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Decision Summary HPA No. 92-188
- HPA Number
- Building Name
- President Monroe Apartment Building
- 423-425 Massachusetts Ave. NW
- Date of Order
HPA Number: 92-188
Case Name: In re 423-425 Mass Ave, N.W.
Location of Property: 425 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Lot 851, Square 516-S
Date of Decision: February 17, 1992
Type of Case/Type of Permit Sought: Demolition
Date of Case Summary: June 1, 2007
Summary of Decision:
Mr. Jerry Sills and Scoville Street Corporation (the “Applicants”) filed an application for a permit to demolish the apartment building at 425 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. known as the President Monroe Apartment Building (the “Monroe”). The Historic Preservation Review Board designated the Monroe as an historic landmark after the Applicants purchased it. Although vacant and uninhabitable when designated, the Monroe’s façade, front entrance, and balconies were deemed historically significant. Through a series of small fires, the roof and most of the façade was destroyed, the lintel over the main front entrance was removed, and the structure became unstable. The Applicants were issued a permit for partial demolition to remove the unsafe portions of the building, but in that attempt they razed more of the building than authorized, destroying the rest of the façade, losing the original exterior bricks, and removing the balconies, which further destabilized the building. As a result, all of the historically significant elements of the building were eliminated, partially because of the Applicant’s actions.
The Mayor’s Agent balanced the contravening goals of discouraging destruction of historical landmarks and removing from the District things that are “clearly unsafe,” such as the Monroe’s unstable shell. In his analysis, the Mayor’s Agent noted that “rebuilding from the existing structurally unsafe shell would be more expensive than destroying the shell and rebuilding” and also that leaving the shell of the Monroe intact is unsafe, a nuisance, and “aids to the discouragement of the rejuvenation of the historic landmarks in its vicinity.” The Mayor’s Agent approved the demolition permit to raze the entire remaining structure, but expressly conditioned his approval on compliance with historic preservation standards for the Monroe building, such that any future construction on the parcel would have to be approved under the Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978 (the “Act”) and any structure built thereon could not exceed in height or square footage that of the Monroe.
Mayor’s Agent – Procedural:
• Per the Act, the Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation is delegated the authority to conduct hearings regarding decisions of the Historic Preservation Review Board.
• “[A]ny construction on a property deemed a landmark must first obtain approval under the Historic Preservation Act to assure that it is consistent with the landmark” as it was originally designated.
Necessary in the Public Interest:
The Applicants argued that the permit must be granted as necessary in the public interest “because of the needs of the health and safety of the neighborhood.” The Mayor’s Agent noted that these concerns do not directly implicate the definition of “necessary in the public interest” as outlined in the statute. D.C. Code §5-1001(b). However, the Mayor’s Agent determined that demolition of the unsafe, unattractive shell is necessary in the public interest because its presence “discourage[s] . . . rejuvenation of the historic landmarks in its vicinity.”
Consistent with the Purposes of the Act:
Because the historically significant portions of the Monroe were already destroyed, the Mayor’s Agent believed that it was consistent with the purposes of the Act to allow for demolition of the unimportant shell. Renovation of the historically significant elements would not include original elements either way, and therefore demolition (which would later result in less costly construction than if construction were to be authorized only by leaving the shell intact) was not inconsistent with the purposes of the Act.
See District of Columbia Preservation League v. DCRA, 646 A.2d 984 (D.C. 1994) for subsequent history.