HPA No. 2002-284 (In re. Corcoran Gallery of Art)
- HPA Number: 2002-284
- Building Name: Corcoran Gallery of Art
- Address(es): 500 17th St. NW
- Date of Order: 19-Sep-02
Applicant (the Corcoran Gallery) sought a permit to demolish a portion of its rear wall in order to build a new addition to accommodate increasing demand on the museum's galleries and educational programs. The Mayor's Agent, finding substantial evidence in the record, concluded that the project was one of special merit by virtue of exemplary architecture that would also provide significant benefits to the District through its educational and outreach programs.
Applicant's proposed construction of an addition to the landmark Corcoran Gallery included projections over the sidewalk along New York Avenue that would create a canopy effect. Although there were concerns that these incursions would interrupt the landmark L'Enfant Plan, the Mayor's Agent found that the projections were not incompatible. Based on substantial evidence provided by the Applicant, he found that the character of New York Avenue west of the White House had not developed according to the Plan's original intentions.
Consistent with the Purposes of the Act:
Because he concluded Applicant's proposed addition to the Corcoran Gallery was necessary in the public interest as a project of special merit, the Mayor's Agent deemed it unnecessary and unwarranted to address whether the proposal was also consistent with the purposes of the Act.
- The Mayor's Agent concluded that Applicant's proposed demolition of portions of the landmark Corcoran Gallery (the entire north exterior wall of one addition, the Rotunda, Platt/Clark Landing and part of the skylighted gallery/studio space) were necessary in the public interest to construct the proposed new addition. He concluded that the new addition was a project of special merit by virtue of exemplary architecture. Factors in his decision included findings that: three of the four elements slated for demolition were not specifically listed as contributing to the structure's landmark status in the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites, and as such were not afforded protection by the Act; and that Applicant had provided substantial evidence of conducting several alternative studies but found that because of zoning restrictions on building height and poor soil conditions at the sight, partial demolition was necessary.
- Parties requesting permits for demolition are required to demonstrate that "no reasonable economic use for the property exists." Citing Kalorama Heights Ltd. Partnership v. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs , 655 A.2d 865, 871 (D.C. App. 1990).
- Applicants may not conclude that there are no alternatives to demolition just because demolition is the least expensive alternative. See Don't Tear It Down, Inc. v. D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development , 428 A.2d 369, 373 (D.C. App. 1981).
- The Mayor's Agent found Applicant's suggestion that demolition of the landmark Corcoran Gallery's Rotunda and Platt/Clark landing may have been required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act unpersuasive since there are established exceptions to ADA requirements for historic buildings that may have applied. Furthermore, the Mayor's Agent concluded demolition to be necessary in the public interest on other grounds.
Some of the portions of the landmark Corcoran Gallery that were slated for demolition (the Rotunda, the Platt/Clark landing, and the skylighted gallery/studio space) were specifically listed as contributing to the landmark in the National Register of Historic Places but not in the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites. Because they were not designated in the D.C. Inventory, the Mayor's Agent noted that they were not afforded protection under the Act. Nonetheless, he found that they were to be regarded as "important contributing factors to the landmark."
Mayor's Agent - Procedural:
The Mayor's Agent must give "considerable deference" to the Historic Preservation Review Board's determinations on matters within its expertise. See Committee for Washington's Riverfront Parks v. Thompson , 451 A.2d 1177, 1194 (D.C. App. 1982).
Necessary in the Public Interest:
Concluding that the Corcoran Gallery's proposed addition was a project of special merit by virtue of exemplary architecture, the Mayor's Agent concluded that demolition of portions of the landmark building were necessary in the public interest. He deemed it unnecessary and unwarranted to address whether the proposal was also consistent with the purposes of the Act.
The Mayor's Agent concluded that Applicant's permit for new construction of an addition to the Corcoran Gallery (featuring a massive exterior of glass and brushed steel with three ribbon-like panels and housing gallery, library, studio, classroom, administrative, and support space) should have been granted on the basis of special merit.
Special Merit - Balancing Test:
- The D.C. Council envisioned the special merit provision of the Act as a "balancing . . . of a proposed project against the historic value of the existing historic buildings, because only projects that offer significant benefits to the District . . . can readily offset the Council's recited public policy in favor of protecting, enhancing, and perpetuating the use of [historic] properties." See Committee of 100 on the Federal City v. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs , 571 A.2d 195, 200 (D.C. App. 1990). See also Don't Tear It Down, Inc. v. D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development_, 428 A.2d 369, 373 (D.C. App. 1981).
- Substantial evidence in the record led the Mayor's Agent to find that the Applicant's selected design for its addition to the landmark Corcoran Gallery was an appropriate balance of several interests, including: exceptional and well integrated architecture; preservation of as much of the site as reasonable; meeting the Applicant's demands for increased attendance and expansion of its outreach programs (which the Mayor's Agent found had "significant social, cultural, and educational benefits to the community); costs; and fulfillment of the District's planning policies for downtown and the local neighborhood.
Special Merit - Exemplary Architecture:
The Mayor's Agent concluded that the Corcoran Gallery's proposed addition (featuring a massive exterior of glass and brushed steel with three ribbon-like panels and housing gallery, library, studio, classroom, administrative, and support space) was a project of special merit by virtue of exemplary architecture. As such, he concluded that demolition of part of the landmark building to be necessary in the public interest.
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