Commissioned Study Recommends Expanding Capitol Hill Historic District North to H Street
AND Creating a New “Capitol Hill East Historic District”
by Larry Janezich
Last night at Maury School, EHT Traceries, an architectural history company hired by the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) to study the feasibility of expanding the Capitol Hill Historic District (CHHD), presented its findings to some 60 residents who live in or around the affected area.
The firm made a series of recommendations in a 200 page report to CHRS, including expanding the current CHHD north, nearly to H Street, on the basis that buildings in those areas reflect the same architecture and style as the CHHD. The report also recommends creation of a new “Capitol Hill East Historic District” to mark the neighborhood’s later 20th century period of development that separates it architecturally from the older CHHD to the east.
In addition, the report recommends studying properties in Rosedale and Isherwood – two areas which did not develop, according to EHT, in same way as the other historic districts did. Nonetheless EHT Traceries says there are properties here in the mixture of wooden and brick structures that deserve historic designation.
The report also recommends studying the corner stores which are rapidly disappearing from the community, wood frame structures outside Rosedale/Isherwood, and performing a reconnaissance survey on the rest of the Kingman Park neighborhood.
Based upon the data collected and reported to the public last night, Traceries has recommended expansion of the CHHD to the north and north east and the creation of a new Capitol Hill East Historic District (see illustration above). But the cost of collecting data for the other areas and historically significant structures, as recommended by EHT Traceries, would be expensive and there was no word of funding available to pursue them at present.
The current study was funded by a settlement CHRS reached several years ago with the Louis Dreyfuss Property Group (some $83,000), as mitigation for the demolition of twelve historic buildings in the way of the new Dreyfuss development between H and G and 2nd and 3rd Streets, NE. Last night, a Traceries representative said the firm would have liked to have studied the area all the way to Florida Avenue, “but there wasn’t the funding.” For more on CHRS’ efforts to expand the CHHD, see here http://bit.ly/1oovsau and here http://bit.ly/1y9ymQf
The Historic Preservation Office (HPO) representative in attendance last night, Kim Williams, noted the benefits of historic district designation, which include protection of buildings from demolition and inappropriate alteration. In addition, she said, “the coherent narrative of neighborhoods” is preserved and “its character is maintained in perpetuity.”
The negatives associated with historic district designation, raised in some questions last night, were also alluded to in a list of FAQs distributed by HPO, regarding the length of time it takes for getting a permit for home improvement. The memo notes that review for major home improvement projects by HPRB – which meets twice a month – is required (the memo fails to mention the additional approval by the ANC which most applicants will want to have before going to HPRB). In addition, there are restrictions on alterations to the façade of a house, a virtual prohibition on adding floors or any addition which can be seen from public space, HPRB review of hardscaping (walks, driveways, retaining wall, etc.), and restrictions on use of materials to repair or renovate, including windows and front yard fencing.
The HPO representative stressed the process depends on community initiation, usually by a local civic group or the ANC. Historical data is compiled to justify the designation of a historic district – in this case the work has already been done for the expansion and the proposed new historic district in Hill East. Community meetings are held by HPO to assess the degree of support for historic district designation, and if a consensus emerges for going forward, the organizers submit documents nominating an area for historic district designation to HPO. The process up to this point takes a minimum of six months. Once submitted to HPO it takes three to four months to schedule a presentation before HPRB. The HPRB generally makes a decision at the same meeting that the nomination is presented and the HPRB regulations for historic districts become effective at that time.
EHT Traceries is scheduled to make two addition presentations on the study:
ANC 6B area: Mon. Nov. 17, 6:45 to 8:30 p.m., Hill Center, 921 Penn. Ave. SE
ANC 6C area: Tues. Nov. 18, 7 to 9 p.m., Northeast Library, 330 Seventh St. NE
For more information, go here: www.chrs.org.
64 responses to “Commissioned Study Recommends Expanding Capitol Hill Historic District North to H Street”
I read the study and heard the argument. I came away convinced that this is a bad idea.
Is anybody studying whether it’s time to terminate the Capitol Hill Historic District?
David, you probably weren’t here when the Historic District was formed in the mid-1970s. Several large historic buildings had been torn down, there was no protection. There aren’t very many places in the US where the architecture from an historic period is pretty much intact as a whole, as it is on the Hill. The formation of the HD ensured, for as long as the district exists, that this will remain so.
