HPA No. 2002-241 (In re. Woodley Park Guest House)
- HPA Number: 2002-241
- Case Name: In the Matter of Woodley Park Guest House
- Location of Property: 2647 Woodley Road, NW
- Date of Decision: November 7, 2002
- Type of Case/Type of Permit Sought: Construction
- Disposition: Denied
- Date of Case Summary: December 8, 2014
- Subject Matter(s): Economic Hardship – Generally; Windows
Summary of Decision:
Raymond and Laura Saba, co-owners of the Woodley Park Guest House, (the “Applicants”) requested an after-the-fact approval of a construction permit for window installation work that had already occurred. After purchasing the “rundown” three-story Colonial Revival guest house in the Woodley Park Historic District, the Applicants undertook a comprehensive renovation in 2001 at a cost of at least $250,000, of which $45,000 was spent on the removal and installation of 25 windows on the front façade and three window small bay on the right side. In 2000, the Applicants had presented plans for window replacement to the Historic Preservation Office (“HPO”), which rejected the plans for being incompatible with the existing architecture of the building. The final 25-window project, in an apparent Italianate style, included a combination of: a) oversized fixed panes (4); b) fixed panes (4); c) operable transoms (5); transom motors (5); d) fixed transoms (3); and e) casement egress (4).
According to the Mayor’s Agent, the sole issue sole before him is whether Applicants’ assertion of unreasonable economic hardship, coupled with Applicants election to self-help and install non-conforming windows at a cost of approximately $45,000.00, trumps the requirements of the law regarding replacement of windows on buildings located in the historic district. The Mayor’s Agent concluded that the Applicants had not met the burden of proving the window alterations were consistent with the purposes of the Act and that the economic hardship required to correct the problem was unreasonable. The Mayor’s Agent refused to condone the Applicants’ self-help remedy and blatant disregard for the law and window standard regulations. Accordingly, the Mayor’s Agent denied the application for a construction permit that would allow the Applicants to retain the non-conforming windows.
The HPRB-adopted guidelines entitled Rules Relating to the Repair and Replacement of Windows in Historic Landmarks and Historic Districts assist the staff and Applicants in the approval of certain window replacement projects under the authority delegated by HPRB.
Economic Hardship – Generally:
Pursuant to 10 DCMR 2599, unreasonable economic hardship is defined as “circumstances where failure to issue a permit would amount to a taking of the owner's property without just compensation or, in the case of a low income owner or owners, as determined by the Mayor, when failure to issue a permit would place an onerous and excessive financial burden upon the owner(s).” Under the unreasonable economic hardship test, the Applicants must establish no other reasonable economic uses existed for the building prior to renovations, and that the HPRB’s denial violated the constitution “regulatory takings” standard. The Mayor’s Agent admits this is a difficult standard to meet, citing 900 G Street Associates v. Department of Housing & Community Development, 430 A.2d 1387, 1390 (D.C. App. 1981). The Applicants asserted that once repairs were complete, the drop-off in tourism immediately following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 virtually destroyed their business, precluding them from being able to pay for additional alterations. The Mayor’s Agent concluded that the Applicants could not have had a reasonable expectation that they would obtain approval to install the windows, given the regulatory climate that existed.
The Mayor’s Agent also found that the tourism industry is making a comeback and that the Applicants’ guest house is not without value. Crucially, the economic feasibility standard is not whether the present owner can profitably sue the building to secure a return on investment, but rather, whether owner can use it for some economic purpose and has some value.
It is irrelevant whether Applicants actually knew at the time of purchase that the building was located in an historical district, because the overlay applies to every building and is not based on individual knowledge.
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Frederick Douglass Community Improvement Council/Concerned Citizens of Anacostia v. District of Columbia Office of Planning., Historic Preservation Office District of Columbia. Court of Appeals (2015)