Monday, June 23, 2008

Razing the Stakes on Capitol Hill



The Louis Dreyfus Property Group has received final PUD approval for the razing of approximately fifteen adjacent historic townhouses on Capitol Hill to make way for Capitol Place, a 380,000-s.f. mixed use development with 302 condominiums and 20,000 s.f. of retail, designed by New York-based Cook + Fox Architects. The townhouses, dating from as far back as the mid 19th Century, will be sacrificed as part of a deal that will allow development of the site, but may also enhance protection of historic buildings on the rest of Capitol Hill.

The buildings, located at G and Second Streets, NE, are currently being leased to area businesses, and may be demolished as early as this fall. The trade will include an $83,500 payment from the developer to the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, enough to pay for a professional survey of the area to delineate the merit of an expanded historic zone. The survey is the first step toward an extended Capitol Hill Historic District which, according to the PUD, would include properties located "within the twenty-six blocks comprised of 2nd to 15th Streets, N.E., and F to H Streets, N.E., not including the Site or properties within the H Street Overlay."

The block misses the Capitol Hill Historic District - a legislatively demarcated zone which ends at F Street, NE - by one block, and therefore does not go before the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). As with all raze permits, the application went through the Historic Preservation Office (HPO), part of the Office of Planning, but was not held for the customary thirty day discussion and review period because it was part of an existing PUD. Ultimately, all razes are signed by David Maloney, DC's State Historic Preservation Officer, whether historic or not. Non-historic razes end at the HPO after they double check that the structure and site are not historic; applications for historic sites go on to the HPRB. With Maloney's signature, the fate of this block was sealed.

In this case, even though the buildings are not in the historic district, Brendan Meyer, Preservation Specialist with the HPO, said the request was an unusual one to come through the office. “Typically we get 1950-1960 ranches out on the city fringes that are razed and subdivided, but something closer to the historic area would give us more pause. We would evaluate it and ask, ‘is it significant enough to do outreach to prevent the raze, or do we just say that it’s outside the historic district and let it go?’" Sean Cahill, Vice President of Development for Dreyfus agreed, “This is not your typical application,” he said.

According to Meyer, the Capitol Hill Historic District is listed as historic for its architectural history and marked with a longer period of significance (1791-1945) than other areas like Mount Pleasant (1870-1949). Meyer said that in the case of the Capitol Hill Historic District “It’s not one person or event, but a collection of architecture that represents a broad and rich timeline of DC’s urban development. It helps us understand how DC grew and how it became a city.”

That being said, he added that not every town house can be preserved. "They are perfectly nice and charming, but we have 8,000 others already established and we are protecting them. These townhouses are outside the district and there is nothing about them that makes them particularly special," Meyer said.

According to Cahill, the neighborhood ANC is on board, as is Gary Peterson of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS). “We went through a mediation process with the neighbors on Square 752 as well as the ANC and the adjoining ANC, so it was a very long process,” Cahill added.

"I think most people are reasonably satisfied with where we ended up. I am a pretty ardent preservationist, so I hate to see old buildings taken down, but i think that the development will be a benefit to the city and we worked hard to design a project with the least negative impact for the remaining residents on the square," said Drury Tallant, Co-Chair of the Stanton Park Neighborhood Association Land Use Committee and square resident.

"If it were in the historic district, the buildings that are being taken down would be contributing structures and they would not be allowed to demolish them. One of the things Dreyfus offered to the community was money to pay for historic structural survey that would potentially lead to the expansion of the Capitol Hill Historic District to cover from this square to 16th Street... In essence, it was a bargain the community made in order to pay for the survey that is a prerequisite for expanding the district. These buildings were sacrificed to get the funds," Tallant said.

HPO's approval allows for demolition this fall; construction is anticipated within the following year-and-a-half, and delivery expected thirty-two months later.

Located adjacent to the H Street Overpass, Capitol Place will be the closest residential and mixed-use site on H Street to the Union Station Metro. Though it will share a block with the historic two and three story row houses, it will also sit across from the 10-story Senate Square, as well as a new 11-story office building still under construction. Reduced 43,000 s.f. from its original size, the 10-12 story building has been in the PUD process for the last three years as the developer worked with architects, the Zoning Commission, and the neighborhood to come up with an appropriate, neighborhood-serving design.

