Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Historic District designation questions on: 1) pop-ups, 2) the special universe of the Georgetown Historic District

See the message posted at the Eckington list at Google Groups from Eckingtonian Caroline Swift Platt regarding neighborhood Historic District designation.

I will attempt to respond to her two questions below.

Caroline Swift Platt
Feb 29 07:54AM -0800


I too somehow missed this. I don't think my home on Todd Place got a flyer.

Is there any plan to have any speakers who are opposed to historic designation?

Sidebar: a few years ago, back when I was on the board of the Eckington
Civic Association, we had someone come in from the HPO who made it very
clear that historic designation will NOT stop pop-ups. Is that still true?
If anyone is interested, I am sure I can find the minutes of that ECA meeting.
Also, if anyone is interested, I would like to ask my cousin to share her
story of owning a home in a historic district (Georgetown). The historic
designation has required her to spend tens of thousands of dollars more for
home repair that would be acceptable with the historic designation, as
opposed to regular repairs. That was true even for items like her roof,
which are not visible to the street.



1) Pop-ups (and pop-backs)

A pop-up -- generally considered as adding a 3rd-story to a 2-story building in a R-4-zoned neighborhood -- would get forwarded to the DC Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB).  Permits for a pop-up in a Historic District would not get approved at the HPO counter at DCRA.

Would the HPRB reject a third-story addition pop-up? Likely so.  But there is no requirement that the HRPB automatically reject a pop-up in a designated Historic District.

The recently passed Zoning Regulation 13-14 addresses pop-ups to a degree, but does not prevent them.  Keep in mind that "zoning does not address ugly."

So will neighborhood Historic District designation "stop pop-ups?"  More or less, yes.

Pop-backs?  A different story. Pop-backs set back far enough from the front of the building so that the additional floor(s) are not seen from the sidewalk across the street would be allowed.

The exceptions to this rule: if the building is on a corner, so that the side of the building is viewable from the street -- or if the building is on an alley, where the side of the building is likewise viewable from the street.

So will neighborhood Historic District designation "stop pop-backs?"  Not if the pop-back is set back far enough.

2) Georgetown

Good question!  Lots of confusion here, so let's go.

Okay, the Georgetown Historic District should be considered separate from all other DC neighborhood Historic Districts.

Georgetown is its own special universe.

Here's why:

Georgetown is governed by the Old Georgetown Act of 1950:  See below:

The Old Georgetown Act of 1950 (Public Law 81-808) designated the federal Old Georgetown historic district and established the requirement for design review of proposed projects in Georgetown by the Commission of Fine Arts.  Under the Act, the Commission appoints an advisory committee of architects, the Old Georgetown Board (OGB), to conduct the reviews at its monthly meetings.

Here is an FAQ for the Old Georgetown Board. 

What is the difference between the Old Georgetown Board and the Commission of Fine Arts?
The Old Georgetown Board is an advisory board to the Commission of Fine Arts, the federal design review agency in Washington, DC. The Board hears presentations, reviews staff recommendations, and makes recommendations on all submitted cases, which are then forwarded to the Commission of Fine Arts for final approval. The review of nearly all proposed projects in the Old Georgetown historic district follow this process. Occasionally, a project in the Old Georgetown historic district will require presentation to the Commission of Fine Arts; OGB staff will notify applicants if this is required.

Renovations to properties in the Georgetown Historic District have to go before the Old Georgetown Board.  There is nothing equivalent to the OGB anywhere in the District.

All OTHER DC Historic Districts just go before the HPRB.

Georgetown necessarily goes through a much more rigorous process via the Old Georgetown Board.
See this 2011 Washington City Paper post by Lydia DePillis from 2011: 

Why Do We Even Have the Old Georgetown Board?

My bottom line: comparing the effort and cost of renovations in the Georgetown Historic District which go before the Old Georgetown Board with the effort and cost of renovations in all OTHER DC neighborhood Historic Districts... comparing apples vs. oranges.


Here is a response from Eckingtonian Caroline Swift Platt:

Caroline Swift Platt
Mar 03 07:27AM -0800

Thanks for taking the time to answer, Scott. Appreciated.

Attached is the presentation the ECA received from the HPO at its meeting in October 2013.

It is good to know that Georgetown is different. That said, it is very clear that the HPO agrees that repairs are both more costly and can be delayed by historic designation, stated clearly both in this presentation and the one you posted the great summary of a few days ago.



No comments:

Post a Comment