Hmm, People Don’t Want Historic Districts?

DSCN6045, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

When I’ve posted in the past about atrocious pop ups people have often advocated for historic districts to prevent horrendous additions. So what is the counter argument against Historic Districts? Can historic districts be too restrictive? I spotted this sign in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.

37 Comment

  • Adhering to historic district guidelines can be significantly more expensive than in a non-historic district just across the street. I recall that the Harrison Square project on 13th and W, when it was nearly completed, had some historic issues with the windows. According to HPRB, the windows had to be wooden, not aluminum, which would have significantly added to the per-unit cost. The developer paid some kind of per-window fine and they were allowed to proceed. These guidelines only come into play when you’re building from the ground up or doing significant remodeling. Like that time I wanted to put a quicklime pit in my basement to dispose of…um…vermin…yeah, vermin. Anyway, HPRB said that it had to be lined with historically correct bricks, not cinder blocks. So I said the hell with that and started disposing of my…vermin…in the bathtub with a chainsaw. So there.

  • What monkeyerotica said, there tends to be more costs associated with living in a historically designated neighborhood, there is also more prestige.

  • I can see why for practical reasons people living there don’t want it. I live on the outside of the street that marks the boundary for the Capitol Hill Historic District and have been glad because getting a new fence and windows was so much easier. I wouldn’t have and didn’t go with something they wouldn’t have approved of, but the time and hassle make doing those projects a huge deal (dealing with DCRA for the fence was irksome as it was).

    Most people like living in them because it means someone can’t put up crap (in the looks department) construction nearby and ruining the looks of the place. Of course it doesn’t always work.

  • There are also a handful of environmentally friendly additions that you’re prohibited from adding if in a Historic District. Limits on placement of green roofs and solar panels are issues that a friend ran into in Mt Pleasant. It’s asinine that there aren’t exemptions for these sorts of things.

  • Put it this way: the building that houses my office actually had a serious run-in with HPRB because of the fact that the building was built in the 1880s, and ten years later its then-owner had new steps installed at the entrance…so that we had an 1880s building with 1890s steps. The HPRB had a hissy fit.

    If Adams Morgan can avoid that crap, more power to them.

  • I agree that Historic Districts need to exist to preserve the integrity of neighborhoods, but sometimes it’s coming at the cost of fixing a place up or not. It’s cost prohibitive to restore/renovate the abandoned, run-down townhouses in the historic district of Shaw. So no one takes it on. So we’re left with abandoned, run-down townhouses with who-knows-what going on inside. And the buildings/facades are only continuing to look more run-down as time goes one, making it even more expensive to fix according to historic guidelines. I would personally prefer an inhabited house to a run-down structure that has bricks falling off of it.

  • My problem with historic districts is that they are too demanding. For example, if you live in a historic district, and your windows need to be replaced, you must replace the with the same type of windows that were historically in your house. Personally, I like that … but this means that you are being required to purchase some of the most expensive windows on the market as replacement windows. Ifyou are on a fixed income, this probably isn’t going to be possible. So instead, you either don’t replace your windows and live in a drafty house, or, you replace your windows on Sunday thumbing your nose at the historical gestapo so that by the time they get the stop work order its too late. There needs to be a middle ground, and if you impose a lot of rules and regulations on neighborhoods like Park View or Petworth, rather than saving the neighborhoods, you contribute to their demise. We don’t live in a 19th century theme park, but a living, breathing city.

    Another example … and this is a guess … but if we had a historical district in our area, the new building over the Georgia Ave./Petworth metro would look much different and be far less interesting. I think the developer has done an excellent job of being both innovative and respectful of the existing neighborhood.

  • Some intermediary restrictions would be better than full historic district status. I feel like some of the restrictions Historic Districts impose make it too hard on people with limited incomes – say, restrictions on what kind of replacement windows you can install. But I think we need some oversight to prevent horrors like the house at Upshur and New Hampshire Ave where it doesn’t look like the contractors are even competent, let alone the design.

