Decision Summary HPA No. 03-480, 03-481
- HPA Number
- 03-480, 03-481
- Building Name
- 1515-1517 32nd St. NW
2105 10th St. NW
- Date of Order
Full Text of Order
HPA Number: 03-480 & 03-481
Case Name: In re Darrin Phillips, et al.
Location of Property: 1515 and 1517 32nd Street, N.W., Lots 74 and 75 in Square 1270
Date of Decision: 12/24/2003
Type of Case/Type of Permit Sought: New Construction
Summary of Decision:
Gtown 32nd LLC (the “Applicant”) sought permission to construct two residential buildings on property identified as Square 1270, lots 74 and 75 (the “Subject Property”), located within the Georgetown Historic District (the “Historic District”) and situated on the square included in the designation of the landmark Bowie-Sevier House (the “Historic Landmark”). The Mayor’s Agent conditionally granted the request, concluding that the project was compatible with the character of the Historic District and the Historic Landmark, as required by the D.C. Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978 (the “Act”). The Advisory Neighborhood Commission (the “ANC”) and the Commission of Fine Arts (the “CFA”) did not recommend approval of the new construction application, largely on account of the height of the proposed buildings (three stories instead of two stories, the latter being more common on the block in which the Subject Property sat). The Mayor’s Agent concluded that those recommendations were “too limited in scope” because the statute required consideration of the character of the entire Historic District, not just the block on which the new construction was to be built. Under the Act, recommendations of the CFA are advisory and the Mayor’s Agent is required to give “great weight” to the views of the applicable ANC – the Mayor’s Agent is not required to adopt the views of either entity. Further, under the Act, the proposed construction is to be considered “in context of the landmark, its history, and the entire Historic District, not just by particular block.” The Mayor’s Agent found that the character of the Historic District, “with its varied building sizes, heights, and styles of buildings, is replete with three-story or taller buildings juxtaposed with two-story buildings, and such result is consistent and compatible with the character of the Historic District as a whole.”
Mayor’s Agent – Procedural:
· • The Mayor’s Agent granted party status to a group of neighbors who opposed the project (the “Parties in Opposition”).
· • Motion for Postponement. The Applicant initially had four actions pending before the Mayor’s Agent in connection with applications to construct additional houses on nearby lots. These cases were withdrawn by the Applicant following a ruling by the Board of Zoning Adjustments that the lots could not be developed as a matter of right under applicable zoning, leaving the only applications before the Mayor’s Agent those that concerned construction of two houses on the Subject Property. The Parties in Opposition moved that the hearing be postponed pending review by the CFA and the ANC of the applications within the reduced context of a two-house proposal, and the Mayor’s Agent denied this request. The Mayor’s Agent based this denial upon statutory requirements as well as the fact that the views of the ANC and the CFA were merely advisory, with the Mayor’s Agent having sole authority under the Act to approve or deny the application.
· • The Mayor’s Agent stated: “Pursuant to D.C. Official Code § 6-1107(f), there is a rebuttable presumption that permits for new construction shall be issued as compatible with the historic district or landmark. Opponents have the burden of proof to demonstrate that proposed new construction is not compatible with the historic district or landmark.”
· • Under D.C. Code Ann. § 6-1107 (b) (2007), the Mayor’s Agent must consider any recommendation by the CFA; however, these recommendations are not binding on the Mayor’s Agent.
· • The Mayor’s Agent ruled that the ANC report “would be received and considered only within the context of the ANC’s statutory role under the Act.” “Although [the recommendations of the ANC were] carefully considered with an eye towards possibly according their position ‘great weight’ as provided for in D.C. Official Code, § 1-261(D), the Mayor’s Agent conclude[d] that the ANC’s position is too limited in scope, and cannot be accorded merit in this case under the parameters of the Act.”
· • The Mayor’s Agent pointed out that “compatible” was not defined in the Act but noted that it must include “height and scale, setbacks, width, materials to be used, and design.”
· • The Mayor’s Agent concluded that the proposed residential buildings were compatible with the character of the Historic District as well as the Historic Landmark, as provided for in D.C. Code Ann. § 6-1107 (f) (2007), over objections from the CFA, the ANC, and the Parties in Opposition. These groups were concerned that the proposed height of the buildings, though approved by the Board of Zoning Adjustments, would render the buildings incompatible with the character of the neighborhood. The Mayor’s Agent found, however, that the opposition mistakenly focused on the project’s compatibility with the “micro-neighborhood,” rather than on its compatibility “within the larger context, i.e., Square 1270, the entire Historic District, or the landmark Bowie-Sevier House.” The Mayor’s Agent noted “Other narrow streets in the Historic District are lined by contributing, historic buildings of more disparate heights . . . .”
· • The Parties in Opposition were supported by testimony from Emily Eig, an expert in architectural history; Ms. Eig’s report addressed the history and nature of the houses in the immediate neighborhood of the Subject Property and concluded that the proposed construction would negatively impact the character of the immediate neighborhood as the buildings were to be taller than the residences across the street. The Mayor’s Agent found that Ms. Eig’s testimony was “not credible,” based on her testimony in previous cases that new construction must be viewed in light of its compatibility with the entire relevant historic district, not merely with the immediate neighborhood.
• In the opinion of the Mayor’s Agent, adoption of the standards proposed by the ANC, the CFA and the Parties in Opposition would “significantly narrow the scope of how development can continue to occur within established entire historic districts, and . . . would eliminate the consideration of the broader Historic District as a whole from the compatibility standards of the Act.”
· • The Mayor’s Agent noted that the R-3 zoning of the area allowed for a building height of 40 feet and that the proposed height of the buildings was only 33 feet and found that “the CFA cannot impose a height restriction, the effect of which would rezone the block, and that its recommendation that three-story housing is too tall for the block is, in essence imposing a height restriction not provided for in the zoning on the site.”
See orders of May 20, 2004; June 9, 2004; June 23, 2004; and September 24, 2004 for subsequent history.
 The applications were approved under the condition that the Applicant would work with Historic Preservation Review Board staff to design a site plan that would accommodate the preservation of mature trees on the Subject Property and the construction of a brick sidewalk in keeping with the character of the Historic District.