By Rob Russell and Ann Carper
On Wednesday, April 11, more than 50 Burleith residents and others attended a community meeting at Duke Ellington School of the Arts devoted to the effects of historic designation on residential property values. BCA president Eric Langenbacher provided opening remarks and a recap of previous meetings and activity on managing change: HD-specific meetings in February, June, and September 2016; a March 2017 meeting on the 2016 zoning code; and an October 2017 meeting on custom zoning and the results of the Neighborhood Study Group’s April 2017 survey on managing change. (Summaries of these meetings are on the website.)
Eric announced that the final meeting will be an open forum on Thursday, May 3, at Washington International School, culminating in a vote on whether the BCA should submit an application for historic designation to DC’s Historic Preservation Office. Eric reiterated that the voting must be conducted according to the bylaws, which require that individuals must be a member of the BCA 30 days before the voting date. He proposed two dates for voting [later expanded to three].
Rich Schmidt, a Burleith resident since 1997, presented his research on the effects of pricing as applied to Burleith as well as summaries of academic reports that reached conflicting conclusions on the effects of historic designation on sales prices. He covered how property values are determined (market values and tax assessments) and hedonic property value pricing, which estimates the total value by breaking out each characteristic (e.g., selling prices, lot size, proximity to transportation, etc.) and evaluating the contribution of each. The DC tax assessment is a hedonic process. Rich said of 583 properties in Burleith, 60% are not taking the homestead deduction, which implies they are rented. Forty percent are owned as the primary residence. Burleith saw a 3.62% value increase in 2017, faster than Glover Park and Georgetown.
Lenore Rubino, a realtor and Burleith resident, presented an overview of the Burleith housing market and described factors that affect the sales price of Burleith homes (interest rates, employment, state of the District, supply and demand, the 2010 Georgetown Campus Plan). She noted that the average property price is increasing and is now over $1.2 million. Houses with three bedrooms on the top floor appeal most to buyers. She described three key price points in 2017 to the present: under $1 million, $1–1.6 million, and greater than $1.6 million. She concluded her presentation with photos and prices of redeveloped homes that have sold in Burleith since 2017.
A panel of realtors and an architectural designer shared their thoughts on historic designation.
Nancy Itteilag (realtor and Burleith property owner) cautioned against using historic designation to stop progress and lock Burleith in time.
Cynthia Howar (realtor, Hillandale resident, and Burleith property owner) talked about architectural boards within a Home Owners Association (HOA) structure.
Chryssa Wolfe (architectural designer active in Burleith) said she has always had a vision of wanting to make homes better and fitting of the period through thoughtful design and construction. She suggested creating an architectural review board to advise on designs.
Scott Polk (realtor and Foxhall Village resident who helped procure its historic designation) said he believes Burleith has some architectural interest, but thinks the “cat’s out of the bag” with respect to the amount of change that has already occurred.
A Q&A followed the panelist session. Discussion centered on how to do attractive development and encourage developers to improve design. Some questioned how the architectural review board suggested by Chryssa Wolfe would be enforced. People were concerned that the BZA has been approving special exceptions to the 10-foot rear addition rule in Burleith [although this is unrelated to HD].
The vote and the mechanics thereof engendered heated discussion. Eric said the Historic Preservation Office wants to see broad community support before approving applications, but also does its own notification of every property owner to further assess community support. In addition, a public hearing [before the Historic Preservation Review Board] provides another opportunity for community input. Eric reiterated that a BCA vote must be conducted according to the bylaws and that he wants to come to a resolution on the issue one way or another. These ideas were challenged by the most outspoken attendees, who felt a vote of only BCA members was not representative of the neighborhood. A few attendees, especially new residents, said they did not know what is going on.