HPA No. 1992-535, 1992-538 (In re. Victor Building)
- HPA Number: 1992-535, 1992-538
- Case Name: In Re: The Victor Building
- Location of Property: 724-726 Ninth Street, N.W.
- Date of Decision: March 31, 1993
- Type of Case/Type of Permit Sought: Partial demolition and subdivision
- Disposition: The application for partial demolition was denied. The application for subdivision was approved.
- Date of Case Summary: July 28, 2006
Summary of Decision:
The Victor Building is a DC-designated landmark (1991) that was constructed in three phases between 1909-1925. In the landmark designation, the Historic Preservation Review Board (the “Board”) found the third addition, built in 1925, to be historically significant, but an architectural eyesore. Banyan Management Corporation, acting as agent of the building’s owners, VSLT 9th Street Corporation and VSLF II H Street Corporation (collectively, the “Applicant”) sought permits for partial demolition and subdivision to combine adjacent lots (establishing one lot of record) and demolish the 1925 addition to the building. The Applicant claimed that such development was necessary to permit a renovation to increase tenants in the building, thereby encouraging the adaptation of the landmark for current use. The staff report issued by the Board recommended approval of the application, subject to many conditions, including that: (1) the architectural design of the new building be “exemplary;” (2) both the interior and the exterior be restored to the highest preservation standards; and (3) the Mayor’s Agent take appropriate steps to ensure the entire project, not just the alteration, would be built. The Mayor’s Agent ordered that the Applicant’s request for a permit for partial demolition be denied, and the request to assemble the adjoining lots into one be granted.
Necessary in the Public Interest:
Demolition: The Mayor’s Agent reiterated the Act’s standard for demolition: no demolition permit shall be issued “unless the Mayor finds that issuance of the permit is necessary in the public interest, or that failure to issue a permit will result in unreasonable economic hardship to the owner.” The Applicant asserted that the demolition of the 1925 portion of the landmark would be consistent with the Act because Applicant would restore the other portions of the building, do a “period restoration” of the interior, and construct a new, separate building of “exemplary architecture” that would occupy the remainder of the project’s frontage on 9th Street. The Applicant also asserted that the demolition was necessary to obtain new tenants, as the Applicant had difficulties in securing tenants to the existing building. The Mayor’s Agent was not persuaded, as it was not at all certain that the proposed demolition would increase tenancy, and even if it did, the Mayor’s Agent was not satisfied that demolition of the addition was the only option that could achieve that goal.
The Mayor’s Agent stated that the standard for subdivision (including combining of lots) is identical to the standard for a demolition permit. He concluded that granting the application for subdivision was necessary in the public interest because: (1) the only effect it would have is facilitating Applicant’s submission of a permit for new construction, which would be subject to Board review, and (2) no one had objected to the combining of the adjoining lots.
Special Merit – Exemplary Architecture:
Applicant requested that the decision not be based on special merit, however, it chose to make arguments that the proposed demolition would permit a project of “exemplary architecture.” The Mayor’s Agent rejected the exemplary architecture arguments, holding that if Applicant wished to make them, Applicant would need to follow “the required regulations for a ‘special merit’ project.” There was no evidence offered as to why the proposed new construction was “exemplary.” The Mayor’s Agent also chastised the Board for conditioning its recommendation that the project be approved on the Mayor’s Agent finding that the project would be considered “exemplary.” He stated that the Board could not “abrogate its authority” and evade such regulations by setting conditions that the Mayor’s Agent approve this project only if it determined same to be one of “exemplary architecture.”
Additional applications for partial demolition were filed subsequently by Applicant, and, ultimately a compromise was reached with the D.C. Preservation League, the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, and Art Deco. The Mayor’s Agent granted the then-proposed partial-demolition. See HPA 1993-466 for details. Note also that HPA 1993-466 was modified by order dated December 17, 1997; see said modification for details.
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