A benefit of the HD is that Capitol Hill (and Eastern Market) became destinations, they had an identity created by the HD that wasn’t there before. That is one reason the Hill is a draw, why people want to live here. The city planning literature is full of examples of historic districts being part of economic development, especially when you are trying to create economic growth. Back in the day, in the mid-1970s, economic growth is what was missing here, and the HD has certainly helped both the Hill and the District in that way.
Developers may be foremost among people who don’t like HDs, because with HDs you can’t tear things down and build up (or build pop-ups). People who live near such large new developments often don’t like them, which may explain why homeowners often do like HDs, it gives them some protection from large developments that increase traffic and noise, and create more competition for on street parking.
There are many parts of the city that do not have square miles of unique architecture from a defined period, they don’t have the viewscape of the Hill. Those are more appropriate places to think about tearing down and building up. Just to be clear, I’m not anti-development or anti-developer; but I am for preservation of architectural communities that have historic value and beauty that can’t be replaced.
You say both that HDs are good for economic development and that they are disliked by developers. Both cannot be true.
Also, ask 14th Street NW, Shaw, etc how they’re feeling about development he last 10 years, as we on the Hill sit here sputtering for 6 years just to replace an old broken down functionally useless school across from a Metro stop.
Economic development doesn’t consist only of tearing things down and building them up.
It also consists of a rising tax base, which has risen considerably on the Hill since Anthony Williams was elected Mayor in 1998. Economic development also consists of thinks like all the restaurants we have now, enabled by the incomes of the people who have come to the Hill after Anthony Williams became Mayor. If the Hill weren’t such a magnet for new home owners and renters, we wouldn’t have nearly the number of restaurants, which of course provide jobs and taxes.
So, yes, HDs can be good for economic development, AND disliked by those who want to tear down neighborhoods.
As to why the Hines development isn’t coming along — guess what — it is because some people don’t like the scale. It isn’t opposition from CHRS, it is opposition from nearby homeowners. One person’s flower is another person’s weed. So lawsuits will go on.
Re: Tom’s alluding to the HD causing all of the new awesome restaurants on the Hill, I have to toss the red challenge flag on that assertion. The reality is that for a while the main cluster of decent restaurants on the Hill were the result of proximity to Congress and the large Hill Office Buildings. Barracks Row had significantly fewer and lower quality offerings right up until the last 3-4 years. Otherwise known as the exact point when a Major League Baseball Stadium opened along with multiple massive apartment buildings going up all over the Navy Yard neighborhood without any bars, nightlife, or restaurants besides the tiny Justin’s which is always packed. So technically, the atrocities of overdevelopment saved the HD from itself as there are nowhere near the commercial or residential foot traffic numbers required to attract so many restaurants.
Just saying, i dont want Hill East to look anything remotely close to Navy Yard, but the HD proponents (more than anyone) should stick to facts and actual impacts of the designation. Just as the HD shouldn’t be blamed for most statistical trend lines during the 80’s and 90’s, as there were massive and unrelated forces at hand, so too are you not taking credit for the great things of the last several years either.
CHRS gets $83,000 for the properties near Union Station. SWNA gets $60,000 for a building in Southwest. DC Preservation League gets has gotten over $1,000,000 for various buildings (http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2014/11/06/no-preservations-money-perverts-the-historic-landmarking-process/).
I know there are other motivations, but in light of the information presented today by the City Paper, it sure looks like expanding/creating historic districts is just a way to create more opportunities for payoffs for CHRS.
I suggest anyone who lives in the affected area go on the website for the DC Historic Preservation Office and review the pages and pages of sometimes conflicting, frequently abstruse, and always arcane “guidelines” and regulations regarding the Capitol Hill Hysteric District. If you want to live in an maintained area governed by an artificially constructed notion of what is “historic” and what is not, and policed by your neighbors’ snitching on you, then go for it! But set aside a good amount of money to hire all the licensed specialists and academics necessary if you ever need to fix or improve anything on “your” property. BTW did you know that brick sidewalks, officially, are not “historically appropriate?” Do you know how high the point on a picket fence can be? What an “acceptable” window manufacturer is? If you vote for this power grab by neighbors with waaaay too much time on their hands, you had better study up!
