Capitol Hill Restoration Society Update

Capitol Hill Restoration Society Update:  Secret Session, Capitol Place Micro-grants, The Blue Castle, Community Gardens

by Larry Janezich

Capitol Place Micro-grants

The Capitol Hill Restoration Society’s Board of Directors met last night and immediately moved to convene in secret session excluding staff, volunteers, CHRS members, and press.  The secret session lasted some 45 minutes.  There was no word what was discussed, but it might have been about the disposition of the $250,000 that the CHRS was awarded in the settlement of the PUD application for the Dreyfus (now Fisher Development) Capitol Place property on H Street, N.E.  The developer agreed to fund two micro-grant programs for a total of $250,000:  $150,000 for façade improvements to homes of nearby neighbors, $80,000 for energy conservation grants for nearby neighbors and $20,000 for CHRS to administer the grants.  The foot print for eligibility for grants is the blocks between 2nd and 4th Streets and F and H Street, NE.  The CHRS Board is clearly interested in using the $20,000 in administration funds toward expansion of the Capitol Hill Historic District northward to H Street.  The current northern boundary of the historic district is F Street, NE.  Board President Janet Quigley announced that Larry Pearl, Chair of the CHRS Grants Committee, “is reviewing the information” on the Capitol place micro grants.  An update on the micro-grants will be provided to the CHRS membership at the CHRS Winter Members Forum at 6:30pm, Wednesday, February 27, at Maury Elementary School. 

The Blue Castle

According to Historic Preservation Committee Chair Shauna Holmes, the representatives of Madison Marquette, developers of the “Blue Castle” on lower 8th Street near the Navy Yard, have quietly begun to reach out to community organizations opening lines of communication in anticipation of the redevelopment of the historic Car Barn into a large scale mixed-use project that will help connect lower 8th Street to the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood to the north.

The 100,000 square foot property at 770 M Street SE was purchased in 2005 by Preferred Real Estate Investments Inc. of Conshohocken, Pa., for $20.2 million.  Leases for the three charter schools who were then operating out of the building ran until 2012.  In 2008, Preferred Real Estate Investments sold the property to Madison Marquette for $25 million.  The company announced that the building would be developed into a mixed use project with restaurants, offices and/or residences, and retail – possibly including a grocery store. 

The “Blue Castle” was designed by architect Walter C. Root in 1891, the Romanesque Revival building was originally known as the Washington and Georgetown Railroad Car House (commonly referred to as the Navy Yard Car Barn). The Blue Castle was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 14, 2006.

Zoning Regs Rewrite Imperil Community Gardens

According to Gary Peterson, Chair of the CHRS Zoning Committee, some 150 alley lots – mostly in the eastern part of Capitol Hill – could become eligible for construction of alley dwelling under changes proposed in the zoning regulations.  Many of these spaces are currently occupied by community gardens, popular with gardeners across the Capitol Hill community.  According to Peterson, there are about 500 alley lots in Ward Six and 200 or so are already developed.  An uncertain number are too small for development.  The remaining 150 to 200 could be developed, and a lot of these are in Hill East.  The greatest impediment for many is that the developer will have to run utilities – water, sewer, and electricity – to the lots, an expensive undertaking.  Some alley lots – where industrial buildings once existed – have utilities, but many do not. 

Two CHRS Board Members Will Retire

Two Board members, Secretary Doriann Fengler and Treasurer Sharon Weiss, have announced they will not seek re-election to the Board in the upcoming elections this spring.  Currently, there is also a vacant member at large slot on the board.  President Quigley has appointed board members Paul Cromwell and Gary Peterson, as well as Hill Center Founder Nicki Cymrot and former board member Cathi Smith to the 2013 nominating committee.  The nominating committee will solicit candidates from the CHRS membership and recommend a slate of officers. 

Historic Preservation Update

The contemporary addition to the Stuart Hobson School and the Heritage Foundation Development will go before HPRB on March 7.  CHRS is still unhappy with the Stuart Hobson project.  The earlier report in this story that the Heritage Foundation plan to wrap the retail around the corner of the building at 3rd and Massachusetts, NE, and put an outdoor café on Third Street, has been nixed by the HPO staff is in error.  Actually,  the HPO staff report, which was published on February 22, supports the corner seating area at Third and Massachusetts and recommends approval by the HPRB.   The staff has some concerns about the proposed new café space on Third Street which is detailed in the staff report.

The third story addition at 426th 11th, objected to by CHRS and the new townhouse in the empty lot at 820 C Street will both go to HPRB at the end of this month.  The owner of 42611th Street has withdrawn his plan from consideration by CHRS after failing to satisfy its concerns and is taking his chances before HPRB without their input.  Reportedly, the developer of 820 C Street has abandoned the controversial “butterfly roof.”

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Capitol Hill Restoration Society Update

  1. Karin Rutledge

    I thought there was also money for the CHRS to do a survey of properties north of F Street, NE as part of the PUD beyond the $20k. Dreyfus used this grant and the others to help assuage the guilt of the CHRS in agreeing to allow Dreyfus to knock down 14 historic properties on the site. I am in the eligible square for a grant and have not heard anything about it in years. Given that we will endure 3 solid years of contrstruction on our square, it would be nice to know that we will receive the grants sometime soon.

  2. Barry Simpson

    This is really solid original reporting. Thank you!! And keep up the good work!!

    This particular sentence is priceless in the way that it reveals the insatiable desire of the Restoration Society and the preservationist community in general to bring more and more of our community under their thumb:

    “The CHRS Board is clearly interested in using the $20,000 in administration funds toward expansion of the Capitol Hill Historic District northward to H Street.”

    Of course they are! Forget about administering the grants –make the Historic District bigger!! Disgraceful but also very very revealing.

    On a separate note, did the Restoration Society board explain why the session needed to be secret? This smells very very fishy to me. Let’s keep the sunlight pouring in on this insular cabal.

  3. anon

    I’ll 2nd the tip of the hat Larry — you’re doing a real service for the Hill with a well researched and informative community blog that doesn’t just pander to the food scene or arrivistas. Keep up with good work.

  4. @ Karin and Barry
    Several years ago, a protracted negotiation with Louis Dreyfuss Property Group over the PUD application for the company’s development between 2nd and 3rd Streets on H Street, NE, ended with a settlement under which CHRS was granted $83,000 to support historic preservation efforts outside of the historic district. That money was devoted to the “ Beyond the Boundaries Project” and a survey was conducted the results of which are available on the CHRS website. In addition, the money paid for assessments of historical district potential for the areas surveyed by EHT Traceries, Inc. a DC research and consulting firm specializing in architectural history and historic preservation.

    Board Meetings of the CHRS are conducted in an informal manner. The setting is much like a group of neighbors chatting about matters which are or should be of interest to them. The bylaws provide that:
    “Board meetings will be open to Society members in good standing. By majority vote, the Board may go into Executive Session closed to those not members of the Board,” though in my experience of almost a decade of attending Board meetings, CHRS members never attend board meetings, and the majority vote requirement is not ordinarily adhered to, the announcement of the presiding officer being deemed sufficient to require the executive session.
    In Tuesday’s secret session (in the U.S. Senate, the term is interchangeable with “executive session) no reason was given for the exclusivity, but then, none is required.