City OKs Pop Up in Cap Hill Historic District – Orders Work Stopped – Now Wants Tear Down

231 10th Street, SE

City OKs Pop Up in Cap Hill Historic District – Orders Work Stopped – Now Wants Tear Down

by Larry Janezich

In February, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) issued a permit for a pop up addition in the Capitol Hill Historic District and then issued a stop work order after the construction was well underway. DCRA issued permits to Blue Star Design Build, owned by Eric and Christal Goetz, for an addition to a townhouse at in the Capitol Hill Historic District at 231 10th Street, SE.  Since the property lies in the Historic District, the permit application should have been referred to the Historic Preservation Board (HPRB) for review, just as a second application to construct a two story garage on the property had been.   It wasn’t (perhaps this should have been a tip off to the developer who has done other projects on Capitol Hill), and the applicants proceeded with the work on the addition.  After a stop work order was issued, Blue Star backtracked and filed a Historic Preservation Application with HPRB in March.

The plans call for the construction of a three story rear addition and one story roof addition to an existing extending onto the roof of the original house which is a “contributing structure” in the Capitol Hill Historic District,

As they do on all new construction in the Historic District, the Capitol Hill Restoration Society weighed in, pointing out that regulations provide that an addition must not be visible from public space, must be smaller than the original building, and must not be built over the main block of a historic house.  The proposed project would violate all three.  CHRS’ recommendation included language saying that “Removing the third story would correct the problems with visibility, subordination, and building over the main block of the house”, and urged the HPRB to order the removal of the third story addition.

When the Application came up before ANC6B at its April meeting, the ANC voted 7 – 0 – 1 to support the applicant’s case before HPRB, but offered no support for why they thought the project was consistent with Historic Preservation requirements; commissioners seemed persuaded by the argument that a mistake had been made by DCRA, and the applicants should not have to pay for it.

The Historic Preservation Office reviewing the application on behalf of HPRB, recommended that HPRB approve a modified permit that includes only a two story rear addition – meaning that they want the applicants tear down the new – but incomplete – construction on the project.

On April 27, the HPRB agreed with the HPO recommendation; “The [HPRB] found the concept for a two-story rear addition to be compatible with the character of the historic district, but found that the third floor roof and rear addition to be incompatible with the character of this property and the historic district. Vote: 9-0.”

The applicant has the option of appealing the HPO’s decision to “The Mayor’s Agent”, i.e., The Director of the Office of Planning, Eric D. Shaw, appointed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, and to the DC Court system, should Shaw back up the HPRB.

This is the latest instance in a series of errors over the past several months involving the issuing of permits and enforcement by DCRA.  Capitol Hill Corner reported on several of these lapses by the agency.  See here:  http://bit.ly/2rkiUY9 http://bit.ly/2gKzbBd http://bit.ly/2r2EugS and here http://bit.ly/2lCPIbr

Update:  Blue Star Design is also the architect of an alley dwelling at 205 Third Street, SE.  See here: http://bit.ly/2rNxmFE

18 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

18 responses to “City OKs Pop Up in Cap Hill Historic District – Orders Work Stopped – Now Wants Tear Down

  1. Craig D'Ooge

    The a key feature of authoritarianism is that it is inconsistent. If you can’t be arbitrary and contradictory, where’s the fun in that?

    • Craig D'Ooge

      I love the notion that perhaps it was the responsibility of the developer to decipher the city’s own regulations for them, after they had issued a permit. And then they wonder why people do “midnight construction.”

      • AERzondzinska

        So let me get this straight: Government=Authoritarianism?
        Perhaps we could just agree that DCRA is incompetent if not worse.

      • Cassie

        Of course it’s the responsibility of the developer and owner to know the city’s regulations!!! If the developer doesn’t know, then they shouldn’t be in business. If the owner doesn’t know, they shouldn’t be so blase with a $1 million-plus investment!!!

  2. Vince Mareino

    I’d have to agree with the word authoritarianism here. Much of the DC government is pretty consistent with liberty. But stopping construction midway because they don’t like the LOOK of a building that is, apparently, otherwise safe and up to code? That is an affront to liberty. Just because that sort of arbitrary enforcement is common here in DC doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.

  3. John

    Homeowners and businesses will only be willing to invest in the District to the extent that the District’s actions are predictable its regulations are fairly enforced. An inefficient and unpredictable DCRA effectively tells investors that their money is better spent in Virginia and Maryland.

