Tax Breaks for 10th Street? Why recreate the boring facade?


“Dear PoPville,

I’m hoping my fellow readers could weigh in on something I’m curious about. I walk past a house on 10th St. NW between M and N almost every day while walking my dog. I’ve watched this total gut rehab since just after it started. I know you’ve covered this house on the site previously, but I’d like to go into further detail about why they’re building it the way they are. When they first started work the entire structure was knocked down except the facade. There was little-to-no historic value and certainly no aesthetic value in the facade, so I’m wondering if they just kept it because they were required to by historic district rules (if there are any) or because they got tax breaks for doing so. If the builder is getting tax breaks for keeping it I have a serious issue with that. As you can see from my photos below, they completely removed a series of layers and are now putting up brand new siding. Coupled with the new windows there is literally not one single remaining item from the original facade except the shape of it. Obviously all this worked needed to be done, and I’m 100% in favor of new developments, I’m just wondering why anyone would do this. Would love some input, and also curious if there’s a way to find out what tax breaks the developer is getting, if anything, out of this deal. Thanks!”

31 Comment

  • I live down the street and spoke in passing to an architect about the house before the new siding went up. I had hoped that they would create a facade to blend in with the street. He said, they can’t. The house is older than the brick victorians and closer in age to the 2 or 3 clapboard homes down the street (circa 1890’s). The rest of these homes are a bit smaller and more set back but beautifully preserved. He was under the impression that for historic preservation sake, the house exterior had to match its period.

  • This happens because getting a raze permit to completely demolish the structure is onerous and time-consuming, but getting a permit to rebuild/renovate (not sure exactly what it’s called) is much easier. And all you have to do is preserve the facade.

    • This is what they did with Meridian Pint. Part of that old, run down grocery store is actually still there.

  • I’ve heard a raze permit is much harder to get than a reno permit. If you leave a wall standing, it’s a renovation, not a raze-and-rebuild.

  • There certainly was historic significance to this building, at least according to the DC Historic Preservation Review Board. Here is some background on this property:

    • Interesting — thanks for the link!

    • Was oldest building in Blagden Alley HD, built in 1830s. It was inside and behind a front addition built in 1860s. Owner applied to HPRB to demolish everything but the later front facade. HPRB denied because the 1830s house was intact (walls, siding, windows, roof and all) like a time capsule. Owner knocked down the building in the middle of the night anyway. Went to court. Decision still pending. Permits issued anyway. Facade saved at owner’s choice (not HPRB). Owner just died. Construction being finished by estate.

      • “Owner knocked down the building in the middle of the night anyway.” Aaaargh!

      • There was actually a very dangerous collapse on the old structure, about a month before this construction began. I don’t think it was the owner; part of the structure collapsed and took down some gas lines with it, forcing evacuation of the adjacent building and big emergency doings. So not sure whether the (partial) demolition arose out of that.

        • “There was actually a very dangerous collapse on the old structure, about a month before this construction began. I don’t think it was the owner” — Seems rather suspicious, though, given the owner’s desire to tear down the (1830) property behind the 1860 facade and convert it to a multi-unit dwelling.

          • Oh, I don’t disagree that it’s suspicious, but it was in such a state of disrepair it’s not out of the question that the owner just got lucky either. It was very scary for the people who live immediately adjacent.

  • I like the look and the variety.

  • “There was little-to-no historic value and certainly no aesthetic value in the facade, so I’m wondering if they just kept it because they were required to by historic district rules (if there are any) or because they got tax breaks for doing so.”
    1) If that location is in a historic district, then yes, they’re required to abide by certain rules. (Just because the OP doesn’t think that the facade has historic and/or aesthetic value doesn’t mean that it’s not protected either by being in a historic district or by having historic-landmark status.)
    2) Before the OP got all up in arms speculating about tax breaks, he/she ought to have done a little research. It’s been discussed on PoPville before that it’s more expensive for a developer to get a permit to “raze” (i.e., completely destroy) a building than it is to do “interior demolition.” (For those of us in the outside world, “raze” = “demolish,” but apparently that’s not the case in DCRA.) I’m not 100% sure, but I _think_ they can get away with ripping out everything except the facade and still have it count as “interior demolition” — or at least a kind of demolition for which the permit is cheaper than a raze permit.

