“Weighing Historic Designation: Problems in Democracy Town” by Michael Mann


Weighting Historic Designation: Problems in Democracy Town

“Dear PoPville,

Eckington is one of many rapidly changing communities in Washington DC, with over 4120 residents [1], a number of which are low-income or elderly and/or disabled. Rapid changes in both the economic and racial composition of the neighborhood has stoked fears of gentrification as well as unbridled development, with its rushed and often ugly buildings. Historic Designation seems like a sensible response to the rapid pace of change.

Historic Designation, aiming to preserve the historic and cultural resources of the community, is in many ways a very appealing concept. But its implications are far-reaching and often unconditional. With greater oversight over developers and preservation of character, comes strict limits on homeowner rights and financial burdens on low-income households.

There is a broad set of pros and cons worthy of community discussion, including:

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DC’s procedures for setting neighborhood Historic Designation status are at best lacking. Requiring only that a community group research neighborhood history, perform outreach, apply for designation, and defend its position in front of a seven- to nine-person Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). How the community group and the HPRB determine whether or not to proceed is up to them.

This process is rapidly creating new divisions in an otherwise tight-knit neighborhood.

Failure comes from the lack of guidance by the HPRB and Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANC) about how community sentiment – ‘for or against’ Historic Designation – should be measured. This leaves neighborhood organizations and individuals to cobble together their own process, often with little transparency, and with no assurances that the result would represent the preferences of the neighborhood. Without clear guidelines, the HPRB review process seems to encourage a shouting match whereby the loudest or most organized party wins.

Considering the importance of the proposed changes, a fair assessment of community sentiment should be required by either the ANC or HDRB. This might include city supplied ballots in prepaid mailers that allow community members to take a vote ‘for or against’ the measure. At least a simple majority plus the margin of error should be required to pass Historic Designation. Although considering the increased costs associated with Historic Designation (through increased repair/maintenance costs) a super majority might seem more appropriate in neighborhoods with a significant proportion of low and fixed income residents. Given this ‘higher bar’ for designation, the process might be more effective on a block-by-block basis, whereby neighbors can have better self-determination, and the landscape of preservation can evolve with the preferences of the neighborhood.

The DC Historic Designation process stands out only in its lack of foresight. This should be a well-honed routine, as there is no shortage of excellent implementation in cities across the nation (e.g. Salt Lake City UT, St. Petersburg FL), typically entailing publicly funded polling and tax incentives to home owners.

-Michael Mann

[1] U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey, 2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Table B02001; generated by Michael Mann; using American FactFinder; <http://factfinder2.census.gov>; (7 April 2016).”

86 Comment

  • As I said in the last Eckington post I am an Eckington resident who is in favor of historic designation. Sure, I like the idea of keeping a lovely streetscape and protecting my neighborhood from bad design and eye-sore pop-ups. But…
    The real issue for me is that affordable single-family homes (still available in our neighborhood for $400-600K) are being flipped into cheap, multi-unit, “luxury” condos that are being listed for $700-900K each, sitting on the market for months on end, eventually selling at a much-reduced rate, and driving neighboring property values down. We tried to refinance our mortgage last fall to drop PMI, but couldn’t because our newly-renovated (and historically-preserved, I might add) home didn’t appraise for a high enough value. Why? Because other properties in the neighborhood (even new condos with comparable square footage to my 3BR/2.5BA home) were selling for less than they were probably worth or would have if they were single-family homes.
    With historic designation in effect, the profit margin for cheap flippers just isn’t there, which puts me and Eckington much better off.

    • If the flippers aren’t there because the profit margin isn’t there then that also means the property value isn’t there. These real estate debates and beliefs in this city are starting to become like talking Religion. Too much emotion involved and strongly held beliefs. Always clouding reality. If what you say is true, that nothing is selling and no one wants to buy at the prices that are required to make a profit on a flip. Then the flippers will see that Eckington is not a desirable neighborhood and won’t flip there anymore. If nothing is selling, then no developers will invest there. It is basic. Sounds like maybe you think your home is worth more than it is and are trying to justify your beliefs. For what it is worth, the appraisal process for a refi is often much harder than for a new purchase.