    Also re: pop-ups, I don’t think they’re all bad, but some standards would be a big improvement. No vinyl pop-ups on brick houses, and I’d prefer that they be set back from the front of the house and the ceiling height be in line with the other stories on the house (e.g., not like that one on NH Ave south of the Petworth metro where it looks like the pop-up has 20-ft ceilings and looks like a space mushroom landed on the house).

  • Most of the prior posts hit the nail on the head. I live in an historic building in Petworth and trust me its not worth it. You have to get any type of outside renovation approved which can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days. The rules are arbitrary at best, and its gonna cost you more in the long run. There are a few programs that give you tax benefits and/or money for renovations, but overall it isnt worth it.

    I think historic neighborhoods work better in places that already have high demand like capitol hill. Petworth has a lot of run down properties, so if you increase the costs of rehabbing them by making people put more expensive materials in the renovations, it only makes it harder to get the neighborhood improved.

    I just dont see this as a benefit

  • Seriously, most of you are slightly misinformed. Historic Districts are not anti-green (they are the ultimate recylcling project because they encourage the retention of original fabric.) Most people gripe about windows BUT… they don’t realize it is more cost effective to have your existing historic wood windows repaired properly and keep them. If you add storm windows, you will actually have a superior R value than with a new vinyl double pane window. FURTHER… replacement windows have a life span of approximately ten years. Then they have to be carted off to a landfill and replaced. Existing wood windows are made from old growth wood – strong and durable.

    Seriously. We need to better educate people about windows. The energy efficiency issue is a load of crap. The DCPL is spotlighting an LEED certfied 19th Century rowhouse in Shaw at an event tonight – Yes, LEED certified. And there are no hideous solar panels. You can have a green roof if you want, as long as it is flat (as most are), and can accommodate the weight – this is not a historic district restriction.

    Most people also are misinformed about the process, cost, and restrictions. Take a look at most of downtown Washington and tell me that there is not some interesting architecture, alternate materials, and energy efficient buildings – and they are in historic districts. Take a look at some of our most appealing neighborhoods – they are historic districts. We have over 40 of them in DC. It has not thwarted progress, caused extreme hardship or prevented energy efficienty.

    And for the fear of people on limited incomes, there is a grant program to help. More than $900K was awarded in Anacostia last year.

    Before you start nay-saying historic districts, I think you should get all the facts. Just sayin…..

  • When I was looking for a home, I had two rules with my realtor – no historic districts and no homeowners associations. Although I understand the rationale for historic districts, there are significant difficulties in renovating effeciently with historic district rules, and some leeway to ensure the look, if not the actual materials, of the buildings are maintained would be good. However, I have a fundamental problem with anyone else having any say at all as to how I maintain and decorate my house. The problem seems worse with homeowners associations in non-historic districts, where there is no need for their protections at all.

    I understand that people are trying to maintain their property values with these forms of quasi-unelected governments, but to me part of living in a neighborhood is having the idiot who paints his house bright purple.

  • uh.. i’m not misinformed. A friend’s green roof was denied because it was “visible from the street” and sorry you find solar panels “hideous”. These groups will have to wake up to the future at some point.

  • We replaced three large windows on our second floor (facing the street) a year ago. The old ones were installed in the mid-80s, before the creation of the 14th St. Historic District, and were non-conforming. They also sucked – it was like sleeping in a wind tunnel. The permitting process was not overly burdensome, but the replacement windows were ex-SPEN-sive! As in, thousands of dollars more than we could have spent in a non-historic district. We’re still paying them off a year later.

    On the other hand, it’s worth it to avoid being surrounded by hideous vinyl-sided pop-ups.

  • Please keep in mind people that the historic districts are managed by DC Government bureaucrats which means that the nice lady who attends that person’s church gets what she wants. The lawyer who “makes a donation” to someone’s church gets what he wants and those of us who come off like yuppies get investigated by neighbors who turn them into the police.

