HPA No. 07-267 (In re. the Williams-Addison House)
- HPA Number: 07-267
- Case Name: In the Matter of Application of Equity Appreciation Partners Capital Fund 1 LLC for the Subdivision of the Williams-Addison House
- Location of Property: 1645 31st Street NW, Square 1282, Lot 277
- Date of Decision: 20-Feb-08
- Type of Case/Type of Permit Sought: Subdivision
- Disposition: Denied
- Date of Case Summary: 07-Jul-08
Summary of Decision:
Equity Appreciation Partners Capital Fund 1 LLC ("Applicant") sought to subdivide the lot where the Williams-Addison House, an individually designated landmark listed in the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites and a contributing building to the Old Georgetown Historic District, sits. The goal of the subdivision was to create two separate record lots, so that each lot could contain a single-family home (the Williams-Addison House would remain on one lot, and another single-family dwelling was proposed to be constructed on the other lot). (Without relief from the Board of Zoning Adjustment, only one single-family house is permitted on a record lot per 11 DCMR Section 2516.) Applicant claimed the subdivision would "retain and enhance" the landmark through a conservation easement on portions of the property, making the subdivision consistent with the purposes of the Act. Applicant also claimed that the subdivision would be compatible because other lots in the Old Georgetown Historic District had been similarly divided. The Mayor's Agent denied the application for subdivision, finding the proposed draft conservation easement insufficient protection of the open space on the property, and that the subdivision would change the property's boundaries that had remained in place since 1858, thus altering one of the few remaining examples of historical patterns of development in Old Georgetown.
During the course of the hearing before the Mayor's Agent, a secondary issue arose, concerning whether Assessment and Taxation ("A&T") lot subdivisions are covered by the D.C. Historic Preservation Act (the "Act"), and therefore within the jurisdiction of the Historic Preservation Review Board (the "HPRB") and the Mayor's Agent. The property previously was divided into four such A&T lots without approval of the Mayor's Agent. The Mayor's Agent vacated the A&T lot creation, concluding that such a subdivision created theoretical building lots that fell within the purview of the Act.
Mayor's Agent - Procedural:
- The Mayor's Agent stated that the Applicant bears the burden of proof to establish that the proposed subdivision of the land on which the landmark sits is necessary in the public interest.
- The Mayor's Agent stated that the recommendations of the applicable Advisory Neighborhood Commission (the "ANC") are entitled to "great weight" (the ANC adopted a resolution asserting its strong objections to the subdivision of the Williams-Addison House property).
- The Friends of the Williams-Addison House ("Friends") filed a timely request for party status, and were accorded the right to officially oppose the application for subdivision.
Consistent with the Purposes of the Act:
The Mayor's Agent restated the purpose of the Act as set forth in the statute with regard to historic landmarks, i.e., "to retain and enhance historic landmarks in the District of Columbia and to encourage their adaptation for current use." Applicant claimed that the character of the landmark would be retained and enhanced through a promise to donate a conservation easement on portions of the property in order to protect the open space surrounding the landmark house. Applicant's expert testified that the proposed subdivision would not compromise the house, "alter the history of the house or cause the landmark to lose its integrity."
The Mayor's Agent concluded that the unsigned draft of the conservation easement agreement, which was subject to further negotiations and amendments, would not serve to protect the open space surrounding the property. The Mayor's Agent relied upon D.C. Preservation League v. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 656 A.2d 984, 991 (D.C. 1994) to support his conclusion. There, the D.C. Court of Appeals held that the Mayor's Agent is not a permanent administrative component of the D.C. government, and, as a result, is bound by the terms of the Act, and is not bound by a private agreement when determining whether the requirements of the Act have been satisfied. (The D.C. Court of Appeals additionally held that the Mayor's Agent had no authority to limit future use of a site once occupied by an historic landmark, and so the Mayor's Agent was found to have exceeded his authority when he attempted to impose a restrictive covenant on the future use of the property in that case.)
The Mayor's Agent also concluded that the significance of the landmark made subdivision inconsistent with the purposes of the Act. The Mayor's Agent found that the Williams-Addison house was constructed between 1815 and 1817, and while it had undergone several additions during the following hundred years, the property's 1858 boundaries had remained intact. The Mayor's Agent found that the Williams-Addison house is associated with several prominent Washingtonians, including two of Georgetown's oldest families: the Bealls and the Williamses. As a result, it reveals information about the "patterns of original subdivision, architecture, land holding and inheritance of nineteenth century Georgetown." It is also "one of the last remaining estates of its size in the Old Georgetown Historic District." The Mayor's Agent went on to conclude that subdivision of the property in order to build another house behind the landmark would do nothing to "adapt the property to current use" because it is already suited to use as a single-family dwelling.
The Mayor's Agent restated the purpose of the Act as set forth in the statute with regard to buildings in historic districts, i.e., "to retain and enhance those properties which contribute to the character of the historic district and encourage their adaptation for current use; and to assure that new construction and subdivision of lots in an historic district are compatible with the character of the historic district." Applicant desired to subdivide the property into two record lots to be configured as a "pipe stem;" and Applicant's expert testified that such a subdivision was compatible with the character of the historic district because other lots in the Old Georgetown Historic District had also been subdivided into pipe stem configurations, e.g., to allow for construction of homes on an alley. However, the lots cited by Applicant were either subdivided prior to the creation of the Old Georgetown Historic District and/or did not involve historic landmarks, and the Mayor's Agent concluded that a similar subdivision of the Williams-Addison property was thus not compatible with the character of the historic district.
Assessment and Taxation Subdivisions:
The subject property was divided into four A&T lots without the express approval of the HPRB. Relying upon the subdivision of the Beall-Washington House, an individually landmarked property within the Old Georgetown Historic District, Applicant claimed that the creation of those lots was not a subdivision reviewable by the Mayor's Agent and thus not covered by the Act. The Beall-Washington House was placed into an A&T lot and then converted into a record lot based on the A&T lot configuration; the A&T lot subdivision was accomplished without review by the HPRB or Mayor's Agent. However, the Mayor's Agent concluded the Mayor's Agent does have jurisdiction over the creation of A&T lots. The Mayor's Agent asserted that D.C. law expressly requires subdivisions to be reviewed by HPRB and, where appropriate, forwarded to the Mayor's Agent. Reviewing the legislative history through briefs submitted by Applicant and Friends, the Mayor's Agent stated that the definition of "subdivision" includes the "division of any lot of record into two or more theoretical building sites." The Mayor's Agent therefore concluded that the term "subdivision" encompasses A&T lots because they create theoretical building sites. The Mayor's Agent concluded that the subdivision of the lot into four A&T lots without review violated the Act and ordered that the A&T lots be vacated.
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