I could write a small book. This is massively complicated, far more than anyone not directly involved might imagine, and we greatly appreciate the time everyone involved has spent on this concept.

    I agree with the need for a process – the 70’s was not positive – and I’ve been told that our case is especially unique. But for now I will simply say that the process has felt a bit like trying to press a wet pumpkin seed into a table top with your thumb. Predictability and clarity is desperately needed, and I hope we can help impart some in time.

    To address your points, Tom, and as background: I have lived in DC and on the Hill for 15 or-so years, 12 in our current home. Yes, we were well aware of what we bought into more than 10 years ago. We have considered this project off and on for 10 years and have seriously researched it for almost a year – speaking with city staff, with friends in related industries, with others who have done the same, etc. Promise; I am not a misinformed newbie who purchased a historic home and now is shocked to learn that I can’t add a third story, replace the façade and slap on some plastic windows.

    Also, I’m not at all interested in destroying the historic look and feel of my home (OR that of Capitol Hill). I did not spend dozens of hours high on a ladder under the eaves restoring the rotten falling-off-in-chunks wood only to blot it all out with a gaudy modern McMansion pop-up. The proposal we put before zoning and historic was, I would argue, modest. That may be why all 4 zoning groups we went before (ANC, CHRS, ANC again, and finally DC’s zoning board) all approved it as drafted without a single no vote – and is perhaps why half of the ANC members voted to support it from a historic perspective, too. I hope the HPRB will ultimately do the same.

    For our family, Christmas is coming. I look forward to having more time to put into our next steps after the holidays. For now, we have asked to have our case taken off the agenda of the HPRB this month and moved to the January meeting.

    Thank you again to Larry for his post – and for the kind words of neighbors. Happy Holidays.