HPA No. 1995-037 (In re. Fraser Mansion)
- HPA Number: 1995-037
- Building Name: Fraser Mansion
- Address(es): 1701 20th St. NW
- Date of Order: 04-Aug-95
The Founding Church of Scientology ("Applicant") sought permission to mount a bronze floriated cross measuring 5'4" by 8'2" on the facade of the Fraser Mansion. The cross would be projected ten inches from the surface of the facade on bronze rods. The mansion is an individually designated historic landmark and is also located within the Dupont Circle Historic District. The D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board ("HPRB") approved the placement of a cross on the facade of the mansion, but denied permission to mount such a large cross on the building. The HPRB determined that the placement of such a large cross on the facade of the building would block significant exterior architectural features from view and would thus be inconsistent with the purposes of the Act. The Applicant appealed the HPRB's decision to the Mayor's Agent, arguing that the proposed alteration was consistent with the purposes of the Act and was a project of special merit. The Mayor's Agent rejected the Applicant's arguments and denied the alteration permit.
Consistent with Purposes of the Act:
The Mayor's Agent determined that the placement of a cross on the facade of the mansion would be inconsistent with §5-1001(b)(2)(A) of D.C. Law 2-144 because "a limestone keystone on the window surround and a portion of the surrounding belt or string course on the third floor of the edifice would be obscured if the cross were viewed from directly in front of the building." The Mayor's Agent held that "the covering of a significant architectural element/feature of an historic landmark does not constitute an enhancement of that structure." The Mayor's Agent held that the proposed alteration would be inconsistent with §5-1001(b)(1)(B) of the Act because obscuring a significant architectural element "is not and cannot be construed as being compatible with the character of the historic district."
Constitutional Issues- First Amendment:
The government "shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability." 42 U.S.C. §2000(b)(b). The right of free exercise of religion "means, first and foremost, the right to believe and profess whatever religious doctrine one desires." Employment Div., Dep't of Human Res. v. Smith , 494 U.S. 872, 878 (1990). The Mayor's Agent held that "the Historic Preservation Review Board has in no way burdened or trampled upon the Founding Church of Scientology's right to profess and/or express its religious doctrine and beliefs." The HPRB did not prohibit the display of all crosses on the surface of the mansion, but merely stated that any cross appearing on the building's facade "shall not obscure the decorative architectural elements/features of that historic landmark."
Special Merit- General:
To state a claim that the approval of an alteration permit is necessary to allow the construction of a project of special merit, an applicant must file the following at least twenty days prior to the hearing:
1) A written statement setting forth the grounds upon which the applicant bases his or her claim of special merit; and
2) If the claim is based on "exemplary architecture," architectural drawings of sufficient completeness to indicate the exterior design of the building or structure.
Because the Applicant failed to submit either a written statement regarding the proposed alteration's special merit or detailed architectural drawings, the Mayor's Agent denied the Applicant's appeal on special merit grounds.
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