    • Of all the problems I have with what you have written, what bothers me most is that you think the purpose of historic designation is to preserver your property value. Historic designation should only be used to preserve historically / architecturally significant neighborhoods. Period.

    • how in the world would taking a 600k house and flipping it reduce property value? Even if you turned it into two new condos worth $400k each, you would be adding $200K in value. Flippers should increase the value of the land.

      • Your not adding 200k in value because it’s now 2 units each less than the original value. Each unit would have to sell for more than 600 k to add value.

        • 1 property at $600K = $600K
          turn it into 2 houses at $400K = $800K.

          Value added. End of story.

          • I don’t think I agree with the property-value side of Tom C’s argument, but I just wanted to say that from what I’ve been observing in the past couple of years, flippers do not buy a house for $600K and turn it into two condos for $400K each. They buy a house for, say, $500K, pop it up, and turn it into two condos selling for $700K-$800K each.

          • I’m talking about single dwelling value. Chopping up a large house into a bunch of cheaper units does not add value when you’re comparing your property value to other houses. Sorry no value added to the home owner. Only value goes to the flipper and hurts the community.

          • Realtors look at comps. So, turning a neighborhood of 600K houses into $400K condos could bring down the comps on single family houses. If my single family house is one of the few that haven’t been converted into 2 unit condos, I think my comps would be lower. So I would lose value for my house.

          • As I was saying above, $600K houses do not get turned into $400K condos.

    • Although I don’t fully agree with Tom’s argument I also live in Eckington and am in favor of historic designation. The pop ups we are seeing are just hideous and flippers don’t really care about the cheap job they perform after they sell the house and leave. I understand it does increase some prices for home repair but it’s not that costly. Nobody wants their back yard shaded out by some cheap pop up. There is already a lot of new development proposed for Eckington which is great…mostly along the MBT.

      The issue with condos is I don’t really think people want to buy them as much as a house and some flippers but them on the market for way more than they should be going for. There is a condo on U Street close to Yang’s that has been on the market for over a year. The owner is dumb and must not want to sell it that bad because it stayed at the same over priced amount for about 6 months before it was finally lowered. The current price is fair but who knows when it will sell.

      • Bdylan89–I live in one of the houses that could be considered a pop-up. You’ve made this argument before that they are hideous and cheaply designed. I have to disagree. I think my unit is beautiful, as do the people who visit us. Our developer did a great job with the materials he used and the bones of the house–we’ve had no problems with it. Furthermore, every house converted into a pop-up condo on my street has sold at or above asking price, which is direct evidence contradicting the notion that people don’t want to live in condos.

        I can certainly see some upsides to HD, but your belief that my house is ugly is both offensive to me and a ridiculous reason for an entire community to undertake a decision with huge implications for our future.

  • General Grant Circle

    I love the Pros/Cons list. Too many talks about gentrification (particularly on this site!) are one sided (people only talking cons or pros). Hopefully a productive discussion and decision that benefits most if not all can be found with this

  • Improved property value should not be in the PRO column. Historic designation actually decreases property values for all the reasons listed. Lack of ability to modify your property to the “highest and best use” and the additional costs for repairs. Don’t let the bias for historic designation cloud your judgement.

    • Is there data or a study that makes this point? I’m really eager to understand this point better. Intellectually, I could see it play both ways, but would really like to see a study on this.

      • The problem here is some people will try to compare historic districts outside of a city to ones inside the city. Inside the city it can be a detriment. “Designation raises property values within historic districts, but only outside of Manhattan. In areas where the value of the option to build unrestricted is higher, designation has a less positive effect on property values within the district. Consistent with theory, properties just outside the boundaries of districts increase in value after designation. There is also a modest reduction in new construction in districts after designation.” http://www.nber.org/papers/w20446

      • I sometimes feel pros/cons for historic designation are a wash.

