Demolition at 639 A ST SE – a “tragic and unfortunate development “– Gets Stop Work Order

The front wall of 639 A Street, SE is all that remains after the developer exceeded the scope of work for construction on the property.  The blue tarp makes assessing the degree of the demolition difficult. 

Here’s a view of the rear of the property from the alley. 

Demolition at 639 A ST SE – a “tragic and unfortunate development “– Gets Stop Work Order

by Larry Janezich

Posted:  March 28, 2023

In May of 2022, the Historic Preservation Review Board approved an application to build a two-story rear addition and a new cellar under the house at 639 A Street, SE, in the Capitol Hill Historic District.

According to Beth Purcell, chair of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society’s Historic Preservation Committee, “The plans called for demolition of some exterior walls, but retaining the front wall, party wall, and part of the dogleg wall.  In March 2023 an alert neighbor noticed that only the front wall was left and contacted HPO.  On March 17, 2023 a Department of Buildings inspector found that the work exceeded the scope of the building permit and issued a stop work order.  No further work can be done until the property owner corrects the violations and obtains a new building permit, which will require HPO sign off.”

Bruce Yarnall, Historic Preservation Operations Manager at the DC Office of Planning called it a “tragic and unfortunate development.”

Moira Nadal, Architectural Historian, DC Office of Planning says, “The property owner will need to follow the instructions provided with their Stop Work Order and file a response with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).

To amend the building permit for the new scope of work – in essence, to apply for after-the-fact approval of the demolition and for new construction on the site – the property owner would need to file for review by the HPRB.  The HPRB review process gives great weight to resolutions from the ANC, and will include an opportunity for the public to provide testimony or to submit letters in advance.

The Stop Work Order will remain in place until the HPRB has completed its review and the new permit is issued, and no work is permitted at the property while the Stop Work Order is in place.”

The path forward seems to be one that involves a matter of months and is not without peril regarding the preservation of the remaining portion of the structure or the comfort level of the adjoining neighbors.  Excavation for the new cellar has begum. 

As mentioned above, a new HPRB review will come back before ANC6B.  In the meantime, the developer might be subject to fines and penalties for infractions.  These, however, seem paltry compared to what might be a potential doubling in value of the property beyond the original cost of purchase and redevelopment, and that could be an incentive for the same thing happening again.  Here are some of the consequences facing the developer: 

From the DC Office of Planning Website:

Historic Preservation Violations and Fines

It is illegal to violate the DC preservation law, just as it is illegal to violate building codes or traffic laws. Historic Preservation Office (HPO) inspectors are authorized to stop illegal construction and may also issue citations and fines for violations of the DC building and property maintenance codes.

Violations of the preservation law and DC building code include:

  • Working without a required construction permit
  • Exceeding the scope of a permit
  • Failure to comply with the conditions of a permit
  • Failure to maintain historic property in good repair
  • Demolition by neglect

Fines and Penalties

Violators of the preservation law and building code are subject to a $4,068 civil infraction fine for failure to obtain or stay within the scope and conditions of a building permit.  Fines may double for a second infraction.

If you get a Stop Work Order for illegal construction, you may be liable for a fine of 50 percent of the cost of the permit you should have obtained. DCRA will not release the Stop Work Order until you pay the permit fee and any fine assessed.

Capitol Hill Corner reached out for comment to real estate agent Jessica Bachay who is listed as the contact for 639A LLC, the applicant for DOB permits for the property, but as of press time has not received a reply. 

Back in 2021, a similar case occurred a few blocks west at 326 A Street, SE.  Here’s a link:


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2 responses to “Demolition at 639 A ST SE – a “tragic and unfortunate development “– Gets Stop Work Order

  1. ET

    I first thought was that this was a flip job and that was confirmed with the names attached – Jessica Bachay is a realtor with Compass. She should know better, which makes me feel that this was likely always the plan and not some bad communication between the flipper and the guys doing the work or just some decision made at the moment. Pay some paltry fines, considering what the profit could be, and make a mint on the sale. And move on to the next project.

    The penalties/fees for this type of stunt should be much much higher.

    • Daniel+Buck

      Agreed. The historic preservation doorkeepers should have seem this coming a mile away. A two-story addition and a cellar? Is it too late to just shut it down and force the owner to rebuild as it was.