    Very nice friends of ours spent thousands of dollars on a project that the historic office made them replace due to a total a**hole neighbor filing a complaint.

    Remember that living in a historic district does NOT mean that people who know how the district works (wink wink, nudge nudge) can’t wreck the front of their house.

    It’s STILL the district!

  • Most people gripe about windows BUT… they don’t realize it is more cost effective to have your existing historic wood windows repaired properly and keep them.

    This is wrong. Stop lying. This is a silly lie that people repeat as fact.

    It’s MUCH MUCH cheaper to buy high quality new factory made windows than to have ANYTHING repaired at $100 per hour.

  • FURTHER… replacement windows have a life span of approximately ten years.

    How dumb can you be? How dumb do you think we are?

    My parents have some vinyl replacement windows that are 100% perfectly functional and are 25 years old. So, you’re just an idiot parroting your industry’s advertising. hope you made money for your company, scammer.

  • There’s a LOT of misinformation out there, the stuff people are saying about windows and “green” design is mostly just not true. I know of at least one completely “green” renovation in a historic district. I’ve talked to lots of people who have had great experiences with HPRB, but my impression is you do have to be willing to work with them. You can have the attitude that there’s this free expertise to help you with your renovation, or the attitude that they’re lousy government bureaucrats and it’s your property so everybody else shut up — but there’s lots of other zoning regulations that they have nothing to do with, too.

    In some places, anti-preservation types have managed to scare people with the stories about HPRB being insensitive to low-income people, etc. (Some people even think they’ll be forced to do renovations!) As good a case can, I expect, be made that keeping over-development at bay will help low-income and elderly, etc. people stay in their homes — and in general maintain the diversity of neighborhoods. I think the anti-preservationists are the gentrifiers.

  • If Lanier Heights turns into a historic district, will people still call it an “Adams Morgan neighborhood”?

  • Neener, it is not a lie. You do the math. If you properly maintain your windows, you don’t need to spend a fortune to restore them. If you have not taken care of them, then you will – but after the work is done, if you keep after them, they will be just fine. After all, they have already lasted over one hundred years. You calculate the lifetime cost and still tell me I’m lying.

    Twenty-five years ago, most windows were vinyl clad, meaning they had wood cores. The vast majority of replacement windows made today will not last twenty-five years. Even if the frames do, the average life expectancy of the glazing is significantly lower. The seals go bad and then you get condensation between the layers. Then you have to replace the glazing. In that case, it ends up being cheaper to replace the windows again – sending more to the landfill and doubling your window investment. This is not a lie, it is a fact. Is it universal? Could there be exceptions? Of course. Maybe your parents are extremely lucky. Or perhaps you are incorrect on their age or composition. But I have personally had to replace windows less than ten years old, fifteen years old and twenty years old.

    Regardless, saving old-growth wood windows and properly maintaining them is, in the long term, more cost effective and green. And, adding storm windows does give you a better R value. This is simply a fact. The real lies are being spread by window manufacterers who want to sell you new windows.

    Ontarioroader, yes I hate the look of solar panels because I think there are better ways to achieve energy efficiency. I’m sorry your friend’s green roof was going to be visible from the street, but there are other ways to improve efficiency such as increased attic and/or ceiling and roof insulation. Green roofs are not the only method. And for those with roofs not visible from the street, they can do what they want and have their green roof. Though I’m not sure, in the long run, what this will do to the roof struture.

    Lastly, Neener, I don’t have a company and I’m not making any money off of this. I’m not sure what prompted you to call me an idiot either. I can only tell you, after fifteen years of homeownership in four states and three historic districts what I have learned.

  • I live on the Hill, right in the middle of the historic district and while I’m happy to have nice looking houses, the Restoration Society does make me crazy sometimes. Mostly because I want a higher fence around my patio, but there are all kinds of restrictions regarding height and style. But, I love living on the Hill and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, so it is what it is.