        Yes costs to upgrade are higher – particularly for the exteriors – but many of those moving to an historic neighborhood want the exteriors to conform and often that can be a lot of any additional cost. I would agree that the historic designation definitely negatively impacts the length of time to do anything and is burdensome but again, people moving to an historic neighborhood may consider this the last bulwark between a 3rd floor pop up (much less one that looks like a shipping container got plopped on top) even while they complain about the time it takes to get approval to replace the windows.

        • +1. It would be nice if there were an in-between designation that would require approval only for major structural changes… but given that no such in-between option exists, the only available method is the historic district designation.

          • I agree with this — Some kind of middle ground that would prevent The Gloryhole Part Deux from being built would be great. Unfortunately, many of the people who support designating Eckington a historic district (or pretty much all of the Stop the Pop crazies) simply want to ban ANY pop-ups; and their steadfast refusal to forge any compromise is proof of that.

          • What kind of “compromise” did you have in mind?
            The problem is, the only tools available ARE historic-district designation and (as far as building height is concerned) the type of zoning. Outside of those, there IS no protection — it’s either that or nothing.

  • Michael –
    Thank you for this. While I have my personal views on HD, I’m more eager and interested in developing an open, and inclusive process that lets the public have a voice in a decision that can truly impact lives. Your approach here I think improves the discourse…

  • Can anyone provide other examples of HD neighborhoods in DC? What has the HD tag done to those neighborhoods and home values? Wouldn’t these examples help eckington residents decide on what’s in their best interest?

    • Answered my own question!

      Looks like these neighborhoods have done well with the HD tag.

      • I am shocked at how many historic districts are already in DC. How many historic districts does DC need?

        At what point would the historic preservation review board feel they controlled enough of the city?

        • As many historic districts as it takes to protect D.C.’s historic architecture — once it’s gone, it’s gone.

        • If a neighborhood wants to be a historic district they can’t be a historic district because someone on the other side of town already has a historic district? That doesn’t sound fair.

        • There is not set amount. If people want to protect the historic architecture then they should be allowed to. There is something great to be said about a city maintaining it’s original character.

          • Sure, if they want to, they should protect historic architecture by buying houses and not changing them. Imposing costs on their neighbors is a whole different thing and should require a higher level of public process.

    • I live in LeDroit Park, a historic district right next to Eckington. I’m sure this will elicit a bunch of angry responses, but the architecture of LeDroit Park has a level of historical significance — first, as the first planned suburb of DC, and then as the home of Howard University’s intellectual class — that Eckington does not, and so I think it is appropriate for LeDroit Park to have special protections that Eckington should not have. There has been a dramatic run up in the value of my home since I purchased it half a decade ago, but I don’t know if that’s because of or in spite of the historic designation. On the one hand, the onerous construction limitations have certainly preserved the aesthetic contiguity of the neighborhood, but on the other hand they have made it much more expensive — and a lot of times even physically impossible — to make the existing houses bigger or to turn them into multi-unit homes. Given that the historic designation was in place long before the run up in value happened, I think it’s a mistake to assume they are related. If anything, I think it’s LeDroit’s proximity to downtown that has made it so attractive in the past few years — i.e., especially attractive in a time when pretty much all of DC has become more attractive.

  • Here’s my reason for voting no on Historic Designation for Eckington — there aren’t many properties worth protecting. There are many that would benefit from significant upgrade done by either the homeowner or a developer. Making that harder to do doesn’t serve the community.

    • That’s one of the things the HPRB evaluates: integrity. Does the neighborhood still have its architectural integrity and does it still give the sense of time and place it’s trying to reflect. Or has it changed so much, and so many properties in it have changed so much, that it’s historic character has already been destroyed or damaged beyond repair and there’s no point in a historic zone.

    • ^1000. They are historic districts, not value-improved districts.

    • Your comment makes no sense. I walk around Eckington every day. There’s hundreds of houses and buildings worth protecting. You obviously don’t know the area that well to make this comment. Most of the initial architecture is still in place. Only in the past several years have you started to see and increased number of pop ups.

      • Bloomingdale has many architectural gems. Eckington does not. They are mostly plain brick boxes, with a few exceptions that use Norman brick, inlaid stone at window heads, etc. especially on RI Ave. Those are very much the exception to the rule, and the Bloomingdale examples are of a MUCH higher construction quality. ‘Initial’ or not, Eckington has mostly poor building stock, both architecturally and structurally.

