HPA No. 1990-139, 1990-140 (In re. Cooper Houses)
- HPA Number: 1990-139 & 1990-140
- Case Name: Application for the Demolition Permits for Buildings Located at 2521 and 2523 K Street, NW
- Building Name: Cooper Houses
- Location of Property: 2521 & 2523 K Street, N.W.
- Date of Decision: June 29, 1990
- Type of Case/Type of Permit Sought: Partial Demolition and Construction
- Disposition: Approved
- Date of Case Summary: June 1, 2007
Summary of Decision:
Bronberg Incorporated (the “Applicant”) sought a permit to partially demolish two individually designated landmark buildings known as the Cooper Houses in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, located at 2521 and 2523 K Street, N.W. These landmarks were the oldest houses in Foggy Bottom and, at the time of application, were vacant and in marginally stable condition. The partial demolition would involve retaining and restoring the façades of both buildings and demolishing by hand, then restoring the remaining walls. The Applicant also sought a permit to construct a 180-unit residential apartment addition with three levels of parking. The Cooper Houses would be integrated into the addition; they would be displayed forward and the addition would be set back behind the houses.
The Applicant worked with members of the community to develop the conceptual design and agreed to place restrictive covenants on the property to restrict it to residential use in response to community concerns. The final concept was approved by the Historic Preservation Review Board (the “HPRB”). A mitigation plan was negotiated that would provide for the restoration and reuse of the original materials from the Cooper Houses, including fireplace mantels and wood trim. The plan would also include historical documentation of the buildings with photography, measured drawings and a two-phase (archival research and on-site investigation) archeological program.
The Cooper Houses would be demolished by hand in order to preserve the original materials and mortar and paint analyses would be conducted to determine the original mortar composition and paint colors. The Mayor’s Agent stated that the mitigation program and documentation of the project were acceptable. The new addition would attempt to mimic some of the proportion and details of the Cooper Houses. The new addition would also use distance between the landmarks and the new addition that, according to the project’s architect, would allow the new addition to “fall to the background and provide a proper setting for the historic landmarks.” The Mayor’s Agent granted the permit, concluding that the permit was consistent with the purposes of the Act. The Mayor’s Agent found that that the proposed project would retain and restore the Cooper Houses, encouraging their adaptation for current use.
Consistent with the Purposes of the Act:
The Mayor’s Agent stated that the restoration of the Cooper Houses to their original condition were significant enhancements that would make the buildings available for current use in accordance with the statutory standards for consistency with the purposes of the Act. The Mayor’s Agent also found that the enhancements would ensure that the Cooper Houses remained examples of Washington, D.C.’s aesthetic and cultural heritage and would ensure that the “construction and subdivision of the lots” would be compatible with the character of the Cooper Houses. Based on the testimony of the architect, the preservation architect, and the Applicant, the Mayor’s Agent also found that restoration would reestablish the historic appearance of the Cooper Houses and enhance their significant character. The demolition process was found to be acceptable because it would not result in the loss of significant features of the Cooper Houses.
The height of the new addition was originally proposed to be 110 feet. It was then reduced to 107.5 feet after further discussion with the HPRB. The Applicant contended that the height could not be reduced any further because of the cost of restoring the Cooper Houses. The Mayor’s Agent concluded that the height of the addition would encourage the adaptation of the Cooper Houses for current use.
Unreasonable Economic Hardship:
Some groups, including the ANC 2A Single Member District 03 and the Foggy Bottom Historical District Conservancy, opposed the proposal stating that the Applicant had failed to reduce the height of the building and that economic considerations should be a part of the Mayor’s Agent’s decision, as no economic evidence justifying the addition’s proposed height had been provided when requested. The Mayor’s Agent stated that the Applicant had not made a case on the basis of an unreasonable economic hardship and a decision on the permit would be made based on Applicant’s sole claim, consistency with the Act. The Mayor’s Agent concluded that the specific height of the proposed addition was not an issue for him to decide, as economic hardship was not before him and the height issue had previously been considered by the HPRB and the Board of Zoning Adjustment.
The Cooper Houses were in poor condition due to fire, interior exposure to weather and vandalism. The façade of 2523 would be repaired before demolition. The façades of both houses would then be restored with original brick and new brick that matched the existing brick. The Mayor’s Agent found that the façades of the Cooper House would be properly restored.
See HPA No. 1984-566, order of August 1, 1985 for related history concerning this property.
 This is the only mention of a subdivision being part of the construction project. A subdivision application was not before the Mayor’s Agent in this case.
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