HPA No. 1985-447 (In re. Ruth's Chris Steak House)
- HPA Number: 1985-447
- Case Name: Ruth’s Chris Steak House of Washington, 1801 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
- Location of Property: 1801 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
- Date of Decision: 10/11/1985
- Type of Case/Type of Permit Sought: Application for an alteration permit
- Disposition: Permit denied
Summary of Decision:
Ruth’s Chris Steak House of Washington (“Applicant”) applied for a permit to allow the installation of two signs on the exterior of the building in which its business was located, which was a part of the Dupont Circle Historic District. At the time of the hearing, the signs (neon and erected on pre-existing encasements) were already installed. The Applicant asserted that failure to issue the permit would result in unreasonable economic hardship, and that the proposed alteration was consistent with the purposes of the Act. The Mayor’s Agent denied the permit application, concluding that failure to issue the permit would not result in unreasonable economic hardship and that the Applicant failed to consider alternative means of displaying the logo as well as alternative adaptive uses.
Mayor’s Agent – Procedural:
The D.C. Preservation League (“DCPL”) filed as a party in opposition. Applicant objected on grounds that DCPL’s filing was submitted less than ten days prior to the hearing date, in contravention of Section 3.4(a) of the Rules of Practice and Procedure (the “Rules”). Without explanation, the Mayor’s Agent stated that it found “good cause” and allowed DCPL’s participation pursuant to Section 1.4(c) of the Rules.
Consistent with the Purposes of the Act:
The Mayor’s Agent stated that the Applicant carries the burden of proving that issuance of the permit is necessary in the public interest. The Mayor’s Agent stated that applicants may establish that an alteration is necessary in the public interest by being consistent with the purposes of the Act, which can be demonstrated, pursuant to Section 2(b) of the Act, by proving that such alteration is “compatible with the character of the historic district” and/or will “retain and enhance those properties which contribute to the character of the historic district and to encourage their adaptation for current use.” The Mayor’s Agent found that the only evidence offered in support of the signs being consistent with the purposes of the Act was testimony stating that Applicant relied upon the advice of a sign company that advised the signs were compatible; this was inadequate in the Mayor’s Agent’s view.
Unreasonable Economic Hardship:
The Mayor’s Agent stated that the Applicant carries the burden of proving unreasonable economic hardship. The Mayor’s Agent cited Section 3(n) of the Act, providing that unreasonable economic hardship means that a failure to issue a permit would amount to a “taking of the owner’s property without just compensation.” According to the Mayor’s Agent, unreasonable economic hardship may be established by demonstrating that denial of the permit will deprive the owner of a reasonable return on its investment, noting that “it is irrelevant that the cash value of the property [may] have diminished or that there are higher and more beneficial uses of the property.” The Mayor’s Agent found Applicant’s assertion that it would lose business if the neon signs were not permitted “unpersuasive;” the Applicant itself had stated that it had signs for its restaurants in other cities that were not lighted.
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