HPA No. 03-313, 334, 390 (In re. Gales School)
- HPA Number: 03-313, 03-334, 03-390
- Name: Application of Safe Shores D.C. Children's Advocacy Center, and the National Children's Alliance, on behalf of the District of Columbia
- Location: 65 Massachusetts Avenue N.W.
- Date of Order: 4/9/2004
- Type of Case: Demolition
- Disposition: Conditionally Granted
Applicant sought permits to demolish the interior and the roof of the landmark Gales School in order to renovate the building as D.C.'s assessment center for physically and sexually abused children. The Applicant argued that demolition was necessary in the public interest to build a project of special merit, namely creation of a single child-friendly center for (1) coordination of investigation and prosecution of child abuse allegations and (2) provision of direct services to child victims in the District including: forensic interviews, therapy, and other services. The Mayor's Agent agreed that demolition was necessary in the public interest to build a project of special merit having social or other benefits of high priority for community services.
Project of Special Merit - Generally:
The Mayor's Agent recognized that complete demolition, which was not at issue in this case, "is permanent, and once a structure is demolished, it cannot be rebuilt or resurrected in identical fashion." Nonetheless, according to the Mayor's Agent, "the D.C. Council, weighing the gravity and finality of the situation, created the 'special merit' escape valve for a narrow category of situations in which the proposed construction or other amenities offered as some 'special benefits' to the overall community, could override the contributions made by any structure which the HPRB has already determined should be preserved."
Project of Special Merit - Balancing Test:
- "[T]he Mayor's Agent must balance the merit of a project with the historic value of the contributing building, because only projects which offer significant benefits to the District of Columbia or to the community offset the Council's policy in favor of protecting, enhancing and perpetuating the use of properties with historical, cultural and esthetic merit." See Citizens Committee to Save Historic Rhodes Tavern v. D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, 432 A.2d 710, 715 (D.C.), cert denied, 454 U.S. 1054 (1981).
- "The special merit exception to the law's preservation mandate contemplates a trade-off between the value of the existing structure and the value of what would be constructed in its place if demolition is allowed to proceed. That a balancing is required is clear from the case law." See Committee of 100 on the Federal City v. District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 571 A.2d 195, 200 (D.C. 1990).
Project of Special Merit - Social or Other Benefits Having High Priority for Community:
- In finding the project one of special merit, the Mayor's Agent noted that, in addition to the benefits to physically and sexually abused children that the project would provide, the Applicant was preserving a substantial portion of the existing building including the facade.
- In response to opposition from representatives of those who used the Gales School as a homeless shelter, the Mayor's Agent stated that he did not have the authority to require the D.C. government to use the Gales School as a homeless shelter rather than as a child assessment center. However, he could, in evaluating the special merit of the proposed project, contemplate the fate of the persons to be displaced. Citing Mayor's Agent Decision and Order in St. Patrick's Academy/Carroll Hall, HPA 99-219, 221, 222, 224, 225, 226 and 285 (Nov. 9, 1999). Here, the record reflected that the District had made and would continue to make efforts to accommodate the needs of the homeless.
- The Applicant met its burden of establishing that demolition was necessary in the public interest to create a project of special merit because the mandated benefits to children in D.C. were being provided in inadequate spaces and locations scattered across the city. Once renovated, the Gales School would provide much needed, high priority social services in one space. The Gales School was an appropriate space for the services based on its size, accessibility and original design as a school.
- The municipality and non-profits are not entitled to a lesser standard when they seek to demolish a historic building and use the resulting space to carry out their missions. The stated uses and missions of non-profit organizations are not automatically deemed special merit. Looking at Applicant's application as a whole, the Mayor's Agent found that Applicant was not held to a lesser standard and that the steps taken to secure the facility adhered to the requirements of the Act (for the historic preservation aspects) and the Amendment Act (for the child abuse aspects).
Project of Special Merit - Economic Feasibility:
Pursuant to D.C. Code §§ 6-1104(h) and 6-1106(g), the Mayor's Agent may not grant a permit for demolition or subdivision in order to construct a project of special merit unless the Applicant sufficiently demonstrates ability to complete the proposed improvements. The Applicant had not demonstrated its overall financial ability to complete the proposed improvements to the Gales School. Accordingly, the Mayor Agent granted the Applicant 20 days to submit (a) documents demonstrating the Applicant's financial ability to complete the proposed improvements and that the applicant enjoys the full support of the D.C. government in developing a child assessment center at the Gales School, or (b) the D.C. government's commitment of sufficient resources to complete the demolition and reconstruction of the Gales School and to the programmatic creation of the child assessment center at the site.
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