Conservation Districts vs. Historic Districts – ANC6B Planning and Zoning Chair Pushes Dialogue
by Larry Janezich
At Tuesday night’s ANC6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee, chair Corey Holman suggested the committee open a conversation with city agencies on the concept of conservation districts as an alternative to expanding historic districts. The former aim to protect the character of older neighborhoods with fewer regulations that the latter. Currently, residents outside of the Capitol Hill Historic District have more options – and fewer bureaucratic hurdles – to expand their homes, than those inside, and worry they will be affected adversely by historic district designation.
Recently, both Kingman Park and Bloomingdale were made historic districts over the opposition of the ANCs. Last year, ANC6B sent a letter to city officials saying that the historic district designation process does not serve District residents. See CHC report here: https://bit.ly/2LlGF8U
Holman sees a role for the Committee in helping to figure out what a conservation district means – a job which the Comprehensive Plan anticipated that the city’s Office of Planning would do, but which fell by the wayside in 2016. The conversation would entail, Holman said, “not saying what we want, but having a discussion of how to discuss what we want.” Holman sees conservation districts as a defensive measure against a preservation concept which has been “weaponized” – alluding to the privileging “preservation” over the needs of some homeowners seeking to expand their homes to accommodate growing families.
Holman cited a preliminary conversation he had had with the DC Preservation League, who offered that conservation districts will never happen unless the preservationists are on board. If it does happen, the process will be a long one, requiring Historic Preservation Board approval, legislation, and funding.
At one time, the Comprehensive Plan for the District called for action aimed at establishing conservation districts:
Action UD-2.2.C: Conservation Districts
Explore the use of “Conservation Districts” to protect neighborhood character in older communities which may not meet the criteria for historic districts but which nonetheless have important character-defining architectural features.
Action MC-1.2.A: Conservation Districts
Consider the designation of Columbia Heights, Eckington, Bloomingdale, and other Mid-City neighborhoods as “Conservation Districts.” Design standards and review procedures for such districts would be less rigorous than those used in Historic Districts, but would strive for more compatible infill development and maintenance of historic building scale, mass, and height conditions.
In the 2016 status report the two actions were cancelled.
2 responses to “Conservation Districts vs. Historic Districts – ANC6B Planning and Zoning Chair Pushes Dialogue”
Glad you covered this, because as a taxpayer, I find historic preservation in DC mind-boggling. This week, for instance, a house in our historic district, at 326 A St. SE, was completely torn down except for its front wall. There is, literally, nothing left of that house but the front wall, held up with timber poles because what was holding it up originally is gone. Permits are posted on the few windows left, so someone somewhere presumably signed off on this. Yet, as a homeowner in the same historic district, I face penalties if I don’t use “approved” materials for my windows. Since tearing down a house apparently is permitted in some format in our historic district, it seems ours is already a conservation district.
Fifteen or more years ago I tried to interest the City in conservation districts but found the Office of Planning and Historic Preservation opposed. I’m in favor of giving it a second go. I think it might be easier to find out what people want controlled and do it through Zoning amendments.