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.