HPA No. 95-033 (In re. Vigilant Firehouse)

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HPA No. 95-033 (In re. Vigilant Firehouse)

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  • HPA Number: 95-33
  • Case Name: In Re: Back Bay Restaurant Group
  • Location of Property: 1066 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.
  • Date of Decision: 6/20/95
  • Type of Permit Sought: Partial Demolition
  • Disposition: Approved

Summary of Decision:

Back Bay Restaurant Group Operating, Inc. (the "Applicant") sought a permit for partial demolition after-the-fact of its removal of the North and South walls of the Vigilant (the "Building"), an individually designated landmark also located within the Georgetown Historic District (oldest standing firehouse in the District). With regard to the North wall, the Mayor's Agent concluded that because the wall was an interior wall, and the Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978, D.C. Code §5-1001 et seq. (1994) (the "Act") only applies to exterior structures, it was properly removed under the Applicant's properly obtained permit for interior demolition. With regard to the South wall, the Mayor's Agent found that the wall was an exterior wall and that its removal was tantamount to a demolition. Concluding that the demolition was necessary in the public interest because it was consistent with the purposes of the Act, the Mayor's Agent ordered the issuance of an after-the-fact partial demolition permit for the South wall.

Interior Alterations/Scope of Act:

The Mayor's Agent clarified that the Act applies only to exterior structures noting that the definitions of "alteration" and "demolition," under the Act, specify the "exterior appearance" and the "facade of a building." See D.C. Code §§5-1002(1), 5-1002(3). Any removal of an interior wall neither qualifies as an alteration nor as a demolition under the Act, and does not, therefore, require a hearing before the Mayor's Agent. The North wall was fully enclosed by a prior two-story addition, and, when the Building was designated on the National Register, the North wall was acknowledged as an interior wall and did not designate the interior of the Building as an historic interior. Thus, the Mayor's Agent concluded that the North wall was interior and not subject to the Act (and properly removed pursuant to the building permit Applicant had obtained).


Although Applicant argued that the work performed on the South wall was a "repair" and not a demolition, the Mayor's Agent found that the extent of deterioration to such wall and the work performed to reconstruct it was in fact a demolition - i.e., the "razing or destruction... in significant part, of a structure... [including] the removal or destruction of any facade of a building or structure." Finding a demolition had occurred, the Mayor's Agent concluded that the Applicant was required to do one of two things. First, the Applicant could have fully disclosed the removal of an exterior wall and sought a recommendation from the Historic Preservation Review Board that the wall did not contribute to the historic landmark; a Mayor's Agent's hearing would not, therefore, have been required. Second, the Applicant could have sought a demolition permit from the Building Inspection Division of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and a hearing before the Mayor's Agent (the latter of which was being pursued retroactively).

Necessary in the Public Interest:

The Mayor's Agent concluded that because the Applicant made no claim of economic hardship, her analysis under the Act as to whether to issue a permit to demolish was limited to a determination of whether such permit was "necessary in the public interest." Furthermore, because the Applicant made no claim that its work on the Building was "a project of special merit," the Mayor's Agent had to determine whether the work was consistent with the purposes of the Act. See D.C. Preservation League v. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 646 A.2d 984, 990 (1994).

Consistent with the Purposes of the Act:

The purposes of the Act with respect to historic landmarks are: "(A) to retain and enhance historic landmarks in the District of Columbia and to encourage adaptation for current use; and (B) to encourage the restoration of historic landmarks." D.C. Code §5-1001(b)(2).

The Mayor's Agent found that the South wall no longer "contributed to the historic landmark of which it was a part" because of its deteriorated condition and that the majority of bricks comprising the wall were beyond repair. Furthermore, the Mayor's Agent concluded that the demolition of the South wall did not detract from the "salient historic qualities" of the Building because the roof, cupola and facade of the Building still remained.

The Mayor's Agent determined that the Applicant only removed the South wall because it was without "more feasible alternatives" after Applicant had consulted with many experts, and that the Applicant's intention to rebuild the wall with matching brick and with as many of the original bricks from the wall as possible would "retain and enhance the Vigilant, much more so than in its prior deteriorated condition." In addition, the removal of the wall conformed to the adaptation of the Building for its current use as a restaurant.

Concluding that the Applicant had demonstrated that the partial demolition would permit the "retention, enhancement, restoration and adaptation for current use" of the Building, the Mayor's Agent found that the demolition of the wall was necessary in the public interest because of its consistency with the purposes of the Act.

Subsequent History:

See DCPL v. DCRA (Vigilant Firehouse) , 711 A.2d 1273 (D.C. 1998) for subsequent history.


Title: HPA No. 95-033 (In re. Vigilant Firehouse)
Author: Government of the District of Columbia. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Office of Adjudication
Abstract: Decision and order concerning an application for partial demolition of the building known as the Vigilant Firehouse located at 1066 Wisconsin Avenue N.W.
Permanent Link: http://hdl.handle.net/10822/761245
Date Created: 1995
Subject: Demolition; Necessary in the Public Interest; Consistent with Purposes of the Act

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