Monday, June 1, 2009

They're not historic, but shouldn't be a parking lot

From the Greater Greater Washington web site
The first post on Greater Greater Washington about historic preservation that didn't deal with Third Church dates to March 10, 2008, and bears the title, "Historic preservation: a blunt instrument for design review." Today, the historic preservation process remains a very blunt instrument for design review, and an even more blunt instrument for use regulation. Yet it also remains the only real tool for most properties. When a set of buildings aren't really that historic, like Meads Row on H Street, there is no public policy recourse against seeing old row houses replaced with a surface parking lot.

The City Paper runs down the story. Three old townhouses remain on the 1300 block of H Street, NE, along with a one-story structure where a fourth once stood. Retailers don't want to rent space in the dilapidated buildings, and one of the houses has a huge storefront gate marring most of its facade and that of the missing house.

Image from Google Street View. Click for interactive version.

The owner of the properties wants to tear down one, along with the one-story structure that replaced the fourth. In its place, he plans a surface parking lot. Critics charge that he just wants to avoid DC's vacant property taxes. ANC 6A and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society sought to landmark the row, but Historic Preservation Office staff concluded that the buildings aren't landmark-worthy on their own. They're so significantly altered from their original appearance that little remains to preserve, and arguments that the builder, Charles Meads, was himself significant are thin at best. The staff report does leave open the possibility of creating a historic district for the entire H Street area.

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