If this can curtail those horrid ‘pop up’ buildings, I’m all for it!
This comment leaves me sad. If that is all you care about there are plenty of suburban homeowner’s associations that you could live in. You would never have to worry. House color, plantings, window types and all other matter of decisions will be made for you. But, by all means giving up your freedoms in a vain effort to stop “pop-ups” is worth the trade off.
you either 1) don’t live in the historic district because you don’t value it; 2) live in the historic district DESPITE the fact that you don’t value it; or 3) think you have a right to tell others what to value about their neighborhood, which makes you not that much different than the comments that leave you so sad.
I moved from a historic district to Hill East. I understand what a money grabbing institution that preservation society’s can be. Your failure to accurately understand my post is troubling. Voluntarily or involuntarily joining a preservation does exactly what you accuse me of. It mandates them the ability to tell me, you, and everyone else “what to value in their Neighborhood.”
RC, the CHRS is not “a money grabbing institution.”
Rather, is is a group of neighbors who volunteer their time, for no pay, to further a common goal: the preservation of historical architecture in an area where the great majority of structures are from the mid to late 1800s or early 1900s, and of a similar scale. They aren’t making such neighborhoods any more!
Please try a little harder to understand what it actually means to live in a HD. You can choose from many colors, but electric lemon probably not. (Our door is teal blue; no problems there.) You can chose window types that match those of the style of your home. I haven’t yet heard of any historic preservation entity in the District tell me what my plantings should be, and I’ve had many. Is any of this really “taking away your freedoms”? Or is it just part of retaining historic architectural characteristics?
If you want to worry about your freedoms being taken away, have a look at this:
Kudos to the CHRS and its many volunteers!
Tom, I get it. You love your HD. Nobody is trying to take yours away.
Your condescending remarks combined with failure to understand my original post is disheartening. You must ask yourself what has more historical value, property rights or medium aged homes.
Expanding the Capitol Historic district is the path of madness. I have observed and attempted to work with both the CHRS and the HPO for some ten years now and find them to be the classic case of the iron fist in the velvet glove. They rely on delay, intimidation, and extortion to grind down homeowners and businesses until they knuckle under.
Don’t be fooled by the gentle suggesting tone pitching the historic distirct: as soon as it is approved, your leverage is zero and you have effectively handed control modifications to your house to a cabal of preservationist crazies.
Hill residents weighing whether they want to support should themselves if they really want decisions about their home made by Beth Purcell and Lisa Dale Jones? And Nancy Metzger, long-time Historic District Chair of the CHRS, now on the HPRB? The HPRB considers the CHRS a “community partner” and gives their input great weight. I think I trust my neighbors more than preservationist militants whose intransigence inflicted the shotgun house on us for 30 years, bitterly opposed and litigated a graceful addition to the Heritage Foundation building on PA Ave, and are now coldly imposing cost and delay on the poor owner of the burned out Frager’s building as he struggles to rebuild.
The Capitol Hill historic district is quite large enough, thank you very much. Beth Purcell, Lisa Dale Jones, and Nancy Metzger, the Hill is simply not interested in voluntarily submitting ourselves to your pinched and micromanaged vision for our community.
HF, the only way an HD get expanded or created is if the people in the neighborhood want it.
Historic district designation is very appealing. The added design review process is needed. Just as critics of CHRS make their point about the frustrations of militant boards and increased regulations…those living in hill east have virtually no protection from greedy & corrupt developers. DCOZ must zone the hill correctly and correct outdated zoning laws. Until then, residents will be at risk of watching their neighborhoods being taken over by speculators trying to make a quick buck in our community throwing up sub par crap. If historic designation can put the brakes on these developers and hold them more accountable, I am all for it.
+1 Well said Hill Feller!
The irony here is that having read the 200+ page CHRS context doc on Hill East (which they have invented a brand new name for that is nowhere to be found in any historic documents) they clearly detail that this neighborhood was built entirely by speculators looking for more spacious and affordable housing options outside of Capitol Hill. So, rejecting the HD is actually more in keeping with preserving the community’s roots than you’d think.
I feel for the property owners in these new “historic” districts. It’s nothing but a government-sanctioned seizure of property rights that significantly decreases the utility of the property.
Where can I make a donation to a legal fund that will fight this?