  • The area is within both the Shaw and, I think, Blagden Alley historic districts. So yes, there’s a legal requirement to maintain the facades. Those buildings, in particular, are rare in DC since they survived the era when most of that neighborhoods DC was being replaced by Victorian-era buildings; so they are important regardless of the historic value the OP may ascribe them.

    As for replacing the facades, historic preservation is a bad term because it doesn’t mean just saving original materials but making sure the replacement materials match as close as possible to the original buildings. Best example is the southeat section of Logan Circle (between 13th and P Streets) where almost all the homes are new construction but are made to look original to the area. It’s not a bad thing.

  • Accountering

    What everyone else said – easier to renovate (time/cost for permits) than it is to raze and build new construction.

  • Without arguing over whether the façade is boring, replacing “restore” in the title in place of “recreate” would be more accurate. It looks like they are removing brick to expose the original clapboard siding, and replacing the siding to restore it to original appearance.

    • On a funny note, that “brick” was viably peeling. It was some sort of exterior faux brick layer. The clapboard was underneath that. There were a few layers to see.

      • The fake brick is made out of felt and asphalt like roof shingles . It had a couple of trade names, Insulbrick, Bricktex were two products about 1920-1950.

  • Not sure what the case may be here, but HPRB is out of control lately. I just saw an application to replace aluminum siding (obviously not original or historic) with Hardi board (much, much more attractive) in Mt. P that was denied. What are they supposed to do? Keep the rusting siding? Track down the pieces of the 1900 siding?Such nonsense.

    • Weird, we were approved for Hardiboard in for our sunporch in Mt. P but on the side closest to our neighbor because fire code required fire-proof siding on that side. The rest of the porch was done in cedar.

    • Original wood siding is under aluminum siding. HPO is recommending to restore the original historic siding rather than replace it with hardi that doesn’t match the historic siding. Staff report has syphilis so be careful how you read it.

      • The report has syphilis?? Was this autocorrect for something?

        • Not a typo. The staff report literally has syphilis: “The purchasers [of 2021 Klingle Rd] were U.S. Army physician Taliaferro Clark and his wife, Margaret. The Clark family remained only two years. Years later, as director of the Public Health Service, Dr. Clark would become notorious for studying the effects of untreated syphilis on African-American men at the Tuskegee Institute.”

          • I saw that part when I read through the report (after posting my initial query re. autocorrect)… but I don’t think “Past resident of house was responsible for notorious Tuskegee syphilis study” = “Report has syphilis.”

      • Thanks for posting that link; I thought the history of the house was really interesting — especially this part:
        “French [Dr. Cecil French, the veterinarian for whom the house was built] also took a keen interest in Rock Creek Park itself, leading an effort to stock it and other city parks with deer, pheasants, squirrels, geese, ducks, swans and quail, helping restore a former agricultural and milling center to a more naturalistic character. (We can probably thank Dr. French for today’s deer, squirrel and goose pests, although it is interesting to imagine how denuded of fauna the district must have been at the time because of hunting and land clearance.)”

  • OP here – Thanks for all the comments! I hadn’t considered the actual cost of the permit being less expensive. That would certainly change things for the developer. It’s too bad they couldn’t save a single piece of the original house, knowing it dates back to the 1830s. I guess someone walking by and thinking “I wonder if that building looked like that 185 years ago” is a “win” for the Historic Preservation Review Board.

  • To the best of my knowledge – at least in residential renovations – the only tax break possible may be a “facade conservation easement”. This is where you “donate” the facade of a historic property to a local conservation trust and you get a tax deduction for the value of the facade – frequently about 10%+/- of the value of the property. The process has been somewhat controversial and I don’t know if it is still an allowable deduction.
    I have never heard of a local or federal tax break for the renovation costs of a private residential property. Anyone know otherwise?

    • Depends on how you define “private residential property”. Yes, for owner-occupied residential building, the facade easement credit is the only benefit available. But for income-producing property, which includes rental housing, there is also a 20% federal historic preservation tax credit. To be eligible, though, the property also has to be on the National Register of Historic Places (which is a somewhat more stringent criterion than ust being located in one of DC’s historic districts). That is the case for this building, which is listed as a “contributing building” for the Blagden Alley/Naylor Court Historic District on the National Register. But I seriously doubt the owner followed all the requirements for a historic renovation to be eligible for the tax credit.

    • Both the easement program and the federal rehab tax credit require the tax payer to restore and preserve the entire building. The tax credit especially is concerned about important interior spaces like lobbies, staircases, millwork and trim.

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