HPA No. 07-245 (In re. Randall Junior High School)

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HPA No. 07-245 (In re. Randall Junior High School)

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  • HPA Number: 07-245
  • Case Name: In the Matter of: The Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and MR Randall Capital LLC for Partial Demolition of 65 I Street, S.W. (the former Randall Junior High School)
  • Location of Property: 65 I Street, S.W.
  • Date of Decision: September 18, 2007
  • Type of Case/Type of Permit Sought: Partial Demolition
  • Disposition: Granted
  • Subject Matter(s): Mayor’s Agent – Procedural; Necessary in the Public Interest; Consistent with the Purposes of the Act; Project of Special Merit – General; Project of Special Merit – Balancing Test; Project of Special Merit – Social or other Benefits having a High Priority for Community Services

Summary of Decision:

The Corcoran Gallery of Art and MR Randall Capital LLC (collectively, the “Applicants”) sought approval of the partial demolition of the rear additions to the former Randall Junior High School (the “School”), an individually designated landmark listed on the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites, in order to redevelop the School as a new campus for the Corcoran College of Art and Design and to construct a new residential development (collectively, the “Building”). The Building would contain approximately 499,843 square feet of gross floor area, of which 76,043 square feet would be devoted to exhibition, studio and classroom space for the Corcoran. The remaining square footage would be devoted to between 400 and 500 condominium units, with 20% of such condominiums set aside for individuals and families earning less than 80% of the Washington D.C. Area Median Income (“AMI”). The Historic Preservation Review Board found the partial demolition application to be inconsistent with the purposes of the Act and suggested that the Applicants seek an administrative hearing before the Mayor’s Agent to show that the project was one of special merit. The Mayor’s Agent granted the application for partial demolition, finding that the partial demolition permit was necessary to construct a project of special merit and was, therefore, necessary in the public interest.

Mayor’s Agent – Procedural:

  • The Mayor’s Agent noted that the administrative hearing was conducted in accordance with the requirements of Title 10A of the D.C. Municipal Regulations, Chapters 1-99, and the D.C. Administrative Procedure Act, Code § 2-509.
  • The Applicants have the burden of proof to establish that the issuance of the partial demolition permit is necessary in the public interest in order to construct a project of special merit.
  • Pursuant to §§ 6-1104(c), 6-1104(e) and 6-1107 of the Act, the Mayor or Mayor’s Agent has the authority to hear the merits of demolition applications for individually designated landmarks.
  • Section 1-309.10(d) of the D.C. Official Code (the “Code”) provides that recommendations of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission are entitled to “great weight” by District of Columbia agencies. However, the testimony of the ANC was not relevant to the sole issue in this case, which was whether the demolition permit was necessary to construct a project of special merit.

Necessary in the Public Interest:

The Mayor’s Agent noted, citing § 6-1104(c) of the Code, that prior to issuing any permit to demolish an historic landmark, the Mayor’s Agent must find that the issuance of a permit is necessary in the public interest or that failure to issue a permit will result in unreasonable economic hardship to the owner. The Mayor’s Agent further explained, citing § 6-1102(10), that the term “necessary in the public interest” means that the application is consistent with the stated purposes of the Act or that the proposed demolition is necessary to construct a project of “special merit.” The Mayor’s Agent ultimately concluded that the proposed project was one of special merit and therefore that the demolition was necessary in the public interest.

Consistent with the Purposes of the Act:

The Mayor’s Agent stated that when it grants an application on the basis that the application is necessary in the public interest in order to construct a project of special merit (as he did in this case), it is not necessary to address the separate issue of whether the partial demotion is consistent with the purposes of the Act. However, the Mayor’s Agent stated in his special merit analysis that “[t]he planned preservation work, which will retain, enhance and restore a historic landmark for adaptive reuse, is consistent with the purposes of the Act….”

Project of Special Merit – General:

The Mayor’s Agent explained that the term “special merit” is defined as “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 services,” quoting § 6-1102(11) of the Code. The Mayor’s Agent further stated that he must address two distinct issues when determining whether the demolition of a historic structure is necessary to construct a project of special merit. First, the Mayor’s Agent must balance the special merit of the proposed project against the historic value of the building to be removed. Second, the Mayor’s Agent must find that the demolition of the historic structure is necessary to allow the project to proceed.