      • Just because the architecture is original doesn’t mean it is worth preserving.

  • A similar effort is afoot in Bloomingdales, HPD advocates holding a series of “informational sessions” that sound like seminars on the history of the neighborhood. But there is no open forum for people to present dissenting opinions. Not much of a discussion of the other viewpoint, it is all very pro-HPD. And of course there will be some vote at a sparsely attended ANC meeting staffed with people who want historic preservation, because that is how the issue is being framed. I will show up to vote against because I know the negatives that go along with historic preservation. There is nothing historic left of my house to preserve, those features were stripped off it long ago, and I don’t want to go in front of a panel of my not-peers to get approval to replace a privacy fence or swap in a new front door of my liking. The irony is I take the utmost care in choosing high quality items whenever work needs to be done and do a lot of the work myself so I know it’s done correctly. However, I would leave the crappy builder grade exterior work that I inherited in place instead of having to choose from a limited (and expensive) set of “historically accurate” choices.

    • I live in Ledroit Park and just went through a major home renovation that required historic review. It was handled by an HPRB inspector, not a panel, and was relatively painless. For things like brick re-pointing, I simply went to the DCRA and got a quick review by an HPRB inspector who looked at pictures of the project and signed off on it without any delay at all. Your privacy fence or door replacements will be handled in the same painless way. If you wanted to tear your house down and hire Susan Reatig to design its replacement, you would need to go to a panel which would reject your request.

      • And that’s really the problem for a place like Eckington: the existing architecture is not significant enough to warrant the exclusion of modern design.

        • That’s your opinion.

          • +1000. Eckington is definitely worth saving just like many other Districts in DC. That’s like saying why does Anacostia have historic designation. Nobody really wants to live there and it’s not a happening place so the heck with them.

        • That is simply your opinion and is objectively inaccurate.

          Eckington was the first of Washington’s streetcar suburbs and had platted lots, sidewalks, streetlights, and sewer lines that were unique to anywhere else in the city. Eckington was also Washington’s original industrial district as a result of its location along the B&O railroad lines, which is evidenced by the old warehouses in the southeastern part of the neighborhood that were located next to Eckington Yards (the original, not the JBG project). The hip neo-industrial character that developers are spending millions to reproduce just across the railroad tracks in Union Market is original to and can still be found in Eckington. In addition, Bloomingdale and Eckington were on the national front lines of the fight against racial covenants that raged during the 1940s and 50s. These are but a few examples of the various things that make Eckington historically significant and worthy of designation and preservation.

          I would encourage you to sit down with your neighbors who have lived in Eckington for decades to learn more of the rich history of our neighborhood. Perhaps then you would share the same appreciation for and pride in the place that we call home.

          • “Objectively inaccurate” – there is nothing objective about an assessment as to whether a neighborhood is “historic” enough to warrant all of these additional rules and burdens. Whether it is of high historic value is inherently subjective. I’m aware that Eckington was, for example, the first “streetcar suburb” and, while I find that mildy interesting, I don’t think that warrants allowing an unelected government board to veto people’s choice of front door on their own homes.

      • Sure, it CAN be a painless process. It can also be a bureaucratic nightmare staffed by people who can reject your work based on poorly defined aesthetic guidelines. I’m happy to hear your process was smooth. I personally know three couples in other HDs around the city who were not so lucky. It took one a whole YEAR to replace windows, at a cost 1.5x higher than budgeted, even accounting for the already increased costs associated with historically conforming replacements (equivalent modern replacements would have been 3x cheaper and done in a matter of weeks) As for the claim that making alterations “will be handled in the same painless way”, that is simply not a guarantee that anybody can make because people can and have been severely hamstrung by the HD review process or other covenants (see the Post front page story on the owner in Chevy Chase being forced to take down a swing set for his kids due to some set back rule). If I wanted that kind of oversight on my property I would have bought in an existing historic district or bought in some HOA or another subdivision with restrictive covenants. But I didn’t. I bought my kinda crappy house that I could afford with a 10-15 year eye on eventually making it the home that I want. If HD activists want to grandfather existing homeowners out of these restrictions (the restrictions would apply on the next transfer of the deed) then I’m all ears; the new buyers would know what they are getting into, and that would also stop flippers. Or if people want to lobby for historic designation of certain homes with the approval of the owner, that’s fine, too (historic designation tied to a deed would also prevent flippers and pop ups). I’m even OK with giving tax breaks to owners who take on the HD burden VOLUNTARILY in order to preserve examples of neighborhood character. Blanket HPD are just too ripe for abuse by people who don’t share your particular world view..

