Historic Preservation Review Sends MGM Lobby Shop Back to the Drawing Board

ANC6A Commissioner Mark Eckenwiler told the Historic Preservation Review Board on Thursday: “This is a great opportunity to do the right thing for this building. Do the wrong thing … and bad things start to happen.”

Historic Preservation Review Sends MGM Lobby Shop Back to the Drawing Board

Decision Marks a Win for ANC6C, CHRS, and Neighbors

By Larry Janezich

Despite the high priced talent hired by MGM’s Federal Lobbying Group to shepherd the plan for the design of their proposed headquarters on Stanton Park through the city bureaucracy, the HPRB sent the design back to the drawing board in a public hearing held on Thursday.  (For background, see prior post here:  http://bit.ly/2rmb4tV)

Opposition to the plan was led by ANC6C, represented by Mark Eckenwiler, who praised the restoration of the building as a “meritorious project” and said there was much to like in the proposal.  However, he said, ANC6C could not support the proposed rear additions and the elevator shaft.  He noted that although outside the scope of historic preservation, a serious issue for the ANC was the objections of neighbors who decried the potential for disruption and noise from events (fund raisers) on the 1600 square foot deck atop the one story additions at the rear of the building.

The Capitol Hill Restoration Society, represented by Beth Purcell, agreed that the design has many commendable features but raised concerns about the exterior elevator shaft, the roof top deck and the proposed pergola overlooking 5th Street.  Regarding the associated issue of noise and disruption, she said “Lobbyists entertain – not to mention how the deck might be used by a future owner of the building.” Five nearby residents or building owners reinforced that concern with testimony before the Board.

(ANC6C Commissioner Scott Price, in whose single member district the project lies, is facilitating the negotiation of a neighborhood agreement between the neighbors and MGM reps regarding the use of the deck.)

If anything, the HRPB was more critical than either the ANC or CHRS.

After hearing from MGM reps respond to why the proposed design was necessary for the building to work for the owner, four of the board members spoke out against the exterior elevator and the deck.  The consensus seemed to be that the elevator should be inside the building, the size of the deck should be reduced and confined to the east side of the roof of the additions, the pergola moved east to the edge of the reduced deck, and access to the west side of the addition’s roof overlooking 5th Street should be prevented by installation of a green roof or by enforceable easement.

Board member Joseph Taylor was particularly critical saying that the HPO staff report which had found the proposal compatible with the Historic District should have ruled it was incompatible because of the outside add-ons.  “I can’t support an exterior elevator…the elevator is a big dog, and you can’t just say be smaller.”

Chairperson Heath agreed, and moved that MGM work with HPO staff to address the Board’s concerns and come back next month where the issue will be placed on the consent calendar for action after the Board has an opportunity to review changes to the design.  The motion passed unanimously.

In other action, the HPRB gave unanimous approval to PGN Architect’s design for Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s proposal to build five townhouses on church property facing 6th Street, NE.  (For prior post on this issue, go here: http://bit.ly/2syUk6a)



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5 responses to “Historic Preservation Review Sends MGM Lobby Shop Back to the Drawing Board

  1. John

    If I were MGM management, I would be seriously concerned that my Washington lobbying team is having so much trouble gaining approval for simple office renovations.

  2. Bobbi Krengel

    Thank you, Larry, for covering this important story. There were at least 2 neighbors who testified that they knew nothing about this proposal until they read about it on CHC. Just because the restoration of the original house is so welcome, it doesn’t lessen the impact of the bastardization of the also important western and southern elevations facing the neighborhood. And its ridiculous that MGM reps keep insisting, without a trace of irony: Its not a party deck. Its for fundraising. We live on the Hill. We know what fundraisers look like. 1600 square feet is bigger than my whole house. If it really were intended to be used for events for 20-30 people it would look pathetic. They need space for the bar and the buffet and the band. And they want that parking space for the caterer.

  3. Paul Hyden

    Respectfully, “practical considerations” stemming from the “purpose and use” of a proposed project raised by neighbors “in its immediate context” are indeed “pertinent”. Moreover, mere “consistency with conditions found elsewhere in the historic district” is not sufficient to establish “compatibility”. It is not correct to assert otherwise. To the extent standards exist for the actions of HPRB, they are given here without editing.

    Rule: 10-C2001

    2001.1 The Board’s design and construction standards are intended to promote the clear understanding and use of responsible historic preservation methods and practices. They are not intended as rigid and unyielding rules for all situations, but rather as a general means of promoting equity of treatment among applicants and consistency to the directions given by the Board and staff.

    2001.2 The Board’s standards shall be used with discretion, considering the context in which they are applied. Their application shall involve a careful assessment of the characteristics of affected historic properties, the nature of the proposed project, and other practical considerations.

    (a) Pertinent considerations about the historic property include its relative importance, nature of significance, condition, and degree of material integrity.

    (b) Pertinent conditions about the project include the extent of its impact, its degree of reversibility, allowable development rights, and related practical or regulatory constraints.

    (c) Pertinent considerations about the relationship of a project to a historic district include its compatibility with its immediate context and not merely its consistency with conditions found elsewhere in the historic district.

    2001.3 The burden shall be on an applicant to show that an exception to the normal rule in the Board’s standards is appropriate.

    In addition, the regulation makes it clear that views from “property owners and the general public are essential to informed decisionmaking”. Further, participation is “encouraged” as “individuals and organizations”. It is not intended to be the exclusive domain of HPO staff, architects, attorneys, historians, or people skilled in discussing appropriate window shapes. While ANC and CHRS participation is given privileged treatment in the hearing, there is no requirement that participation from neighbors be filtered through or limited by these groups. Again, here is the pertinent regulation.


    110.1 The views of property owners and the general public are essential to informed decisionmaking in the historic preservation process established under the Act.

    110.2 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and historic preservation organizations play a crucial role in seeking recognition and protection of the cultural heritage of the District of Columbia, and in facilitating public involvement in the historic preservation process.

    110.3 Members of the public as individuals and organizations are encouraged to participate fully and to express their views in the historic preservation process, including as parties in contested case hearings held pursuant to these regulations.

    110.4 The officially adopted written views of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions shall be accorded great weight in the historic preservation process as provided in the ANC Act.

    • Paul Hyden

      Sorry, one last comment. It is important to note that the only real enforcement mechanism for Historic Preservation is the power of the Board to deny projects. There is no effective positive mechanism to compel property owners to preserve their properties. If there is any lesson from cases like “The Shotgun House”, the burden for an impasse between property owners and Historic Preservation interests often falls on neighborhoods and neighbors. As such, “practical considerations” raised by neighbors can be a middle ground between overambitious property owners pursuing incompatible projects and overly strict preservationists pursuing impractical standards. It is important to protect this seat at the table for neighbors in this discussion.

  4. Paul Hyden

    FYI, here is the contact information for Corporate Social Responsibility at MGM Resorts International.

    MGM Resorts International | Corporate Communications
    3799 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109
    Corporate Communications
    Email: corpcommunications@mgmresorts.com