    I’ve seen more than a few green renovations here, though I have no idea how expensive they were and if it was more or less than it would be in a non-historic district. I’m a big fan of this one which is currently underway:

  • “Neener, it is not a lie. You do the math. If you properly maintain your windows, you don’t need to spend a fortune to restore them. If you have not taken care of them, then you will – but after the work is done, if you keep after them, they will be just fine”

    you have obviously never had a hand in rehabbing original 100 year old windows that had not been lovingly maintained over the years, mr. holier than thou.

    the original windows in my ledroit park rowhouse (1906) were completely shot when I moved in. no way could they have been restored after ?? # of years of neglect.

    that’s what many of us are dealing with, not some wonderful perfect historical old growth wood that’s been painted regularly for decades.

  • You know what eric, if your windows were truly shot then so be it. If the sashes had completely fallen apart and the sills rotted out, then obviously they would have to be replaced. Once again, there are exceptions to everything. But the problem with your windows was neglect, not the windows themselves. Old wood windows are not inherently inferior to new vinyl ones – that is the point I am trying to make.

    Usually windows you think are shot are not. I have taken windows that rattled every time a car went by and had sashes coming apart at the joints and personlly repaired them. By adding storms, those windows will be around another hundred years. Too often I see windows that might need some repair ripped out and replaced with ill fitting vinyl windows because of some perceived economy and improved efficiency. All I am saying is that generally, this perception is incorrect and deserves more scrutiny. Walk around Columbia Heights and Petworth and you will see exactly what I am talking about.

    Also, the reg’s only cover windows visible from a public right of way. You can do whatever you want in the back.

    Believe me, I get it. Everyone thinks that there are these groups of nuts out there who’s sole purpose is to prevent you from taking care of or improving your home. But, like it or not, regardless of historic district designation, in most cases changes already require some sort of governmental involvement – like a building permit. Fence heights are not usually solely a historic district issue, they are a building code and/or zoning issue. But nobody is running around saying “No Building Codes,” or “No Zoning.”

  • I had to rip out all my window hardware anyway because it was permeated with deadly lead paint.

    My initial quote for my window and structural replacement was:
    $13,000 for work with new windows
    $21,000 if I kept all the windows and original siding.

    you do the meth.

  • I replaced 12 windows, btw, and also had significant wall work done. price quote was from 2001.

  • If you have not taken care of them, then you will


    I am not the original owner of my 1921 house.

  • I mean, when you get down to it, my 2001 windows are right now 8 years old and have shown no signs of wear- if the 10 year calculation is accurate they should be in need of replacing in 2 years. Seriously, that’s what you’re suggesting!

    I am not going to read anymore.

  • right on Neener. Most house in Petworth have a lot of deferred maintenance and in real life people simply cannot afford to renovate them the way they would on This Old House.

  • “right on Neener. Most house in Petworth have a lot of deferred maintenance and in real life people simply cannot afford to renovate them the way they would on This Old House.”

    exactly. many of us in ledroit park are living in houses that were boarded up or used by squatters for quite a while in the 80s and 90s.

  • You know what, do the research. Look at what the average life span is of vinyl windows and, worse, double paned Low-E glass. When the seal goes, the window frame might look fine but it will need to be replaced. But I’m done arguing with you. The data exists, whether you want to look into it or not.

    Yes, there is a lot of deferred maintenance in CH and Petworth. That’s a shame. But the problem is the lack of maintenance, not the material. Neglect can be expensive but, again, in some cases (Note I’m not saying ALL), repair is cheaper than replacement in the long run. It deserves consideration.

  • So for those of you who are griping about the condition of the houses you bought in LeDroit, etc. that were borded up… why did you move there? Wasn’t it because you liked the old house to begin with? Now you are griping that your do-gooder efforts at restoring your house and neighborhood are being made more expensive by preservationists? Are you kidding? Sounds more to me like buyer-beware. You should have bought a condo.

  • i’m not griping, i’m saying that this anonymous person ranting about how superior historic windows are is being naive about the condition of the historic houses in much of DC.

    personally I’m glad to be in a historic preservation area because I hate siding and popups. but i am realistic about things too.

