HPA No. 1988-350, 1988-351, 1988-353, 1988-354 (In re. Petersen House, Crown Bar Grill, Case's, among others)
- HPA Number: 1988-350, 1988-351, 1988-353, 1988-354
- Building Names: Petersen House, Crown Bar Grill, Case's, among others
- Address(es): 501 11th St. NW; 1005-1017 E St. NW; 1012 F St. NW; 507 11th St. NW; 511 11th St. NW; 515-525 11th St. NW
- Case Name: In Re Square 347 (lots 17, 802, 803, 804, 805, 806, 807, 809, 811, 812, 813, 814, 815, 816, and 827)
- Date of Decision: 11/18/1988
- Type of Permit Sought: Demolition and Partial Demolition
- Disposition: Granted
- Date of Case Summary/Reviewer Name: 11/26/2014
- Issue Areas: Mayor’s Agent – Procedural, Project of Special Merit – Balancing Test, Project of Special Merit – Social or other Benefits having a High Priority for Community Services, Compatibility, Façade, Historical District-Contributing Building, Demolition
Summary of Decision:
The Oliver Carr Company (the “Applicant”) sought a permit for demolition and partial demolition of sixteen structures as part of a proposal to construct a mixed-use arts/retail/office project. The structures are located in the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site (the “National Site”) and are considered buildings which contribute to the historic district. The Mayor’s Agent found that the “primary significance of the National Site is its role as the nation’s ceremonial route – the avenue between the White House and the Capitol.”
The proposed project calls for the complete or partial demolition of certain buildings; retaining certain buildings’ facades; and the construction of new buildings. The largest action would be to demolish the 1011 E Street structure and construct in its place a 1,540 seat movie cinema. The Applicant contended that the proposed demolitions and partial demolitions are necessary in the public interest as a project of special merit based upon its specific features of land planning, furtherance of the District’s goals as set forth in the Comprehensive Plan, and provision of social or other benefits having a high priority for community service.
The Mayor’s agent rejected some aspects of the proposed project, such as the construction of a three-floor addition to 1005 E St., and further urged the applicant to work out and refine details of the plan with the Historic Preservation Review Board (“HPRB”), its Staff, and the Office of Planning. Overall, the Mayor’s Agent held that the proposed demolitions are necessary in the public interest to construct a project of special merit. The Mayor’s Agent balanced the historical considerations associated with the buildings against the special merit of the proposed project. Here, the Mayor’s Agent found that the proposed project’s mixed-use arts/retail/office plans achieved many of the goals set forth in the Comprehensive Plan. Specifically, the proposed project would help develop an arts and entertainment corridor in the downtown area along E Street, as well as promote economic activity in the evenings and on the weekends. The other significant contribution to the Comprehensive plan is the proposed project’s goal for a major concentration of retail space at the east end of the retail core.
Other aspects of the project that either enhanced it or reduced its adverse impact on the historical character of the district include (1) setting aside 25% of retail space for minority, displaced and small businesses, with at least $2 million for rent abatements; (2) the program of mitigation to compensate for the impact of the proposed demolitions; and (3) the Applicants’ written agreements for employment and minority business contracting within the local advisory neighborhood committee.
Mayor’s Agent – Procedural:
- The permit applications were reviewed by the HPRB. The HPRB recommended against demolition because it was inconsistent with the purposes of the Act. The Applicant was expected to return to the HPRB with design modifications but did not do so. Thus, the conceptual design before the Mayor’s Agent here had not been reviewed by the HPRB.
- The Mayor’s Agent stated that the recommendations of the affected Advisory Neighborhood Commission should be “given great weight.”
- The Mayor’s Agent stated that the burden of proof that the demolition and partial demolition is necessary to construct a project of special merit is on the Applicant.
- The Mayor’s Agent stated that while the Applicant’s employment and minority business contracts with various public agencies suggest a commitment to providing the community with jobs, the questionable enforceability of these contracts means that “they should be given considerably less weight relative to other proposed elements of special merit.”