        • Your reference to the situation in Chevy Chase is completely unrelated to how HPRB works. If you actually know someone who took a year to get windows permitted (as opposed to having heard from a friend of a friend or read online) they’re doing it wrong, because this can be done in a single trip via review at the desk of the historic representative at DCRA. I know this because I got my new front door replacement approved via this process and it took about an hour. This is not conjecture, it’s not an anecdote I heard, it’s my personal experience. In fact, I’ve had three interactions with HPRB – two were handled by me in an hour or two at DCRA in a single trip (the door and the brick repointing) and one which was handled by a reviewer but did not require review by the full board (renovation and pop-up of the back of my house) which took about two months. It’s simply not as onerous as the anecdote crowd makes it seem to be.

          • Again, these are not anecdotes, these are real-world examples directly from owners themselves. I’m sorry you don’t believe me, but not everybody’s experience with HRPBs have been like yours. On the windows: they had to submit multiple times due to inconsistencies in the review application (owners’ fault) and then there was a delay in getting the approved windows in stock. It’s not that the process is hopelessly flawed or purposely obstructionist, it’s that they had to go through it AT ALL. Had there been no HPRB review they could have chosen quality replacements and had them installed without delay. These weren’t people who were trying to cheap out. And the end result probably would have only been noticed by people who care about things like historic preservation. It’s a self-serving pursuit.
            And I get that the Chevy Chase example isn’t an HPRB thing, but I was trying to make a general point about property restrictions re: inflexibility (having re-read, I wasn’t clear on that point)

          • You spent “an hour or two” at DCRA in order to be able to replace your own front door? I’m sorry and maybe I’m understanding you wrong, but I think that is precisely what some people think is ridiculous about historic designation.

          • Yes, I had to go there anyway for the permit. And the payoff in not being surrounded by hideous pop-ups is totally worth an hour or two every decade or so.

      • +1

        I’ve found that much of the opposition to historic designation is based on the proliferation – intentionally or not – of misinformation about the process. I would encourage residents to familiarize themselves with the facts before simply repeating what they’ve heard someone else say. The Historic Preservation Office (HPO) has a great deal of useful information on their website, including a document that spells out what kind of work requires what level of approval (http://www.bloomingdalecivicassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/HP-Review-Process-for-Property-Owners.pdf).

        • It’s not misinformation when there are concrete examples of abuse of the process. Those are not made up. What the HPRB is INTENDED to do, and what it has actually been USED to do, cannot be disentangled. Once that process is in place it cannot be easily undone (if at all?). Those of us in opposition do not see the added benefit of the HPO above and beyond current zoning and code restrictions in place, and the process is less than democratic and structured in a way to make the end result a foregone conclusion for those in favor once there is enough momentum under a very small proportion of residents. If the HPRB is an imperfect tool to prevent pop-ups, but it is the only tool currently available, then let’s build a new tool! See the suggestion for voluntary, deed-bound historic designations that do not provide blanket coverage over a neighborhood. At the very least make it more of a burden on the petitioners to prove that a majority of residents want historic designation and are fully aware of all consequences that go along with it.

          • “Historic District” does not mean HPRB gets involved in the types of approvals you have repeatedly cited. They review major projects, not window replacements. Window replacements and the like are handled by individual reviewers whose decisions can be appealed to the board if necessary, but in my case applied the rules appropriately and fairly (we were popping up the back of the house; to get the plans approved, we had to use 2x4s and string to construct a simple outline of the proposed addition on our roof; the reviewer then stood across the street and verified that it couldn’t be seen and therefore didn’t affect the historic character, at which point it was approved).

