Reneau v. District of Columbia
- Title: Reneau v. District of Columbia
- Citation: 676 A.2d 913 (D.C. 1996)
- Decided Date: 30-May-96
Petitioner sought review in the D.C. Court of Appeals of the Mayor’s Agent’s denial of a permit to construct a third-floor deck and fourth-floor addition to a townhouse in the Dupont Circle Historic District. The Petitioner alleged that: (1) the decision to deny the permit was arbitrary and capricious and not based on substantial evidence in the record; (2) the Mayor’s Agent had failed to explain why he disregarded the testimony of one of petitioner’s experts; and (3) the Mayor’s Agent misinterpreted the language of the D.C. Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act (“the Act”). The Court affirmed the permit denial, holding that: (1) the Mayor’s Agent’s decision was supported by substantial evidence; (2) the Mayor’s Agent’s had provided an adequate explanation of why he rejected the testimony of petitioner’s expert; and (3) the Mayor’s Agent’s interpretation of the Act was reasonable and entitled to the Court’s deference.
Consistent with Purposes of the Act:
The Court held that any physical alteration of a contributing structure within an historic district on the basis of its consistency with the purposes of the Act must be consistent with both § 5-1001(b)(1)(A) and § 5-1001(b)(1)(B). Because the petitioner “did not meet the requirement of compatibility in [§ 5-1001(b)(1)(B)], the Mayor’s Agent may not have been obliged to proceed to consider the further purposes set forth in [§ 5-1101(b)(1)(A)].” This statement is in tension with dicta in the Court’s opinion in DCPL v. DCRA, 646 A.2d 984 (D.C. 1995), which stated that the demolition of protected landmark is consistent with the purposes of the Act if it is consistent with either of the purposes in § 5-1001(b)(2). This earlier interpretation seems to conflict with both the plain meaning of the statute and the underlying goals of the Preservation Act.
- Although the Mayor’s Agent is not required to explain why he preferred the testimony of one lay witness over the contrary testimony of another, Kalorama Heights Ltd. Partnership v. DCRA, 655 A.2d 865, 868-69 (D.C. 1995), “some indication of the reason for rejecting expert, as opposed to lay, testimony is required.” (quoting Committee for Washington’s Riverfront Parks v. Thompson, 451 A.2d 1177, 1193 (D.C. 1982).
- The Court believed that the Mayor’s Agent had provided an adequate justification for rejecting the testimony of the petitioner’s expert witness in this case. Although the witness provided photographs of a number of townhouses with visible additions near petitioner’s property, “she failed to indicate which of the additions ... had been added before the area gained historic district status.” This deficiency in the witness’s testimony was, the Court believed, a sufficient reason for rejecting it.
Standard of Review:
- Quoting Kalorama Heights Ltd. Partnership v. DCRA, 655 A.2d 865, 868 (D.C. 1995), the Court noted that it must “uphold the Mayor’s Agent’s decision if the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence in the record considered as a whole and the conclusions of law flow rationally from these findings.”
- The Court discussed the substantial deference afforded to the Mayor’s Agent’s interpretation of language in the Preservation Act, noting that “when ... the Mayor’s Agent’s decision is based on an ‘interpretation of the statute and regulations it administers, that interpretation will be sustained unless shown to be unreasonable or in contravention of the language of the legislative history of the statute.’” While the Court noted that the Mayor’s Agent’s decision was “not a model of clarity, a close reading reveals that it contains a cogent analysis of the record evidence, flows rationally from the findings of fact, and contains no erroneous interpretations of law.”
Decision and Order of the Mayor’s Agent, HPA Nos. 92-104 and 92-369 (June 1, 1993).
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