Project of Special Merit – Balancing Test:
The Mayor’s Agent repeated the definition of “special merit” found in applicable District regulations, i.e., as a plan or building having significant benefits to the District of Columbia or the community by virtue of exemplary architecture, specific features of land planning or social or other benefits having a high priority for community services. The Mayor’s Agent further noted that the provision of space for social services programs, while commendable, is not a prerequisite to qualify as a project of special merit. The Mayor’s Agent stated that before the demolition permits can be granted or denied, the historical considerations associated with the buildings should be balanced “against factors which contribute to or enhance the project of special merit,” including creating “a significant presence on the E Street theatre spine by the construction of an impressive marquee and construction of an architecturally sympathetic infill element in the adjacent valley, which will contribute to the continuous character of the E Street streetscape.”
Finally, the Mayor’s Agent stated that the Comprehensive Plan’s goal of developing an arts and entertainment corridor and the provision of the cinema at considerable cost to the Applicant “should be weighed in balancing historical considerations associated with the site.”
Project of Special Merit – Social or other Benefits having a High Priority for Community Services:
The Mayor’s Agent found aspects of the proposed project consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. Specifically, the Mayor’s Agent found the 1540 seat cinema and the retail component to be very significant elements. The Mayor’s Agent also found that the retail space set asides for minority, displaced, and small businesses, with at least $2 million in subsidies, was another noteworthy feature. The Mayor’s Agent specifically noted the duration of the set asides – 10 to 15 years, the period of a typical lease – was a significant element. An additional feature of the special merit claim was the commitment to reserve 51% of the construction and renovation jobs for ANC-2 residents. However, the employment and minority business agreements were given “considerably less weight” than the other features because such agreements are hard to enforce and implement.
The Applicant sought to save and restore the façade of the 1005 E Street structure and add a three story addition above it. The Mayor’s agent found that the primary characteristic of the buildings on this block was that they are low scale – all but one are three stories tall and the other is four – and this was the last low-scale block in the historic district. The Mayor’s agent found that the addition would be incompatible “with the character of the E Street streetscape and destroys the historic integrity” of the façade. However, the Mayor’s Agent clarified that “disapproval of the three story addition will not undermine those elements of the project that form the basis for a claim of special merit.” Regarding the remaining E Street structures, the Mayor’s Agent found that the proposed façade preservation “appropriately retains the spirit, scale and character of the E Street streetscape.” Regarding the restoration of the two 11th Street structures, the Mayor’s Agent noted that the proposed 11th Street elevation “would benefit from incorporation of additional historic elements to balance” the historical significance of 523 and 525 11th Street. Finally, the Mayor’s Agent stated that “on the whole, the project relates well to the historic district.”
The project calls for the retention and restoration of the facades at 523 and 525 11th Street, and 1005, 1007, 1009, 1013 and 1017 E Street. In general, the Mayor’s Agent found “the façade preservations for this project to be an excellent accommodation of competing interests.” In addition, the Mayor’s Agent found that the 1012 F Street frontage is “a good example of an Italianate row house” and is a façade worthy of retaining and incorporating into the 11th Street frontage. The Mayor’s Agent found that the proposed façade preservation of the E Street structures “appropriately retains the spirit, scale and character of the E Street streetscape.” The Mayor’s Agent supported the HPRB Staff’s recommendation that additional significant facades on 11th Street be maintained.
Historical District-Contributing Building:
The Mayor’s Agent concluded that the 1011 E Street structure “does contribute to the historical richness of the E Street streetscape with sufficient integrity of location, setting, design, workmanship, materials, feeling and association remaining to be classified as contributing.”
Proposed Program of Mitigation:
To compensate for the impact of the proposed demolitions on the historical character of the district, the Applicant proposed a program of mitigation. The mitigation program would include measures to restore the retained facades and photographic and narrative documentation of the site to be utilized for public education. The Mayor’s Agent found that the mitigation program “diminishes the adverse impact of demolition on the historic character of the district and provides preservation benefits of significant value to the community.” Furthermore, the Mayor’s Agent stated that mitigation programs “should be considered in weighing the impact of the proposed demolitions on the historic district.”
This was an early case, decided at a time when the preservation movement in DC was weak, and façade preservation in downtown was about all preservationists could obtain. Since then, the preservation movement in DC has become much stronger and politically active. Thus, façade preservation has been discouraged by the DC Historic Preservation Office in favor of whole building preservation. Moreover, there is nothing in the Act suggesting that mitigation measures (façade restoration, photographic documentation) should be considered in weighing the impact of the demolitions on the historic district. It is doubtful whether this case would be decided on the same grounds today.
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