    • Just because you happen to have nothing worthwhile in your house to preserve doesn’t mean that the rest of Bloomingdale is in your shoes.

      • And just because you happen to want to preserve the neighborhood as it existed at some snapshot in time doesn’t mean the rest of Bloomingdale is in your shoes, either. See, this whole thing comes down to opinion and what people value. But I suppose historic preservationists just have superior values to the rest of us, right?

  • I think a lot of Eckington residents who are against HD are mostly against the process by which the Eckington Civic Association is pursuing it. I hate ugly pop ups too, but that doesn’t mean I think a small group of individuals should be able to pursue HD without the community’s support. The ECA has already spent thousands of dollars of community money to pursue HD, despite no indication yet that the majority of the community (or anyone outside the ECA) supports it. It’s also still unclear what, if any, impact a majority “No/against HD” survey result will have on the ECA pursuing HD. Additionally, it appears from Mike’s letter, that it may be possible for a small group of individuals to use an ECA-funded Eckington history project to pursue HD regardless of the survey results or even an official ECA vote “No”. It is also still bizarre to me that only paying members of the ECA can participate in the actual vote. Yes, it’s only 10$, but that’s really not the point.

    • Even $10 is effectively a poll tax that is a big deterrent to lower income residents to vote, yet it is they who will be least able to afford the increased costs of materials when doing home repairs.

  • I’m an Eckington resident who stands to lose a lot by historic designation. Since our home is an end unit, we would have a very limited ability to expand our home to meet the needs of our growing family. Due to families like mine who are very negatively affected, I believe the burden should be very high to warrant imposing such restrictions. DC has strengthened the R4 regulations to prevent some of the worst pop-up abusers. Further, we can individually designate important buildings in Eckington that we wish to preserve.

    • As I explain below, you can still pop your house back. Visit Hobart and Mt Pleasant st. You just have to do it well.

      • I’ve talked with the board and the pop back would be minimal and extraordinarily expensive

  • A lot of folks think incorrectly that doing any work on your own house requires a lengthy and arduous review process by the Historic Preservation Office or HPRB. This is not the case. Most alterations are just a simple sign off on your permit by HPO in the permit center. Also I hear a lot of people complain that “they don’t want to have get permission from HPO to replace their windows.” Every project replacing windows now requires a permit–whether your house is in a Historic District or not — due to the Energy Code regulations — DCRA reviews all windows to be sure they meet the energy code.

    • I’ve seen this comment that windows require review/permitting before, but from a quick look at DCRA’s website it seems like you can just get an online postcard permit for windows. Do you know if requires something more?

    • Have you done any significant renovation work on a property in a historic district? In my experience (Mt. Pleasant), it was indeed a lengthy and arduous process, even though we were very careful not to touch anything on the front of the house.

  • One of the reasons we bought a house (in Eckington!) over a condo is so that we don’t have to seek other people’s approval about what we do to a place we own. Unless the ECA would like to buy stuff for my house (steps, windows, door etc.) they should have no say in what we do to it. If you don’t like pop ups then deal with zoning- this isn’t zoning. This current situation is the result of a few zealot neighbors inserting themselves into other people’s lives…Additionally, the more neighbors I talk to the more I realize that a lot of people don’t even realize this hoopla is happening. People who live on my street (who have lived here 60 years incidentally), but who are not on NextDoor or one of the 53 people in the ECA didn’t know about what is happening until I mentioned it to them this morning. Absurd.

    • Strictly speaking, zoning doesn’t address pop-ups — only the maximum building height and the number of above-grade stories.

      • Isn’t the problem most people have with pop-ups their height and number of above-grade stories?

        • That’s part of it, the other part of it is incongruity. Just specifying a certain height limit and certain number of above-grade stories doesn’t ensure that pop-ups won’t be taller than their neighbors, or that they will in any way fit into the architectural context of their neighbors.
          The limits under a zoning category are pretty broad. They aren’t tailored in any way to a particular block — for instance, the height of the existing buildings on that particular block, whether that block has a mix of architectural styles and heights or is more uniform, etc., etc.

