Metropolitan Baptist Church v. D.C. Dep't of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs - Historic Preservation Review Board
- Title: Metropolitan Baptist Church v. D.C. Dep't of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs - Historic Preservation Review Board
- Citation: 718 A.2d 119 (D.C. 1998)
- Decided Date: 03-Sep-98
After holding a public hearing in 1994, the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) voted 6-2 (with one abstention) to establish the Greater Fourteenth Street Historic District, which included five rowhouses owned by petitioner Metropolitan Baptist Church. The new district did not include the church building itself. Petitioner filed an original action challenging the district designation in D.C. Superior Court, arguing that: (1) the designation was not supported by substantial evidence in the record; (2) the HPRB had abused its discretion in refusing to grant a continuance or to hold the record open for an additional sixty days after the conclusion of the hearing; and (3) the designation violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The Superior Court held that the “substantial evidence” standard was not applicable to historic district—as opposed to individual landmark—designations, and the petitioner did not appeal this holding. The petitioner filed an appeal of the remaining issues in the D.C. Court of Appeals. Affirming the Superior Court, the Court of Appeals held that: (1) the HPRB had properly exercised its discretion in refusing to either grant a continuance or hold the record open for sixty days; and (2) the petitioner’s constitutional claim was not ripe for judicial review.
Constitutional Issues—First Amendment: Free Exercise
- Affirming the Superior Court, the Court of Appeals held that the petitioner’s Free-Exercise claim was not ripe for judicial review. The Court noted that a claim’s ripeness “is a question of law which the Court of Appeals reviews de novo.” Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 149 (1967), the Court noted that in “rulemaking cases, we are to determine ripeness with reference to two criteria: (1) ‘the fitness of the issues for judicial decision,’ and (2) ‘the hardship to the parties of withholding court consideration.’” Because it was not at all clear whether the designation of petitioner’s properties would in fact burden its free exercise of religion, the Court held that judicial review of the petitioner’s claim was premature. The Court noted that petitioner would not be barred on ripeness grounds from raising a Free-Exercise claim in the context of a subsequent permit denial under the Preservation Act.
- Citing Rector of St. Bartholomew’s Church v. City of New York, 914 F.2d 348, 351-52 (2d Cir. 1990), the Court noted that to “the extent that the church is arguing that the mere inclusion of church property used for religious purposes within an historic district subject to a permit requirement is per se unconstitutional, regardless of the actual burden that might be imposed by such inclusion, that broad proposition has been rejected in cases with facts considerably more telling than those here.”
Historic Preservation Review Board—Procedural:
- The Court held that the “Board did not abuse its discretion in denying the request for a continuance or additional time to supplement the record.” Citing Donnelly Associates v. D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board, 520 A.2d 270, 276-85 (D.C. 1987), the Court noted that there “is no statutory or constitutional right to a hearing before the Board when it is in the process of designating historic districts.” The “decision of an agency whether to hold a hearing in the course of determining legislative facts, and, if such a hearing is held, its nature and extent, is obviously afforded markedly greater deference than when the agency conducts a hearing in the adjudicatory, contested-case situation.”
- When the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), in its discretion, agrees to hold a hearing on the designation of an historic district, HPRB regulations allow—but do not require—the Board chairperson to grant a continuance. See 10 DCMR § 2620.3(g). Although the HPRB chairman invited a discussion and held a vote on the petitioner’s request for a continuance or sixty days to supplement the record, “the Board’s own rules place the authority to grant or deny such a motion solely with the chairperson.”
- The Court held that here is no statutory or administrative requirement to keep the record open for supplementation after the conclusion of a public hearing. Although it was “characterized by the church as ‘the normal 30 days,’ [the Board’s decision to keep the record open for thirty days after the hearing] ... appears to have been an act of accommodation because the rules mandate that the ‘record shall be closed at the end of the public hearing except when directed by the Chairperson to stay open for a specified period of time for the receipt of specific information or additional exhibits.’” (Quoting 10 DCRM § 2622.1 (emphasis in opinion)).
Standard of Review:
- The Superior Court held that the “substantial evidence” standard was not applicable to the Historic Preservation Review Board’s decision to designate an area as an historic district. Such designations, because they are “more legislative than adjudicatory in nature[,]” must instead have a “rational basis in the record.” Because the petitioner did not appeal this holding, the Court of Appeals had “no occasion to decide whether ‘rational basis in the record’ was the correct standard of review.” Citing Citizens Association of Georgetown v. Zoning Commission, 392 A.2d 1027, 1038-39 (D.C. 1978) (en banc), the Court did note however that “agencies acting in a legislative capacity are not generally limited to the evidence contained in the four corners of the hearing record.” Moreover, the Court of Appeals observed that the “standard of review [employed by the Superior Court] ... has some support in District of Columbia Hospital Association v. Barry, 498 A.2d 216, 218 (D.C. 1985).”
- The Court of Appeals distinguished historic district designations, which do not require contested-case proceedings, from individual landmark designations, which do. The Court noted that § 5012(b), as amended in 1998, “requires that hearings by the Board on applications for historic landmarks be conducted as contested cases, with an appeal directly to this court.” However, “nothing is said in that regard about historic district proceedings.”
- In “adjudicatory ‘contested case’ hearings, [the Court of Appeals] ... review[s] an agency’s decision to grant or deny a continuance for abuse of discretion.” (Citing Murphy v. A.A. Beiro Construction Co., 679 A.2d 1039, 1042-43 (D.C. 1996); Ammerman v. D.C. Rental Accommodations Commission, 375 A.2d 1060, 1063-64 (D.C. 1977). The Court emphasized that it “must be extremely deferential to an agency’s decision to grant or deny a continuance or otherwise accommodate an interested party’s demand for additional time in quasi-legislative matters.” Although the “standard of review is still abuse of discretion, as in the adjudicatory context, ... the range of discretion is even wider than in a trial-type hearing.”
In October 2000, the D.C. Council repealed the contested-case requirement for individual landmark designations in § 6-1112 (formerly § 5-1012). D.C. Law 13-172 (October 19, 2000). The section now incorporates by reference the administrative procedures of Title 2, Chapter 5 of the D.C. Code. Id.
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