Project of Special Merit – Balancing Test:

The Mayor’s Agent stated that to determine whether the demolition of an historic structure is necessary to construct a project of special merit, the Mayor’s Agent must first “balance the special merit of the proposed project against the historic value of the building to be removed and must find that the proposed project will provide public benefits sufficient to offset the District’s stated policy of protecting, enhancing and perpetuating the use of properties with historical, cultural, and aesthetic merit,” citing Committee of 100 on the Federal City v. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 571 A.2d 195, 200 (D.C. 1990).

Project of Special Merit – Social or other Benefits having a High Priority for Community Services:

With regard to the first component of his special merit analysis (the balancing test), the Mayor’s Agent focused on the benefits to the community and concluded that the Applicants’ proposed project was one of special merit and would provide a “number of social and other benefits having a high priority for community services” based on the following factors:

  • The 100,000 square feet of arts and arts-education uses would provide an important cultural benefit to the residents of the Southwest community and the District as a whole, as there would be arts programming for District residents, a gallery display space (to be used by students, faculty and independent artists) and space in the Building for meetings and events.
  • The project would provide substantial new affordable and market-rate housing in an area targeted for new residential development by the D.C. Office of Planning. The 20% of the units set aside for families earning less than 80% of AMI far exceeds the allocation for such housing required under current zoning regulations.
  • The Applicants’ retention of the historically significant parts of the School (excluding later-constructed rear additions, which are “nondescript structures with little historical significance,” to be demolished) and rehabilitation and preservation thereof to allow the Building’s use as an educational institution would be a “significant public benefit to the District.” The Applicants planned to clean and re-point the building’s masonry street facades and replicate certain missing elements from the original structure, such as the roof balustrade of the center pavilion. The Mayor’s Agent concluded that the planned preservation work, which would “retain, enhance, and restore a historic landmark for adaptive reuse, is consistent with the purposes of the Act and will provide a significant public benefit to the city."
  • The proposed project would further a number of objectives and policies articulated in the District’s Comprehensive Plan, including the goals of the Arts and Culture Element, the Housing Element, and the Historic Preservation Element. According to the Mayor’s Agent, consistency with the Comprehensive Plan may provide the basis for a project’s special merit, citing In the Matter of Calvary Baptist Church, HPA No. 00-601 (April 20, 2001)

Project of Special Merit – Necessary Test:

The Mayor’s Agent also stated that in determining whether demolition is necessary to construct a project of special merit, it must also “find that the demolition of the historic structure is indeed necessary to allow the proposed project to proceed.” According to the Mayor’s Agent, to do so, an applicant “must demonstrate that it has considered all reasonable alternatives to demolition,” citing Kalorama Heights Ltd. Partnership v. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 655 A.2d 865, 870 (D.C. 1995). Furthermore, the Mayor’s Agent explained that although it “must consider cost, delay, and technical feasibility in determining whether a particular demolition is reasonably necessary, an applicant is not entitled to a demolition permit simply because it is the least expensive alternative,” citing Don’t Tear It Down, Inc., v. D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, 428 A.2d 369, 379-80 (D.C. 1981). With regard to this second component of the special merit analysis, the Mayor’s Agent found that the project could be completed only if the rear additions to the School were removed. The property was being developed pursuant to a covenant between the Corcoran and the District of Columbia, and under the development covenant with the District, the Applicants were required to provide no less than 80,000 square feet of arts education and arts-related uses and at least 340,000 square feet of affordable and market-rate housing. The Mayor’s Agent found that the rear additions to the building, which were of lessor historic value, “cannot be adaptively reused to support the housing and arts objectives established by the city for the site” and that demolition of the additions “is therefore necessary to construct the proposed project.”

Economic Feasibility:

The ANC opposed the design of the project because a portion of the Building would project into the closed portion of the former H Street, S.W. right of way. The Mayor’s Agent found that “the partial occupation of the former H Street, S.W., right of way [was] necessary in the public interest in order to insure the proposed project’s economic feasibility.”

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Title: HPA No. 07-245 (In re. Randall Junior High School)
Author: Government of the District of Columbia. Office of Planning. Historic Preservation Office
Permanent Link: http://hdl.handle.net/10822/761636
Date Created: 2007-09-18
Subject: Demolition; Mayor's Agent: D.C. Administrative Procedure Act; Necessary in the Public Interest; Consistent with Purposes of the Act; Special Merit - General; Special Merit - Balancing Test; Special Merit - Community Services


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