*HPA Number: 2006-369
*Case Name: In the Matter of: Mount Lebanon Baptist Church
*Location of Property: 1219 New Jersey Avenue, N.W. (Sanctuary) and 228 Morgan Street, N.W. (Parsonage)
*Date of Decision: 06/06/07
*Type of Case/Type of Permit Sought: Alteration (window replacement permit)
*Date of Case Summary: 06/21/07
*Summary of Decision:*
Mount Lebanon Baptist Church ("Applicant") sought a windows replacement permit in connection with the partially-completed installation of twenty-two (22) vinyl-type replacement windows on Applicant's parsonage building, a contributing structure located in the Mount Vernon Triangle Historic District, including thirteen (13) windows on the front facade of the building. The D.C. Historic Preservation Office (the "HPO") decided to allow Applicant to retain nine (9) non-conforming vinyl windows installed on the side/alley and rear facades of the building, leaving the "sole issue at hand" for the Mayor's Agent, the 13 parsonage windows located on the front facade. The Mayor's Agent concluded that the requested permit was both "incompatible with the architectural significance of the Applicant's structures" and "inconsistent with the purposes of" the Act. The Act and relevant Windows Standards, adopted in HPO's regulations, require that replacement windows on a contributing building in an historic district reasonably match the original windows in all respects. The replacement of curved, wooden windows with vinyl windows was inconsistent with the purposes of the Act, and Applicant must replace the windows on the building's front facade with conforming windows.
*Mayor's Agent - Procedural:*
*The local Advisory Neighborhood Commission ("ANC") was not represented at the hearing, and the ANC did not file anything in writing..
*The Mayor's Agent stated that Applicant bears the burden of proving that the window alterations were consistent with the purposes of the Act by a "preponderance of the evidence."
*Unreasonable Economic Hardship:*
Applicant asserted that it would suffer "economic hardship" if the permit request was denied, and submitted several documents related to the purchase and operation of the property in support; the Applicant did not obtain estimates for the replacement installation of conforming wooden windows. The Mayor's Agent found that although the removal of thirteen non-conforming replacement windows, and subsequent installation of conforming windows, would pose a "significant inconvenience" to Applicant, it did not rise to the level of an impermissible taking because "the desired end result will be a substantially improved residential property, with a concomitant increase in its net worth, by reason of being in compliance with the law and regulations previously adopted for the Historic District." The economic hardship claim also failed because Applicant has the ability, if necessary, to sell the property, and the Mayor's Agent noted that the amount received through the sale of the property would be "far greater than the $145,000 initially paid in 1963, plus any incidental costs incurred to renovate the property to maintain and upgrade its habitability."
The Mayor's Agent also noted that Applicant failed to present sufficient evidence showing what the cost of conforming window replacements would be, implying that a claim of economic hardship cannot be sustained without sufficient evidence documenting the cost of installing conforming replacement windows.
Replacement of original wood windows with vinyl windows on the facade of a contributing building in an historic district is inconsistent with the purposes of the Act and the Window Standards. Moreover, installing flat vinyl windows in curved wooden bays is incompatible with the purposes of the Act and the Windows Standards; replacement windows must reasonably match the characteristics of the original, historic windows on the front facade in all respects - "configuration, method of operation, profile, dimension, material, and finish." Further, the HPO testified that by "original," it is meant that the windows "must not be a replication of the most recent windows, which might themselves not have been in compliance with historic district mandates."
The installation of non-conforming windows on principal facade of building must be rejected because there is a "strict policy of mandating that those windows [on the facade] must be in full compliance" with the Windows Standards.
*Defense of Ignorance of the Law:*
Despite Applicant's claim that it received no notice of the creation of the Historic District in 1999, evidence was submitted by the HPO that "all of the property owners of record in the Historic District were directly notified by regular first class U.S. mail that their property was located within the boundaries of the anticipated historic district." Whether or not Applicant received notice, the Mayor's Agent stated that a property owner has a duty to be aware of the laws and regulations affecting its property, and it must take all relevant steps to be in compliance with such laws. "[I]gnorance of the law cannot be permitted to rise to the level of a valid legal defense" because such a defense would "undermine and eventually destroy the effectiveness [of] all law and regulations." Since 1997, and particularly since 2001, there has been a "widely known and publicly stated process" by which a property owner in an historic district may make window repairs or replacements.
*Defense of Neighboring Non-Conforming Windows:*
Applicant testified that several other neighboring owners have vinyl windows; however, the Mayor's Agent noted that Applicant was unable to state whether such windows were installed prior or subsequent to the establishment of the Historic District. The Mayor's Agent noted that numerous owners of residential properties in this Historic District had, within the last few years, renovated their properties and that the owners had generally "met the requirements of the Act, including adhering to the window Guidelines and Standards." The Mayor's Agent also noted that it cannot ignore the effect that allowing Applicant's non-conforming windows would have on neighboring property owners who spent the additional costs necessary to comply with historic preservation requirements with respect to window replacement.