Michael, if you don’t want to live in a HD, just voice your opinion in your neighborhood. If your neighborhood doesn’t want to join an HD, it won’t. Nobody is forcing you or your neighbors.
If by “utility of property,” you mean your right to build a pop up or tear down your home and build a bigger one, you are right that being in an HD does decrease your utility. You should bring that up with your neighbors as you consider whether you want to be in an HD, if it is an issue of importance to you.
One thing people who haven’t been here for very long may not know is that home values in HDs generally go up more than in other areas, areas with mixed architecture and tear downs. That counts for utility to many homeowners.
I have lived in the Capitol Hill HD, owning two different houses, since 1977. Nobody has taken my utility, at least as I define it.
Yes, renovation that affects the facade takes a bit longer, and I have to conform with historic architectural norms. But I don’t feel that government is taking away my utility; it is just part of being in an HD, which I value. Instead of feeling that government has taken something away, I am very happy we have an HD and that as long as the HD exists, we won’t be tearing down historic structures and destroying one of the relatively few places in the US where there are square miles of buildings from the same era, presenting an attractive and nearly unique viewscape.
Barney Circle rejected the historic district one already. Why is CHRS trying to do it again? Learn that we don’t want it.
Adding a third story to a house, when done well, should not be viewed as if it is destroying some ancient site. The CHRS HQ is in a ridiculous looking castle with a basement and three+ stories, yet they can prohibit anyone in Hill East from growing their family and being able to remain in the community they love?
Property value increase can in no way be tied to historic preservation. CHRS says so as well.
The thought of this leaves me exhausted and glad that I have pretty much already done all the exterior work I planned on.
I don’t like 90% of the pop-ups done because they were ill designed, but that is no reason the extend the historic district to include even more geography. As for the “reflect the same architecture and style ” I am not sure that is a good enough reason. Heck don’t many of the house north of H also fall withing that style and if so why are they stopping at H? just cover the entire Ward 6 part of the old City of Washington.
I’d be happy just keeping the facades more or less historic, and allowing people to build up so long as it is set back 10 feet. That keeps the view from the street more or less the same, but doesn’t so unduly burden homeowners with restrictions that they can’t use modern windows in their homes. When pop-ups extend to the front facade, that’s when they look terrible (also when cheap materials are used).
However, part of this process explored a less restrictive “design review district”, and it was dismissed by HPO. Given the choice, I trust the free judgement of my neighbors (and yes, developers) to make informed decisions on their property rather than subject myself to the restrictions of a historic district. I’d like to add a third story eventually, build a garage, and possibly excavate a basement, all hard-enough projects without the extra cost and uncertainty of preservation professionals deciding the details for me.
One additional question: What has happened in the proposed expansion areas that suddenly makes them “historic?” If they weren’t historic when the original Capitol Hill Historic District was created, why are they historic now? I have yet to see a coherent answer to that question.
I would hate to think that a group of preservationists are confusing “old” with “historic.”
Michael, pressures back then to take down historic structures were mostly close to the Capitol. Nobody was thinking of tearing things down to develop them near, for example, 15th St., SE or NE. This might be part of the answer to your question.
Perhaps the original HD, established in the mid-1970s, was mapped in part because of the constituency that would interested in historic preservation at the time? People who might be expected to value historic preservation back in the day didn’t live much east of 12th St. back then.
These are hypotheses, based on living on the Hill back in the day, but before I learned much about CHRS. It would make sense to me that the HD was created where (1) there was greater likelihood of tear downs, and (2) there was a greater constituency for preservation. Just my two cents, can’t prove it.
So if I understand this correctly, then the “historic” district has nothing to do with history and everything to do with residents telling owners of other property what can and cannot be done with said property.
Personally, I find it extremely disheartening that a property owner can have his options taken away just because his neighbors don’t like his plans to add a 3rd story.
If expansion of the “historic” district is inevitable, then there needs to be an exemption for current property owners. As a matter of right, they should be able to make alterations without going before a historic preservation board. New restrictions should only apply to subsequent property owners who have the option to purchase property in an historic district or not.
Michael, outstanding idea to grandfather existing homeowners in.
Michael, two replies:
1. The CHHD has everything to do with history. People wouldn’t have wanted to create the Historic District if there weren’t nearly unique architectural history to preserve. And of course, legally an HD can’t be created unless there is valuable history to preserve.
