HPA No. 1995-440 through 1995-448 (In re. Old Hecht Company Department Store Complex)
- HPA Number: 1995-440 through 1995-448
- Case Name: In The Matter Of Square 456, Old Hecht Company Department Store Complex
- Location of Property: 501-07, 511, 513, 515 and 517 7th Street, N.W., and 656 F Street, N.W.
- Date of Decision: 09/11/1996
- Type of Permit Sought: Partial Demolition
- Disposition: Approved
- Date of Case
- Summary: 8/1/06
Summary of Decision:
Square 456 Associates ("Applicant") sought a permit for partial demolition of six buildings (the facades would be retained) on the site of the former Hecht Company Department Store complex in Square 456, located in the Downtown Historic District. The Applicant also planned to construct two new commercial buildings behind the retained facades, to be used as housing (approximately 55,000 square feet), offices (approximately 200,000 square feet) and retail space (the ground floor to be dedicated to retail, with a concentration of arts retail). Significant buildings included in the plan were the 1924 Hecht Company Addition and the 1909 Murray Building, which were designed by prominent architects and contributed to the character of the historic district. Among other items, Applicant's plans called for restoration of the facades of these two buildings to their historic 1924 and 1909 appearances. There were no parties in opposition to the application. The Applicant argued that the permit was necessary in the public interest to construct a project of special merit. The Mayor's Agent approved the application finding it "could serve as a catalyst for similar non-government subsidized housing in the area. . . [and] the arts and retail uses will enhance the city's cultural and commercial elements that are encouraged by the Comprehensive Plan."
Mayor's Agent Procedural:
- The Mayor's Agent stated that the standard for review for a demolition permit in an historic district is D.C. Code § 5-1004(e), which requires that no permit shall be issued unless the Mayor's Agent finds that the issuance is "necessary in the public interest," or that failure to do so will result in unreasonable economic hardship to the owner.
- The Mayor's Agent stated that for a demolition permit, the burden of proof is on the Applicant.
- The Mayor's Agent stated that in instances where the Mayor's Agent finds that demolition is necessary to allow the construction of a project of special merit, no permit shall issue unless a permit for new construction is issued simultaneously with the demolition permit, and that the owner demonstrate sufficient financial ability to complete the project, citing D.C. Code § 5-1007 and § 5-1004(h).
Necessary in the Public Interest:
The Mayor's Agent stated that a project is deemed necessary in the public interest if it is either: 1) consistent with the purposes of the Act; or 2) necessary to allow "a project of special merit." Applicant requested that the permit be granted as a project of special merit; the Mayor's Agent recited the statutory standard for special merit projects: i.e., a plan or building having significant benefits to the District of Columbia or to the community by virtue of exemplary architecture, specific features of land planning, or social or other benefits having a high priority for community service.
Project of Special Merit - Social or other Benefits having a High Priority for Community Services:
Applicant presented testimony that the housing component of the project (which exceeded what was required by zoning regulations) will contribute to the goal of a living downtown by producing a critical mass of housing in the downtown area, which is a high priority for the city under the Downtown Plan, and that the project would serve as a catalyst in advancing the city's goal of residential housing in the area. In addition, the Applicant provided testimony that the project's art and retail uses also would contribute to a living downtown. The Mayor's Agent agreed, concluding, "[t]his mixed-use project, with its significant housing component... its art and retail uses, and its exemplary preservation component... is itself a project of special merit. It provides 'significant benefits to the District of Columbia and to the community by virtue of specific features of land planning, or social or other benefits having a high priority for community service,'" citing D.C. Code §5-1002(11). The Mayor's Agent added that, specifically, "[the project] could serve as a catalyst for similar non-government subsidized housing in the area. . . [and] the arts and retail uses will enhance the city's cultural and commercial elements that are encouraged by the Comprehensive Plan." The Mayor's Agent did not distinguish which of these elements was a specific feature of land planning versus a social benefit having a high priority for community service.
Project of Special Merit - Specific Features of Land Planning:
New Construction Permit/Applicant's Financial Ability to Complete the Project:
The Mayor's Agent ordered that, as a condition to the issuance of the demolition permit, the new construction permit must be issued simultaneously therewith. The Mayor's Agent found that the owner had sufficient financial ability to complete the project by virtue of the $94-billion in assets held by the managing general partner of Applicant, the Equitable Life Assurance Society.
The Mayor's Agent stated in her findings of fact that the restoration of several of the building facades was a unique opportunity because few facades from that period are intact. The 1924 Hecht Company Addition had a "highly articulated terra cotta facade," and the Murray Building was a "classically inspired expression of the early twentieth-century architectural aesthetic." She also mentioned this restoration component in determining that the project was one of special merit.
See HPA No. 1994-073 through 1994-078, 1994-119 orders of September 27, 1994 and December 28, 1994 for prior history.
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