HPA No. 1987-147, HPA No. 1987-148, HPA No. 1987-149, HPA No. 1987-150 (In re. St. Matthew's Cathedral building, among others)
- HPA Numbers: 1987-147; 1987-148; 1987-149; 1987-150
- Building Name: St. Matthew's Cathedral building, among others
- Case Name: Applicants Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Owner, and K&C Associates Rhode Island Limited Partnership, Agent
- Location of Property: 1717, 1719, 1721, and 1723 Rhode Island Avenue, N.W.
- Date of Decision: 12/22/1987
- Type of Case/Type of Permit Sought: Demolition
- Disposition: Approved
Summary of Decision:
The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., owner of the property, and K&C Associates Rhode Island Limited Partnership, agent for the Archdiocese (collectively, the “Applicants”), sought a construction permit for partial demolition of four rowhouses located at 1717, 1719, 1721, and 1723 Rhode Island Avenue, N.W., in the Dupont Circle Historic District. The Applicants sought the permit as part of a planned unit development project, to include residential, office, retail and institutional uses. The proposed development also called for the repair and retention of St. Matthew’s Cathedral and the rectory (both listed as individual landmarks on the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites and National Register of Historic Places) and the retention and rehabilitation of the historically significant portions of the four rowhouse structures. The Applicants claimed that the proposed project was necessary in the public interest as both consistent with the purposes of the Act and as a project of special merit. The Mayor’s Agent found that the project fit both criteria. Specifically, the Mayor’s Agent found that the proposal constituted a project of special merit because the design exhibited exemplary architecture, protecting and highlighting the “visual dominance of St. Matthews Cathedral” and complementing the surrounding historical district through “scale, character, fenestration and color.” The Mayor’s Agent further found that the proposed project was consistent with the purposes of the Act because it “retains and enhances those properties which contribute to the character of the historic district, provides for adaptive reuse of significant portions of the structures which contribute to the historic district and plans new construction compatible with the character of the historic district.” The Mayor’s Agent, therefore, approved the permit.
Mayor’s Agent – Procedural:
- Certain property owners, alleging that their properties abutted the Applicants’ property, argued that they did not receive adequate notice of the proceedings (i.e., a first class mail notice at least (30) days before the date of the hearing (per Section 3.2(b)(1) of the Rules of Procedure)). The Mayor’s Agent held that “abutting property owners are defined as owners of property contiguous to the Applicants’ property with no intervening public space.” The Mayor’s Agent found that the alley separating the Applicants’ property from the other properties was a public space and that, therefore, 1) the properties were not abutting, and 2) the complaining property owners received adequate notice (by publication of the Notice of Public Hearing in the D.C. Register).
- A certain party to the proceeding claimed that she received inadequate notice (i.e., less than the statutory 30-day notice requirement) of the hearing because she did not receive notice of the hearing via regular mail. According to the Mayor’s Agent, actual notice which allows meaningful participation in a proceeding is sufficient to cure technical violations of the 30-day notice requirement. The Mayor’s Agent found that the party did receive actual notice when she visited the Historic Preservation Division office and received the notice approximately three weeks prior to the hearing. Therefore, she was not required to receive statutory notice by regular mail.
- The Mayor’s Agent gave “great weight” to the issues raised by the affected Advisory Neighborhood Commission.
Necessary in the Public Interest:
The Mayor’s Agent found that the proposed project was necessary in the public interest because it was consistent with the purposes of the Act, and constituted a project of special merit based on exemplary architecture.
Consistent with the Purposes of the Act:
- The Mayor’s Agent concluded that the project was consistent with the purposes of the D.C. Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978 (as amended, the “Act”), because it “retains and enhances those properties which contribute to the character of the historic district, provides for adaptive reuse of significant portions of the structures which contribute to the historic district and plans new construction compatible with the character of the historic district.” While the rear of each of the buildings located at 1717, 1719, 1721 and 1723 Rhode Island Avenue would be demolished, other parts of the building would be retained including 26 feet of classroom at 1717, forty feet of building at 1719, and approximately 25 feet of building at 1721 and 1723, respectively. Furthermore, the proposed plan involved integrating the spaces retained in 1717 and 1719 into an office building to be constructed and renovating the spaces in 1721 and 1723 for continued use by St. Matthews Cathedral.
- Although the rowhouse structures “contribute[d] to the Dupont Circle Historic District in terms of the architecture, scale, period of significance and cultural history,” the portions of the buildings to be demolished did not. Emily Eig, an architectural historian and expert witness for the Applicants, testified that there had been “major alterations to the rowhouses over the years” and part of the focus of the proposed project “was to restore the rowhouses to their most significant period, which was chosen as the year 1920.” The Applicants introduced testimony that “major alterations to the rear of the four rowhouses have severely [sic] diminished the historic fabric of these portions of the buildings to be demolished”, and the Mayor’s Agent found that “the rear elevations of the four rowhouses have been substantially altered over the years, are undistinguished in appearance, and presently reflect the utilitarian nature of their use as service spaces.”
- The Mayor’s Agent found that the project was consistent with the Comprehensive Plan of the District because the project adhered to the following guidelines of the plan: 1) protecting and enhancing the distinguishing qualities of historic landscapes, 2) protecting the essential integrity of the historic property and its sense of setting, and 3) planning new construction to be compatible in design, configuration, color, texture and new character with the historic property. However, the Mayor’s Agent noted that the Comprehensive Plan is a policy guide and not a legal mandate, and he did not directly tie consistency with the Comprehensive Plan to meeting the test for consistency with the purposes of the Act.
Project of Special Merit – Exemplary Architecture:
The Mayor’s Agent found that “the Applicants have achieved a design of exemplary architecture which successfully protects the visual dominance of St. Matthews Cathedral, sympathetically linking the two buildings in architecture while minimizing the visual impact of the new building on the cathedral and surrounding historic area.” Set-backs on all sides of the new building “open up light and air” and the “design complements the scale, character, fenestration and color of the existing buildings and establishes a strong relationship between the proposed building and its historic site.” The new office building was designed to recognize the importance of not infringing on the dome of St. Matthews Cathedral; a gable configuration was proposed for the roof whereby the roof line was to be articulated by the use of peaks, small gables and a tower. Such a configuration, with a sloping form, was employed to minimize the visual impact of the office building on the cathedral.
The Mayor’s Agent found that the Applicants provided sufficient evidence that Applicants had the financial capability to complete the proposed project. Applicants introduced as proof of such financial capability testimony that they had completed successfully other commercial projects of comparable or greater size and value.
See HPA No. 1993-236, 1993-237 and 1993-238, orders dated Aug 9, 1994 and September 30, 1994, for subsequent history.
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