2. You find it disheartening that a property owner can’t build another story on a home in an HD.
But the value of the real estate has factored in that fact that a new owner can’t do that, so everything else equal, the house would cost less than one outside the HD.
But with so many homes inside the CHHD now selling for $750 K or more, doesn’t that show that people want to live in the CHHD, even if they can’t build a third story?
The key thing is that a new buyer’s rights are not taken away — rather, they are made clear in the law, and the buyer can chose to purchase or not under the legal conditions.
For example, Quillian knew he couldn’t tear down the shotgun house when he bought the property, that is why it likely cost less than it otherwise would have. Now, he’s trying to blame others for the fact that he couldn’t do a tear down. If he succeeds in demolition by neglect, he will likely have created a windfall profit for himself. I don’t mind developers making money, it is the American way, but I do mind them purchasing a property that has legal restrictions, and then crying in their beer when the city enforces the restrictions.
Tom, you forget that nobody bought their homes in Hill East while it was a HD, in fact I found the lack of HD handcuffs a significant reason to want to move to the neighborhood. Also, the fact that well over half of the blocks in the new boundaries already have at least one “pop up” would make it all the less reason to now decide to handcuff homeowners from adding third stories that would make all houses on these blocks the same height.
While I’m not a big fan of CHRS or the challenges of a historic district, I’m more averse to what I see happening in areas outside of the historic district. If you like hodge- podge neighborhood development, just stick around and watch the proliferation of pop-ups and small condos east of 13th Street. The area of SE between the marine barracks and around the Nats stadium was blighted, run down, and poor, but it was a neighborhood. Now it looks like Clarendon at best, or Lefrak City in NYC. We could do worse than to have an expanded historic district, or instead, have a neighborhood of ever-changing mixed development and uses.
I doubt this is going to pass. The hysterical society has a bad rep regarding working with property owners, who are trying to accommodate the rules, but are hung up from by minutia. There are just too many war stories that we homeowners of the current CHHD have to tell.
If the CHRS want to expand its influence, it needs to be known as a better working partner with property owners trying to navigate the needed improvements within the historical mandate.
They need to play more nice before people will vote for it.
This is exactly right. The CHRS is reaping the bitter harvest of their unreasonableness, stridency, and pettiness. Once a civic organization gets that kind of reputation it is very very hard to shake and the perception will be spread from neighbor to neighbor.
New families on the Hill, especially young families that want to modify their homes to accommodate their growing families, are not going to be terribly sympathetic to or interested in a group that is still pointing to its big wins in the 1960s.
My guess is that as the old Restoration Society die-hards age out (q.v., long-time CHRS president Dick Wolf who bitterly fought a home for disabled children on the 1200 block of Pennsylvania Ave SE) and new Hill residents come to see the group for what it is the Restoration Society will shrink and its importance dwindle.
are you talking about the Boystown halfway house that was universally opposed on the Hill or something else? Boystown was hardly “disabled” children
HF, Anon is correct. You don’t have the accurate “disabled children” story. Start with this link: http://www.rollcall.com/issues/48_58/-491-1.html
Boys Town got an earmark from Congress of several million $, which they used to build 4 buildings to house 24 “at risk” teens, right where Harris Teeter is now. There were two separate community issues: (1) is a location next to a public housing project where drug dealing and such goes on the right location for at risk youth? (2) the new urbanism argument — that the land close to Metro stops should have the most dense development, so that new residents don’t’ need to drive to work.
Local ANC Commissioner Will Hill and others formed a group (Southeast Citizens for Smart Development) to oppose the project. This was the main opposition, CHRS was minimally involved, if that, as the site was outside the HD.
Boys Town actually sued Will (and Ellen Opper-Weiner) personally for exercising their civil rights (organizing and petitioning council members). This is called a SLAPP suit, Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, and is usually used by developers to drain the resources of civic opposition. When the rest of the Hill read about the SLAPP suit, they sided with the community organization, which eventually prevailed, in part due to the added funds the SLAPP suit generated.
You might be interested to know that Will and Ellen were defended by both the ACLU (on the left) and by the Center for Individual Rights (on the right), as both saw the SLAPP suit as an affront to free speech.
+1 CHRS’s power grab is going to fail.
No, I’m referring to St. Coletta’s school for children with mental retardation that the Restoration Society blocked from the 1200 block of Pennsylvania Ave (in the historic district) on utterly specious grounds.
