HPA No. 1992-104, 1992-369 (In re. Reneau Rental Property)
- HPA Number: 1992-104 and 1992-369
- Case Name: In the Matter of: 1312 21st Street, N.W.
- Location: 1312 21st Street, N.W.
- Date of Order: 6/1/1993
- Type of Permit Sought: Alteration
- Disposition: Denied
- Date of Case Summary: 7/25/2006
Summary of Decision:
Paul Reneau (Applicant) converted his three story townhouse into four condominium units and added a fourth floor and third floor deck. The Applicant proceeded with the alterations without permits to perform many aspects of the project, including, most importantly, the addition of both the fourth floor and the third floor deck. A stop order was issued and, after numerous back and forth negotiations and revisions of the plan, the Mayor's Agent denied the alteration permits for the fourth floor and third floor deck, determining that they were not consistent with the purposes of the Act, because they were not compatible with the character of the historic district and did not encourage adaptation for current use.
Mayor's Agent - Procedural:
- The standard for review for a permit for alteration in an historic district is D.C. Code § 5-1005(f), which requires that no permit shall be issued unless the Mayor's Agent finds that the issuance is "necessary in the public interest."
- The Applicant has the burden to demonstrate that his proposed changes are compatible with the historic character of the neighborhood where the change is being proposed.
Necessary in the Public Interest:
The Mayor's Agent noted that in order for a project to be deemed "necessary in the public interest" it must either be a project of "special merit" or one that is consistent with the purposes of the Act. The Applicant conceded his project was not one of special merit and the Mayor's Agent concluded that the additions of a fourth floor and third floor deck, which harmed the vistas and reduced visibility, were not consistent with the purposes of the Act and were therefore not necessary in the public interest.
Consistent with the Purposes of the Act:
The Mayor's Agent established consistency with the purposes of the Act as a "two prong test," with compatibility with the character of the historic district as the first and a showing that the proposed changes are necessary to "encourage their adaptation for current use" as the second prong. The Applicant argued that the changes were compatible because from the vantage point in front of the property, the additions were "invisible" to the "average heighted" person. The Mayor's Agent rejected this argument, noting that the Act requires compatibility "with the character of the historic district... .not just from the view immediately in front of a structure," and concluded that the impact of the additions on the vistas was "not positive," (emphasis in original). The Mayor's Agent also concluded that the Applicant failed to show that the proposed alterations were "at all necessary to encourage the adaptation of the structure for current use."
The Mayor's Agent placed the burden on the Applicant to show that the project was "compatible with the character of the historic district," and, specifically in this case, that the additions of the fourth floor or the third floor deck were "compatible with all the vistas it effects," (emphasis in original). The Mayor's Agent concluded that the Applicant failed to meet that burden after determining that "there is no question that the effect on those vistas [was] not positive."
Encourage Adaptation for Current Use:
The Mayor's Agent required a showing that the proposed changes are necessary to "encourage their adaptation for current use." The Mayor's Agent concluded that the Applicant failed to show that the changes he proposed were "at all necessary to encourage the adaptation of the structure for current use."
The Applicant in this case conceded that his project was not one of special merit.
The opinion deals at length with the issue of visibility of the alterations. Prior to coming before the Mayor's Agent, discussion between the Applicant and various interested parties revolved around the issue of whether the alterations would be visible to the surrounding area. Alterations were made to the initial plan to increase the slant of the fourth floor roof and remove aspects that "impede" on the structure, such as the proposed chimney flues and skylights. The Applicant argued that these revisions to the original plan satisfied visibility concerns because a "normal height person" standing in front or across the street looking up would not be able to see the addition. The Mayor's Agent acknowledged that "visibility in and of itself is not grounds for denial of a permit. Rather, the issue is how that visibility effects the surrounding ambience, i.e., is compatible with the character of the historic district." In this instance, however, the Mayor's Agent determined the proposed alterations were not compatible with the character of the historic district, and therefore not consistent with the purposes of the Act, and denied the permit.
See HPA No. 1994-003, order of January 21, 1994, and Reneau v. District of Columbia , 676 A. 2d 913 (D.C. 1996) for subsequent history.
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Government of the District of Columbia. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Office of Adjudication; Government of the District of Columbia. Office of Planning. Historic Preservation Office (2001)