Decision Summary HPA No. 99-219, 99-220, 99-221, 99-222, 99-224, 99-225, 99-226 and 99-285
- HPA Number
- 99-219, 99-220, 99-221, 99-222, 99-224, 99-225, 99-226 and 99-285
- Building Name
- St. Patrick's Academy / Carroll Hall
- 921-927 F St. NW
931-935 F St. NW
- Date of Order
The Archdiocese of Washington (“Applicant”) sought approval of applications to subdivide 14 lots in Square 376 into a single lot of record and to demolish seven nineteenth-century commercial buildings on F Street within the Downtown Historic District for the purpose of constructing an 11-story, mixed-use commercial building. In addition to the seven contributing buildings, the affected property also included St. Patrick’s Church, an individually designated landmark. The Applicant’s proposed project contemplated the retention of the contributing buildings’ façades and complete demolition of four non-contributing buildings. New construction would be set back twenty feet from the façades of the contributing buildings and the penthouse level would be set back somewhat further. The project also included a proposed renovation of Carroll Hall, which would require the demolition and removal of an interior theater and auditorium. The Archdiocese planned to use the net ground rent proceeds from the development project to renovate the church and fund its city-wide charitable activities. The Archdiocese also planned to allow Catholic Charities rent-free use of 38,000 square feet of space for a minimum of 20 years. Although it approved the Applicant’s proposed new construction in concept, the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board recommended denial of the permit applications because the proposed demolitions were inconsistent with the purposes of D.C. Law 2-144. In an important decision, the Mayor’s Agent denied the subdivision and demolition permit applications because their approval was not necessary to construct a project of special merit and was inconsistent with the purposes of the Act.
Consistent with Purposes of the Act:
• The Mayor’s Agent held that the seven contributing buildings constitute the “last remaining undeveloped block of low-scale buildings in the Downtown Historic District whose primary contribution to the historic district is not the façades, but the low scale and entire volume [of the buildings], and the present ability to convey to the public the history of the growth of retail and the central business core and the changes that have taken place in retail over the past century.” The Mayor’s Agent agreed with the HPRB that “the proposed demolition of the seven historic commercial buildings, even taking into account the retention and restoration of the façades, is not ‘consistent with the purposes of the Act.’”
• The Mayor’s Agent observed that “the proposed design of the office-building project does not reinforce and enhance the relationship of F Street to St. Patrick’s Church. Rather, the office building would block the previous view that the public has had of the towers of St. Patrick’s Church and would also block the sunlight from the church’s stained glass rose window, thereby impairing one of the church’s most important features.”
• The Mayor’s Agent held that the proposed demolition’s inconsistency with the purposes of the Act rendered the issue of subdivision moot. He stated that “if the requested demolition is not appropriate, any requested subdivision to include new construction on a consolidated lot would likewise be inappropriate at this time.”
Special Merit- General:
• One of the key issues in determining the necessity of demolition to the construction of a project of special merit is determined by whether “there are viable alternatives to demolition available.” Don’t Tear It Down, Inc. v. D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, 428 A.2d 369, 380 (D.C. 1981). The Applicant “elected not to address whether the demolition of the historic F Street commercial buildings is necessary in order to develop the site in an economically viable manner.”
• An applicant must first demonstrate that it considered all reasonable alternatives to demolition to trigger special merit analysis for its project. See Committee of 100 on the Federal City, 571 A.2d at 202. The Mayor’s Agent held that the Applicant failed to “present any evidence that an economically viable project could not be developed that preserved more of the F Street commercial buildings than just the façades, or that such a project would not generate an adequate return to the Applicant.”
Special Merit- Balancing Test:
The Mayor’s Agent must balance the historic structure’s value to the community against the special merit of the proposed project. See Committee of 100 on the Federal City v. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 571 A.2d 195 (D.C. App. 1990). The Mayor’s Agent determined that “the loss to the general public community by virtue of the destruction of historic F Street buildings outweighs the value to the community of the Applicant’s proposed restoration of the façades of those buildings.”
Special Merit- Social or Other Benefits Having a High Priority for Community Services:
• The Mayor’s Agent held that a landscaped walkway between the new building and the south transept of St. Patrick’s Church does not qualify as a social benefit having a high priority for community services. Because the walkway would not “be open to the public, [it] provides a benefit only to the tenants of the office building or church parishioners, and does not provide any benefit to the community.”
• Observing that the retail component of the project barely meets the minimum retail space requirements under zoning regulations, the Mayor’s Agent held that the Applicant’s provision of first-floor retail space does not constitute an amenity that renders the project one of special merit.
• Because many Catholic Charities activities are provided at other locations, “the Applicant’s proposal to apply the income from the office building, to fund the use of Carroll Hall by Catholic Charities, would constitute an off-site benefit, amenity, or community service that is well beyond the scope of this site, and is not within the provisions or anticipations of the Act.”
Special Merit- Specific Features of Land Planning:
• Although the Applicant argued that its proposed project would further the objectives of the Comprehensive Plan by setting aside one-half of the first floor for arts-related retail uses, the Mayor’s Agent held that the proposed project was “not consistent with the majority of the recited objectives and policies of the Comprehensive Plan.”
• Because the demolition of the contributing buildings and the removal of Carroll Hall’s interior theater would displace both the Washington Stage Guild and a number of independent artists living and working in the buildings, the “project’s compliance with selected comprehensive plan policies and objectives does not constitute a special feature of land planning that could qualify this project as one of special merit.” See Committee of 100 on the Federal City, 571 A.2d at 202 (holding that it was inappropriate for the Mayor’s Agent to factor in the Comprehensive Plan as though it supports the Applicant’s proposal based on selective or out-of-context references to the Comprehensive Plan).
• The Mayor’s Agent rejected the Applicant’s argument that the project’s low overall density constitutes “exemplary planning aspects that make this project a project of special merit.” The low density of the project is “a consequence of the subdivision of lots, which would have allowed the Applicant to average the high density of the proposed office building with the lower densities of [the] St. Patrick’s Church complex of buildings.” The Mayor’s Agent determined that the retail portion of the project has a FAR of at least 10.0, which far exceeds the density allowances under the zoning regulations for the site.
Prior and Subsequent History:
See HPA No. 99-35, 99-219, 99-220, 99-221, 99-222, 99-224, 99-225, 99-226 and 99-285 order of May 24, 1999 for prior history and HPA No. 01-219 through 01-224, 01-208, 209 order of August 1, 2001 for subsequent history.