Here is a passage from a Washington City Paper article that summarizes the disgraceful story:
“I couldn’t believe they stopped St. Coletta,” says Quillian. “I thought, Here, at last, is the solution, the way out. St. Coletta had the community support, they had the money, and they had the right intentions. And still [the CHRS] blew them right out of the water.”
Perhaps most surprising in retrospect–given the CHRS’s opposition–is the fact that St. Coletta’s plans included saving and restoring the original shotgun house. School leaders were willing to pay $200 per square foot of the house to restore it and leave it, essentially, as a living monument to the past. Almost exactly what the CHRS wanted. Almost.
But the members of the CHRS demanded more. They insisted that St. Coletta restore not only the original shotgun house but also the subsequent additions to the building, including a run-down brick garage at the back of the property.
When defending the historical importance of the shotgun house, members of the CHRS often refer to a study conducted by EHT Traceries in December 1999, which supported saving the structure. But you’ll never hear CHRS members reference the same report’s analysis of the garage. “Its form is not intact to its original 1917 appearance, and it does not appear to have any specific significance,” concluded the study.
CHRS members chose to ignore the report’s findings and to oppose St. Coletta’s plans unless the school agreed to preserve the garage. But according to St. Coletta’s estimates, saving the garage would have cost another $200,000. And, more important, if left standing, the garage would have blocked access to the planned school building on Pennsylvania Avenue. St. Coletta officials had planned to use the curb cut on E Street to load and unload children from school buses–a process that would have been impossible at the front of the property because of the traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue.
“It’s painfully obvious that [the CHRS] looked at St. Coletta’s plans and realized that the one way to stop them was by insisting on the importance of the garage,” says Quillian. “You’ll notice that nobody is talking about preserving the garage anymore.”
(link here: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/articles/24891/dwelling-in-the-past)
Since I just googled that Washington City Paper article, I thought I would pass on a few others about well-known battles with preservationists that are worth knowing glancing over:
I’ll also put in the situation of 820 C St SE, an interesting case of a building that finally was torn down (tip of the hat to The Hill is Home for first-tier original reporting):
This one is also a classic. Nancy Metzger leading what can only be called a monomaniacal persecution of a homeowner.
Do you really want her deciding what you can do to your house as a member of the Historic Preservation Review Board?
This is not helpful.
The big fights between HPB and stubborn property owners is not the issue; neither are the rows between CHRS and certain large projects, whether or not they were appropriate for the hill. Yes there have been lengthy battles, but that is not relevant to most homeowners wanting a simple improvement, which is what 99.9% of the day-to-day business of the ANC and the HRB.
The criticism is not what HPB does, but HOW it does it. Minor projects are delayed for months, or years, with the reviews seemingly designed to encourage property to drop projects altogether.
I have never tried to make significant changes to my property, but from what my neighbors have told me, it is a lengthy, frustrating, capricious, frightening process. Pretty much you must hire an architect, not for the design, but to navigate the numerous hearings to get the permits.
I’d like to start a new community organization that promotes more moderate views on preservation. Would you or do know of anyone that might be interested in helping me get this new group off the ground. I purchase a domain and hosting. My wife is working on the 5013C paper work.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
As a non-moderate voice on this topic I’m not sure that I’m your guy. But, I can suggest that you use wix.com (suggest a premium account) for your Website design and that you run your email through a gmail account (I have several professional accounts that I can access through my personal gmail account).
I would also be happy to share a number of URLs and aggregations of articles and the like on HD-related topics over the years. (I have posted a number of them elsewhere on this comment thread.)
My main concern is inaccurate information. I want clarity about impact, the history of the HPO and and the CHRS’ behavior, and the actual depth and breadth of support. If your Web site acts as an information clearing house then you have my full support.
I think it’s a terrible idea and am opposed to it; but, my main concern is seeing clear, accurate, and complete information spread far and wide. After that, if people want it, God bless ’em. But I don’t think they will.
It seems like this discussion has been overtaken by a select few who live within the historic district and hate it. While their concerns are valid they really have no say in the current expansion conversation. The name calling is worthless though…totally discredits any points I might have considered.
The issue of popups can be fixed by means other than a historic area. CHRS is setting up a false “it’s us OR them” proposition. I really don’t want the their oversight and taste imposed my property.