      • I’ve seen a number of pop-ups where the turret was removed and what looks like a shipping crate was placed on the top of the house. I think historic designation would allow for pop-ups, but in a fashion that matches the architectural style of the house.

        • From what other people have said here, my impression has been that HPRB will allow a pop-up as long as it’s not visible from the street.

  • This article misses several important points: One of the final steps of the process involves the HPRB contacting, by mail, every single resident in the impacted area. This process also involves the ANC – another layer of elected representation. The “new divisions” cited are being fed, in large measure, by scare tactics and misinformation by new arrivals, under the pretense of defending “affordability” and the interests of “long-term residents.”

    Curious to know where you came up with your list, which is long on “restrictions” and short on benefits, which seem evident in many HD neighborhoods in DC.

    To those who think Eckington does not have historic significance, I beg to differ. It has a rich cultural and architectural history which includes an industrial area — much different from other neighborhoods.

    This long-term resident, along with many others, chose this neighborhood for it’s character, unique history and charm. There’s a strong civic component to stewarding our neighborhood for future generations – a worthy aim in itself of designation status.

    • I think the debate that has been going on during this process is healthy; however, one of the oddest things to come of it has been relatively new residents claiming the interest of long term residents to justify their own opposition to designation. This strikes me as more than a little condescending and disingenuous as it is precisely those who have lived in the neighborhood longest who have the most appreciation for its significance.

    • Well put, Quincy.

    • I agree that I missed the point about the mailer. Can you please give me the details? Are you referring to the letter inviting residents to the work week meeting at HPRB? If that is the case I am happy to include mention of it. However I don’t think it addresses my concerns about a clear and fair process, but points more to the shouting match approach.

      I see both sides, I think there are many things in eckington worth maintaining, it is a wonderful neighborhood. I do however think there are real down sides to HD. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous, and airing concerns is not fear mongering. The dismissal of people’s concerns is exactly what is making people more anxious.

      Also I went to great lengths to try to make a balanced assessment of pros and cons. I got feedback from both sides. Neither thought it was quite fair to them. If there is something important i missed I can include them, but would do the same for the other side.

      I also apologize for only living in the neighborhood for four years. Admittedly it’s not a very long time. But I have been making efforts to talk to long term residents also, some in favor some against. But in these conversations it has also become clear that many are struggling to make ends meet. I don’t think we should dismiss their fears and concerns, I don’t think they always have a voice in these forums.

      The point of the article however is that the HPRB process is flawed at the detriment to the community it is trying to serve.

    • I think you are also missing the point a bit. It’s not the concept of historic designation, it’s the unregulated and opaque process by which it is pursued. You say the final step is HPRB contacting every resident as though this is some kind of community outreach by HPRB, but it’s not. They don’t inform residents of the pros/cons of historic designation and allow them to make and informed decision on whether they support it, that final step is just informing them that they are now impacted by HD. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s very different.

    • The pros and cons lists are equal in number as can be easily seen in the chart format so not sure where you are getting “bias” from this posting.
      Also, it’s not nefarious for “new” residents to be concerned with affordability and a desire for affordability does not necessarily denote some white knight complex about rescuing older residents from themselves. I just think people are realizing that 1) a lot of neighbors–some new some old–didn’t realize that this designation was getting pushed forward because of limited communication, which is not ok and 2) there was a lack of debate on the upsides AND downsides in the venues that have been provided to consider designation.
      I think Eckington has its history and that’s great. I’m still opposed to designation because I’ve been told by HPRB staff point blank that designation would prohibit exterior massing changes to my entire block (solar panels, rooftop AC, and yes the evil popups and bumpbacks) because Eckington is hilly and any changes would ruin the visually uniform sightlines from somewhere….like my historically uniform alley or the side street(?!?). My immediate neighbors are pretty uniformly pissed that some random neighborhood group, which we all thought was largely dedicated to hosting neighborhood happy hours or organizing cleanup days, could sneak this major change by everyone.

