By BCA Board Co-Recording Secretary Rob Russell and Historic Designation Committee
Note: This meeting was part of a series organized by the Historic Designation Committee to provide information for community members and give them a chance to ask questions in preparation for an eventual community vote as to whether to proceed with an application to the DC Historic Preservation Office.
On September 30, after much deliberation and community input, the Board of the Burleith Citizens Association decided to defer exploration of historic designation until the new year. This will provide time to determine the best approach for a community-wide discussion and vote on this important matter. Consequently, the October meeting and November town hall mentioned below have been cancelled. One item on the agenda for the BCA annual meeting on November 10 will be further discussion of this process.
More than 80 people attended the September 14 informational meeting at Washington International School on how historic designation (HD) for Burleith would impact home renovations and additions. Refreshments, including wine donated by Hop, Cask & Barrel, were provided for the 7:30 pm meet and greet before the meeting began at 8 pm. State Historic Preservation Officer David Maloney was the main speaker for the event and was accompanied by National Register Coordinator and architectural historian Kim Williams of the DC Historic Preservation Office (HPO).
Introduction. Before introducing Mr. Maloney, BCA president Eric Langenbacher acknowledged the varying opinions on HD and made several clarifying statements and announcements. First, he saw HD as the only alternative to the status quo of existing zoning regulations; second, that Foxhall, not Georgetown (a nationally designated historic district), was the best example of what HD would be like for Burleith; third, he announced plans for an HD meeting in October about economic issues and a town hall in November where both proponents and opponents could have their say before a future vote on filing an application to proceed; and fourth, residents could email HD@burleith.org with their questions and opinions. Mr. Langenbacher emphasized that pursuit of HD would not be decided by the BCA board nor any other body, organization, or committee, but that it would only be decided by a vote of the community. He then described the HPO and Historic Preservation Review Board’s review process after an application is submitted.
Informational Session. Mr. Maloney began his remarks by stating he was “not here to advocate for historic districts,” but rather to give clear, objective information and answer questions. He referenced his office’s website as a good resource for some of that information, including design guidelines developed for other city historic districts. He explained that the DC preservation law of 1978 was intended to provide protection of a community’s heritage; economic assets; and features that add to the quality of life. This protection extends to buildings and their compatibility with the historic character of the community. The law is intended to ensure that a community functions and grows responsibly for the benefit of all who live there.
Mr. Maloney spent a moment summarizing the August 24 walk-through of Burleith that he and Ms. Williams undertook at the invitation of the HD Committee. The walk took place mainly in the alleyways behind 36th and 39th Streets between S and T Streets. He noted that in only a few cases would the HPO have made design suggestions to improve compatibility. He stressed that the main concerns for the HPO are changes to the front façade that change the streetscape; demolitions of homes that do not meet the requirement of either special merit or economic hardship; and rear additions predominantly visible from the front of the house. He cited Duke Ellington School of the Arts as a project of special merit where, after review, a substantial amount of demolition was allowed. Maloney added that his office does not take any position on the style of rear additions.
He also spoke about HPO’s role with regard to building permits. Approximately 5,000 permits are requested in a year. Approximately 95% of those get signed off on at the staff level as over-the-counter service. Additions more than 500 square feet go the Historic Preservation Review Board and can include a public hearing.
The remainder of the meeting became a forum for questions, answers, and statements, a summary of which is posted here.