While I love the old buildings on the Hill, the historic preservation requirements lead to some pretty bad policies. For example, it is illegal to have solar panels visible in a historic district, from any public space. This includes alleys. The irony is that satellite dishes need only be “unobtrusive.” Yet, DC considers itself pro-solar.
It’s not as if we have preserved every aspect of 100 years ago on our streets. What about the cars? There are also restrictions as to the kind of windows you can replace your old leaky windows with, as well as the storm windows that you can use. If the historic districts are going to be expanded, then the requirements need to be made more reasonable, especially in terms of energy efficiency. Why not put the power lines above ground again to preserve that old look?
We don’t need an historic district or another layer. What we need is better, and modern, zoning laws. It’s the zoning laws which allow these insane pop ups. It’s the zoning regime that needs changing.
CHRS will not be applying for any historic district extensions or new historic districts. We will provide assistance in the application process, but only if requested on behalf of a neighborhood that demonstrates a solid base of support in a very open and transparent process. Our role is to provide the information, facilitate the dialog, and assist when asked. That said, CHRS strongly believes in historic districts as both a way to honor and preserve neighborhood history and also as a tool for shaping the future development of one’s neighborhood. A context statement on the history and architecture of a study area outside the Capitol Hill Historic District is now available on the CHRS website: http://chrs.org/beyond-the-boundaries-context-statement/
To clarify two points:
(1) The Beyond the Boundaries survey was funded by a variety of sources, the Dreyfuss project money only paid for the northeast survey up to 15th Street; the Rosedale to East Capitol Street and Southeast surveys were funded by CHRS monies and a small grant from the District’s Historic Preservation Office.
(2) CHRS did not sponsor the unsuccessful application for a Barney CIrcle Historic District. That nomination was sponsored by ANC 6B on behalf of the Barney Circle Neighborhood Watch Association. CHRS did support the effort, as did the D.C. Preservation League.
Beth Purcell, Chair, CHRS Beyond the Boundaries Committee
Thanks very much for participating here. Can you shed some additional light on the process by which the CHRS receives money from developers in exchange for demolishing historic structures?
Thanks again! Look forward to your answers.
“We will provide assistance in the application process, but only if requested on behalf of a neighborhood that demonstrates a solid base of support”
It would appear to me that these studies are, effectively, step one of the application process, albeit not literally. To that end, given your quote above, can you provide some information on who in the neighborhood demonstrated a solid base of support for you decision to conduct these studies?
Please stop pretending that CHRS is being hands-off when it comes to expanding the historic district. Regardless of who “officially” sponsored the application for a Barney Circle district in 2010, CHRS was the driving force. Clearly CHRS doesn’t care what the community thinks, because they could not take no for an answer. Instead, they are back with another study, trying to capitalize on the unpopularity of “pop-ups” and condo conversions to expand their reach. Fortunately, there are other solutions to this problem (such as zoning adjustments or a conservation district) that better address this issue than handing design control of your home over to a panel of “experts”.
Totally agree. The idea that the Restoration Society is not the driving force behind this movement is hilarious and based upon a preposterous technicality. Good for you, Anon, for calling them out!
Mickey, anon, CHRS is obviously strongly interested in historic preservation. They wouldn’t otherwise have spent the monies they have spent to do research necessary to underpin new HDs or expansions of existing HDs, My sense is that here has been some community interest from these areas or the effort wouldn’t have gone forward. Saying the CHRS is interested in helping local neighborhoods set up HDs is not exactly news!
But CHRS has no power in any of these areas, as this long discussion makes clear. It is up to local neighborhood people to decide. This is the crucial step, and CHRS cannot be the driving force here, just as it wasn’t in Barney Circle. So if an ANC or other group decides to put forward a proposal for an HD, you should find then who neighborhood supporters are.
@ Tom – to clarify, I’m not accusing them of lying, I’m just asking for more information on who/what in these neighborhoods comprises the “solid base of support” that they cite as prerequisite to their decision to get involved. I live in one of these neighborhoods and have not perceived anything remotely resembling neighborhood support, let alone a solid base of neighborhood support, so I am asking the question to determine whether I have missed something, or they are being disingenuous. Regardless of what the answer is, the question is a legitimate one, and I’m not asking it to be antagonistic.