  • The permitting process at DCRA can be arduous for anyone. Adding a stop at the Preservation desk typically does not add much to the process. Note that 95% of historic property permit applications are reviewed over the counter, meaning only 5% of building permits for (major) projects in Historic Districts result in a trip to HPRB. The reviewers from the HPO and the members of HPRB are professionals and are familiar with DC and neighborhood architecture who use written guidelines. Their opinions are not just random, subjective opinions. You shouldn’t find it “staffed by people who can reject your work based on poorly defined aesthetic guidelines”.

    DCRA and Zoning regulations can be fluid. As someone noted, everyone (not just Historic District property owners) who replaces their windows is now required to get a building permit. (BTW-historic or not, most windows for homes of this age cannot be picked up off the shelf at Home Depot due to the unusual sizes.) I believe they now allow (quality) imitation replacement materials, for slate roofs, as an example. So some of these stories from past experiences are no longer applicable.

    The Eckington Civic Association has lots of information on their website. Check it out!

    • I asked this above – but do you know if windows in non-historic designated neighborhoods require more than a online postcard permit? Agree about the odd sizing, but we are replacing our windows with a style that will look more historic and got quotes for vinyl and wooden windows (a requirement under HD) and it was 1000$ more per window for wooden frames.

  • I live in a historic district (Mt. Pleasant). The principles of historic preservation are laudable but in practice, verging on tyranny.

  • I want to offer the perspective of a Mt Pleasant homeowner. I love the fact that we’re in a historic district and I think Eckington homeowners and also/ especially Bloomingdale would not regret it.
    First I want to clear up some misconceptions.
    Myth 1: HD prevents increase in density. Check out the condo conversion of Mt Pleasant Baptist church on 16th at Lamont. Lots of new condo units, in a HD. All the stuff planned for the commercial/industrial area of Eckington to the east will still get done.

    Myth 2: you can’t do additions on row houses in a HD. These get routinely approved. If they are not visible from the street you face few restrictions. If they are visible then they must be consistent with what exists, but they can be done. There was a pop-back recently on Hobart at Mt Pleasant St that was nicely done and approved. It was a condo conversion of a rowhouse.

    Myth 3: your home renos will be more expensive/onerous. Not true exept for front windows and front fences. It doesn’t have to be pricey but you have restrictions. Roof decks can also be tough unless you have something hiding it as you do on many victorians. Other than that, everything is the same. Unleas your buildinv is a landmark.

    Myth 4: you need all houses to be of architectural significance to declare an HD. No, you’re declaring a HD, not declaring every property therein landmark/easement property. What you need is an overall historic neighborhood and it can be a blend. Mt P has mostly wardmans but also victorians and others.

    What HD does put a stop to is tear downs and the awful awful popups we are seeing these days in Bloomingdale and Eckington. As noted above, it doesn’t prevent condos, or density, doesn’t prevent rowhouse additions. It just prevents awful eyesores. Good luck with the process. I hope you succeed, and hopefully Bloomingdale follows.

    • I think what people are worried about here is that Eckington house are going to be harder to make conform to HD restrictions. The primary issue that I have with HD is massing restrictions that prevent changes as seen from the street (in the regulations “the public right of way”).
      Yes, “Myth 2 and 3” are myths in Mt Pleasant and many other areas of the city because it’s not easy to see an addition or some changes to the rear of the house from the street. Hooray fro you! However, in Eckington, particularly in the Eastern half, we have hills and very large front setbacks combined with shallow houses. So, here, you stand on the street and you can see my entire house, plus any projections from my roof. I am not alone in having clear sightlines. There’s almost no amount of setback that’s definitely going to make a roofdeck unseen. Any bumpback could be seen from the corner and as you walk up my street. All of my windows are visible and thus, up for scrutiny. Basically, it’s easy to see how HD could mean no massing changes at all for my immediate neighborhood because of sightlines.
      Prohibiting massing changes that can be seen does make it onerous to impossible for a lot of Eckingtonians to do the things that are Myths in your neighborhood like add density or just a bedroom.

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