  4. Mac

    This is arbitrary and capricious. The whole “Historic District” is an excuse for the transfer of property rights to un-elected busybodies.

  5. muskellunge

    The pop-up is an obvious and blatant violation of the historical preservation law; and the Developer’s end-run around the bureaucracy to avoid the same is transparent. Nice try.

    Given the appreciation of real estate, however, the Goetz’s will still probably double their investment.

    • Craig D'Ooge

      Please explain how obtaining a permit is an “end run.”

      • muskellunge

        Craig, anyone with the most casual familiarity with DC historical preservation — such as myself — knows that you can’t exceed the original envelope. Homeowners and developers also know all too well that a substantial addition requires navigation thru HRPB & ANC, a difficult process that is much easier with an architect that knows the rules.

        But apparently none of this happened. Instead, neighbors called them on this after the envelope was violated. And to lay this on anyone other than the developer is like blaming the police when someone commits a crime.

  6. Wonder Woman

    Perhaps you all need to take a stroll down the 200 block of Tenth Street to see how this third story stands out like a sore thumb in the Historic District. And, don’t forget to check it out from the alley behind, where it looms even larger.

    Blue Star, who has now REMOVED their sign from in front of the property, should know that construction in the Historic District must go through HPRB.

    When Blue Star went before the ANC in April, they didn’t say a peep about the already-issued HPRB report.

    You don’t suppose they were trying to pull a fast one, do you?

    • Craig D'Ooge

      I think anyone trying to comply with the pages and pages of restrictions in the Capitol Hill Historic District deserves some sympathy.(Brick sidewalks anyone?) The notion that a developer should know the codes better than the agency that enforces them is patently ridiculous. If one can’t count on the validity of a permit after it is issued, what’s the point? A cop can’t give you a ticket for running a red light after he’s motioned you through. Fortunately the city knows how incompetent they are, so they have “the mayor’s agent” to override stupid decisions. like forcing a tear-down of a permitted project. And let’s not start talking statehood until the District gets down basic municipal functions.

      • muskellunge

        Nobody said the developer should know the rules better than DCRA.
        Yes the minutia in the preservation rules can be ridiculous, and I too have sympathy for a homeowner trying to live and maintain an old house within them. But this case is not like that, nor is it anything like a marginal property like the shotgun house. (Immediately next door is another low-slung, somewhat more modest property that was renovated last year, without increasing its height. It was on the market last fall for $1.7M, and it sold.) This pop-up violation is flagrant, and dramatically sticks out from the line of neighboring houses. It is like going 120 mph on the highway posted 55. They bought a house in the historical district and knew what the rules were, but thought they could get away with it. If the rules are so onerous, there are lots of other houses outside of the historical district to redevelop.
        The historical preservation law is partly responsible for why the property is so valuable, and its spirit is generally obeyed. Not in this case, however.

      • Craig D'Ooge

        The city issued a permit. Actually, this is more like getting pulled over for doing 55 in a 55 zone and the cop telling you, “no that was a mistake, it’s a 45 zone.” I don’t think the data supports the notion that the more historical zoning regulations there are, the greater the appreciation of the neighborhood, especially when the reg. are so voluminous and complicated that the historic review board routinely advises homeowners to hire an architect or a specialist for even the smallest project, sometimes the very architects and specialists who later rotate through the board or “advisory” groups.

      • Ellen

        In this case there is a fair amount of blame to go around. Saying that, Blue Star is not unknowing innocent victim here. They have been working on the Hill for enough time and done enough projects to know enough about how building/renovating works on the Hill and the historic district even if they don’t know every single tiny rule. They knew there was a screw up and I will bet money that they went ahead anyway thinking they were going to be able to be able to take advantage of the screw up.

  7. muskellunge

    Mr D’Ooge, you keep trying to portray this as a big bad DCRA and HPRB story, when in fact it was the neighboring homeowners that turned them in — because this pop-up was humongous.

  8. Roberta the Ur-MOTH

    Should DCRA have issued this permit? No.
    Is the District on the hook for the permitholder’s construction costs from reasonably relying on the unlawful permit? Probably.
    Should the applicant get a free pass & be allowed to build this noncompliant structure because of DCRA’s screwup? Nope.