Regardless of the outcome of the proposed expansion of the historic district, I hope CHRS realizes they have an image problem both within the HD as well as it’s surrounding areas. Based on the content of the posts at CHC and it’s relationship with EMMCA, the readers of this blog should be sympathetic with mission of CHRS but instead it’s being met with hostility. And much of that not from the ideals of CHRS but instead stemming from the ways they’ve presented themselves and their efforts to the community.
@Corey, yes, I think they must be aware of the generally hostile view that most of the community takes toward them.
1) Beth Purcell commented above and must have read some of the comments on this blog (and comments on similar post).
2) Their efforts to impose the Barney Circle Historic District were stopped cold by community opposition which must have been a staggering blow. A friend who was VERY involved in the opposition said that the Restoration Society tried to slip it past the community but were found out and stopped by a neighborhood coalition.
3) Articles like this:
It’s natural for any group focused around a single issue to think that they have broad-based community support. They mainly talk to each other, get tacit and explicit support from allies on the HPRB, and friends and fellow preservation supporters affirm that all opposition is baseless or misguided which flatters the ego. Everybody does it –church goers, sports fans, political supporters, etc.– but some have more self-awareness and are more willing to acknowledge trade-offs than others.
To be fair, the Restoration Society is out there making its case. Here is Norm Metzger (Nancy’s husband) arguing for the value of historic preservation in The Hill Rag;
And there are other similar pieces in various places, published by both the CHRS and HPO.
But, net net, historic preservation’s image problem is not a new issue and they have to be aware of the problem.
Now, the next question is: what are they going to do about it?
Mickey, thank you for Norm Metzger’s article, I hadn’t seen it. I’ve been aware over the years of studies showing that HDs do well economically, better than similar areas not in HDs, but I didn’t have any citations, so it is good to have Norm’s.
The main thing, thought, that I got from Norm’s article is the history, longer than I thought, of threats to the Hill architecture, starting around 1930. Thanks again!
Let’s try to summarize how a homeowner in an area that MIGHT become an HD could think about whether they would want to their home to be in an HD.
What I am more concerned about?
Is it having a big development come in somewhere within a block or two, create traffic and parking problems, and scale I might not like? Don’t forget that is is scale that neighbors don’t like at the Hine development, this is why that development is tied up in lawsuits, don’t blame the CHRS. And don’t forget that the pounding of larger construction projects often can crack bricks in existing nearby structures, usually below ground level, which can lead to leaks in heavy rain.
Do I want to have buildings on my block torn down and replaced by something that towers over my home, is the wrong scale?
Am I more concerned about potential loss of added room, such as adding an additional story to the home? Such a homeowner should check the zoning to find out if they could do so now, to make sure that they would actually have this option under current law.
Or is it fear of the longer process homeowners go through when they want to change something on the facade, should they vote to be in an HD? Yeah, it is aggravating to wait, no question.
And of course, many homeowners actually do care about historic preservation, not just of their home but of their neighborhood.
Which freedoms do I value the most? Freedoms from having my neighborhood changed, with more traffic and parking issues? Freedoms from not having historical reviews, and possible loss of being able to build another story?
Choices are coming. Give yourself some time to think about them now.
Finally, a word for the DC office that handles permissions in HDs: can you start a process that trims the waiting time for minimal changes? It certainly seems from the outside that there should be some way to concentrate time and energy on the larger and possibly problematic cases, and make the other cases go more quickly.
Fascinating dialogue, which hopefully will continue.
Personally I don’t think the issue is as black and white as some might make it out to be. I’ve seen historic preservation review prevent some pretty bad things from happening to the neighborhood, but I’ve also witnessed the process at its most capricious, and I’ve seen it dilute, sadly, fresh architectural ideas.
Some of my colleagues have discussed the idea of a “Conservation District”, which would be less restrictive and onerous than a Historic Preservation District but would limit some of the more egregious actions like pop-ups and tear downs. For a long time, HPO was not interested in the idea, but lately they seem willing to discuss it.
I wonder what people think of this concept, recognizing that the details would matter?
patebc, please tell us more about how a Conservation District would work.
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Had enough this lunacy. I’m starting a new she needs comunity organization for those of us with more moderate views on historic preservation. Email if you are interested. email@example.com
Capitol Hill Historic District Association