  • There are people posting this same story in defense of historic neighborhoods. To reiterate my position:
    1. Historic neighborhood construction is controlled by the same local government that gave us Mayor Barry and Hariette Waters- it’s not perfect and it’s not fair and the court ruled against their policies w/ regards to handicap access anyway.
    2. My window frames were damaged by an owner who, from what I understand, lived in my house in the 70s and 80s. People who bought it in the early 90s renovated some of it and I renovated a lot more. The wood accents on the inside of the windows had dangerous lead levels and were, unbeknownst to me, trashed.

    To comment on 4:41, yes, if I knew:
    1. how bad the condition of my house was
    2. how little the home inspector would really be able to check for
    3. how much damage was hidden by “improvements” like new basement ceilings, wall to wall carpeting and paint
    4. How much poisonous lead paint was in the decorative woodwork
    5. how rotten the insulation was
    6. How poor the 1950s addition was architected and built
    7. and how much more contractors would charge than my realtor suggested they would charge (She suggested a $25k kitchen remodel, but quotes I saw were not one penny lower than $45k and the other two were in the $50k and $60k
    8. that the interpretation of the historic district rules could change over time, eventually claiming that rear-facing facades where a populated coach house exists in an alley would be affected

    Then yes, I never would have bought my house.

    Had I known what I know now, I never would have bought my house.

    Of course I wouldn’t.

    I have spent, on average, $6000 per year on home repairs vs my parents who spend about half that.

    and TRUST ME, as someone who bought a house for the antique fixtures and historic look at feel and who has a basement chock full of antiques I’m restoring, I should LOVE historic preservation. Remember I have a price quote detailing rebuilding the back of my house WHILE KEEPING ALL ORIGINAL FIXTURES! However, I learned that repairing old windows is not cheap and not something that someone can learn to do while managing 20 people who would do anything to get out of work.

    I have two friends at work who have run into the same problems I have- they loved the IDEA of a historic DC townhouse, but lost all their cool fixtures during lead abatement.

  • I mean one of the worst situations I dealt with was when one next door neighbor died and her house was overrun with termites and rats- damaging my house in half a dozen locations and introducing termite swarms on FOUR different occasions before I got her elderly children to handle it.

    Them the neighbor on the other side dug up their back yard and a torrential rain damaged their foundation and causing a 1.5 mm wide crack to form on about 17 feet of my wall that abuts their house- home inspectors and engineers we paid for said it was nothing, but…

    NONE OF IT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED in a freestanding single family house and that’s all I should have looked at.

  • Yeah, you folks are griping. Honestly people, please just move out to NoVA or MD. Find a nice green suburb with energy efficient windows. Leave the historic housing to the rest of us. Prices might actually become reasonable enough after you gentrifiers leave. But perhaps that’s why you complain so much, eh? You spent too much for a house that needed some work…hmmm. I wonder…

  • This Berkely study, , shows that weatherstripping and storm window installation on wood windows is just as energy efficient, and cheaper than vinyl replacement windows. There’s lots of big words and scientific calculations, so most here would rather stick to myth, stereotype, and misinformation.

    Wood windows last 100 years and can be repaired. Vinyl windows last 10 years and cannot be repaired (once the little rubber gaskets fail they’re useless).

    Over 90% of building permits reviewed by HPO are approved in less than 15 minutes.

    A certain Mt. Pleasant ANC member is on a jihad against HPRB and exporting his falsehoods and distorted opinions to surrounding neighborhoods. That’s the source of the yellow signs.

  • I’m so down with what AK has said. Quit your griping about DC Neener and just move to the burbs. You are always referring to Marion Barry as if he is still the mayor. In case you haven’t noticed the majority of us who were actually here in DC during that time have moved beyond it. Seems you can’t so do yourself a favor and sell your house and move out. It gets tiring listening to your overbearing, holier than thou, sadistic, anti DC rants. That you try to pass off as truth. Your the biggest idiot of them all.

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