ANC6B Butts Heads with Capitol Hill Restoration Society

ANC6B Butts Heads with Capitol Hill Restoration Society

ANC Flexible on Historic Standards for Adding Rear Third Story to Townhouse

by Larry Janezich

Backing away from the Historic District hard line backed by Commissioners Garrison, Oldenburg, and Frishberg on not supporting third story additions that are visible from the street in front of the residence, a majority of ANC6B Commissioner voted on Tuesday, June 11, to permit a third story rear addition at 639 South Carolina Avenue, SE.  The addition did not receive the approval of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) who weighs in on such matters before the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) with the same legal standing that any civic group has.  City code, however, requires the HPRB and other city agencies to “give great weight” to the opinion of the city’s ANCs.  

According to a summary released at tonight’s Capitol Hill Restoration Society Board meeting, the proposed new addition would be visible from South Carolina Avenue and from The Maples, a former DC landmark structure undergoing conversion to condos.  The CHRS Historic Preservation Committee – and thus, under the practices and precedents of the CHRS, the entire CHRS Board – found that the project is not compatible with the Historic District and noted that it does not comport with the DC Historic Preservation Guidelines for Additions to Historic Buildings.

Last Tuesday, ANC6B Commissioner Dave Garrison warned that once you start moving away from a hard and fast standard, you start down a “slippery slope.”  A majority of the ANC, however, felt that it was more important to permit the addition so that a young and growing family could stay in the neighborhood in a case where the additional was “minimally” visible.  ANC6B Chair Brian Flahaven, who supported the addition, said that the ANC was advising HPRB, and “the staff there might come up with a different conclusion.”  Ivan Frishberg, opposed the addition, saying that once you start making everything subjective it risks making the process a free-for-all where every architect will sell every owner on what they think they can get through, and the homeowner will suffer.  Flahaven said he thought Frishberg was overstating the threat to the neighborhood.  The Commission agreed, and the motion to approve the Historic Preservation Application for the addition was agreed to 7 – 3. 

The vote presages what is likely to be a struggle over the CHRS plan to expand the Capitol Hill Historic District under its “Beyond the Boundaries” project.  Many newer residents of Capitol Hill have found that the only affordable homes are outside of the Historic District and preservation of those townhouses under the strict rules for altering, upgrading or adding to these homes does not appeal.  Evidence of this was the move to create the Barney Circle Historic District in 2010 which seemed on track until derailed by push back by Hill East residents and the taking over of ANC6B by a group of reform candidates representing (by and large) a different demographic than exists inside the Historic District.  HPRB may well end up backing the CHRS, but any expansion of the Capitol Hill Historic District in Hill East will depend in large part on the backing of ANC6B. 

The project will be before the Historic Preservation Review Board on July 11.


Filed under Uncategorized

12 responses to “ANC6B Butts Heads with Capitol Hill Restoration Society

  1. DC Preservation Watch

    Good to see some pushback on the CHRS and some recognition of the great economic hardship that living in a historic district imposes. Yes, oppose the expansion of the historic district, but also: 1) write into city law a method for repealing the creation of a historic district and 2) create an “Historic District Light” option.

    Keep up the good work, Brian Flahaven. You have a broad and enthusiastic base of support for this kind of common sense position.

  2. Eric

    I agree with Brian Flahaven. Having not seen the proposed third floor addition, it sounds as though it would only be minimally visible from the street. Good work ANC to attempt to allow residents to try and stay (and grow) in a home they love AND in a neighborhood they love.

    Although I fear the HPRB will likely give more weight to the CHRS’s opinion. One of the HPRB board members is a former board member of the CHRS. These issues are more problematic when you have an unelected board (the HPRB) giving weight to another group of citizens (CHRS) whose opinion sadly often outweighs the property rights of the owners themselves.

    I’m glad the Barney Circle historic district was halted. I live in Barney Circle and this is exactly the interference in my rights as a property owner I feared.

    • Eric

      I just saw the photos. How can they object to that tiny addition, but allow the giant (non-historic) building across the street?

  3. Hill Res

    +1 to both comments. I too live in Hill East and am a big fan of the Flahaven approach to development. I wish there was a way to prevent some of the more unsightly pop-ups in the neighborhood without subjecting ourselves to a panel of busybodies every time we want to replace a window. But for the preservationists, it seems to be all or nothing.

    • anon

      there really is no way to prevent some of the more fortunate pop ups being built around town. They are generally built by right with no zoning variance required or sought. It’s a slippery slope in permitting additions in the historic district. If NON-historic districts wish to retain the option of altering the visual fabric of their neighborhood those residents have every right to oppose/reject historic designation.

      The CH historic district has been in place for 40 years. I highly doubt that the parties interested in popping up have lived in the historic district longer than this designation has been firmly in place and these owners had to know what they were buying into.

      • Eric

        Agreed, very unlikely these people moved into that home more than 40 years ago, but the historic preservationists –like the CHRS– oppose changes that wouldn’t have a noticeable effect on altering the visual fabric of the neighborhood.

        That is unless you’re willing to give them a bunch of money, then you can tear down a row of historic buildings with their blessing.

  4. Mickey Simpson

    Eric, thanks a million for that link. That is just hilarious that the most self-congratulatory group in the city sells out as soon as somebody offers to slip them a five dollar bill.

    I’lll never look at Shauna Holmes, Nancy Metzger and the rest of that claque the same way again! Hoo boy…just hilarious.

    • anon

      first of all, that block was not in the Historic District, so whatever legal protections were in place did not apply in this instance. Secondly, with the SEC building completed across the street, one could argue the historic character of the block had already been severely compromised before the Dreyfus property was proposed for the site

      Sometimes you must take the best deal on the table when you have a weak hand. I don’t think CHRS did anything to compromise its principles.

  5. anon

    The Maples and the Dreyfus developments? Let’s compare apples with bazookas. The Maples is very much within the historic district, but it is also dillapidated and a building at risk. There were some legitimate trade offs there. The Dreyfus property had a much wider berth on redevelopment options.

    You could say the Mapes site is being “compromised” but that hardly paints a complete picture.

    • Eric

      The fact of the matter is there a brand new large building being built in the heart of the historic district on a busy well traveled street. Immediately across the street is a family who wants to put a modest addition that would peak about 3′ over edge if you viewed it from the other side of the street.

      I think a “legitimate” trade off would be to allow this family to proceed with heavy weigh-in by the HPO on design to ensure it fits in with the fabric of the neighborhood. Done right not a soul could tell that their tiny 3rd floor addition wasn’t an original part of that home.

      • anon

        there are lots of new buildings throughout the Historic District (ie build within past 40 years). The completed ones were built with the necessary support from the preservists (some serious head scratchters too). This just sounds like a case where the applicant doesn’t like the decision.