Other goodies for the neighbors include two micro-grant programs, the first of which will be $150,000 for which property owners of adjacent lots can apply to make repairs and improvements to the parts of their homes that are either within public space or viewed from public space. The second program will allow $80,000 for which property owners living on the construction square (752) can apply to make upgrades to their homes as approved by the CHRS. Finally, the developer will pay $20,000 to CHRS for administering the two grant programs. In addition to the grants, Dreyfus will also give $150,000 to H Street Main Street for the Clean and Safe Program.

The developer, which mainly works on “high quality, central business district and suburban office buildings” has properties in DC, suburban New York, and Paris.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

This development "may also enhance protection of historic buildings on the rest of Capitol Hill?"

You know what would really enhance protection of historic buildings on Capitol Hill? Not tearing down old building stock and building stuff like this.

poo poo said...

i live next to this future development. i, for one, am happy with the final outcome. the buildings are not that great, and house junky businesses - the kind where people are constantly stopping on second street, right in front of them, turning off their cars and waiting around to pick someone up. it screws up traffic.

the new bldg. will add services to the area. services around this western part of h street are BADLY needed to get some momentum into the development/restoration of the rest of the hood. alan kimber, the former commissioner for the area, was instrumental in getting this through, to the satisfaction of everyone involved in the process, including the folks that live on the 3rd street side of the block. their old homes will be preserved.

i just wonder how the developer was able to buy up all those structures. AND, i wonder how much he paid for them. was it one lump purchase from a slum lord, or did he buy them individually? i ask, because i almost bought a home there (5 or so years ago) for $350k. it would have been one of the ones demolished.....

DG-rad on Jun 24, 2008, 10:40:00 AM said...

sort of hoping to see some architectural design revisions.. although I do like the G Street part.

H Street section looks reallly generic up against Senate Square

House History Man on Jun 24, 2008, 1:33:00 PM said...

Looks like a good compromise all around. I'm a preservationist, too, but agree that every house can't or should not be saved. I hope they allow a non-profit salvage company to strip the houses, however, instead of a systematic bull dozing.

With that said, I also hope the locals realize that the only reason the rather modest micro-grants are offered to them is that the developers want your remaining houses to look nice for their future sales in the building. I would have pressed for several thousand more!

Anonymous said...

Of course the developer wants the historic district expanded, because then no one else can build other large, modern buildings that would compete with Capitol Place. This way the developer maintains its monopoly on new construction, while claiming its motivation is to support historic preservation.

Not every old building is worth saving. Not even every nice old brick townhouse. We should think about the sort of neighborhood we want--I want a vibrant, busy H Street, with active sidewalks and streetcars. But, streetcars justify more density than small townhouses can provide, and those same townhouses with their steps and large setbacks are not good spaces for sidewalk-side businesses.

How about not fighting development along our commercial corridor that's just beginning to return, (H,) and in return insist that the developers leave the side streets out of it?

Steve's Blog on May 21, 2010, 6:15:00 AM said...

Washington is a precious, limited resource. When we remove a chunk of it's historic fabric we lose that little something that makes this place beautiful and unique among American cities.

Dreyfus is perpetuating a trend Greenberg put together on 3rd NE where he consolidated townhomes for demolition. Will they bring density? Sure thing. Will they take diminish the charater and charm of what should rightfully be an historic district? Sure thing.

Trulee said...

A grant program for neighbors on adjacent blocks to improve their facades and public spaces, a similar contruction grant program for neighbors on the block affected, $20,000 for Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) to administer those grants, requirement that CHRS approve changes on the block affected, a Stanton Park Neighborhood Association person on the block....and $83,000 + for a CHRS study about whether the next neighborhood over should get the kind of historic district designation that would certainly have BLOCKED these wholesale demolitions in this block had this block been in a HD.

At some point, it starts to feel like the current officers of CHRS are using the organization's reputation built through the fine work of their predecessors to sell out CHRS and cheapen its reputation.

They had to destroy this block to save it?

 

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