Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Meads Row Bids Adieu to the Atlas District


Late last month, Washington DC's Historic Preservation Review Board voted down a motion for the protection of Meads Row – a series of nearly century-old structures at 1305-1311 H Street, NE that owners Tae and Sang Ryu plan to demolish to make way for a new Atlas District parking lot, much to the dismay of the ANC 6A. With no recourse now left to the ANC, the owners are free to pursue a raze for the property, although, in the view of some city officials, the Ryu's new pay-to-park will have anything but a positive effect on the increasingly developed H Street corridor.

"The 1300 block…is the heart of the arts and entertainment district of H Street,” said ANC Commissioner 6A03 David Holmes, who had been acting as the commission’s “point person” on the Meads Row matter. “It’s the most successful area of H Street in terms of its redevelopment and rebirth from the tragedies that affected it from the 1968 riots and the loss of interest in the business district….[Now] it has lots of bars, lots of restaurants, theaters and so forth. That block is based on the historic architecture of the area and the loss of any of that fabric is important to the business model of H Street.”

The four buildings in question were designed by early 20th century DC architect, Charles Meads, who was also responsible for some 105 structures on Capitol Hill. Of those, only 73 remain today, with the remainder having been demolished to make way for the Congressional Office Buildings and Senate Park. Meads Row represents the very last remnant of Meads’ H Street properties, which once numbered seven. During their heyday, the buildings boasted an assortment of “well-to-do” shopkeepers, who lived above their storefronts in the buildings’ second-story residential flats.

The properties' history in the area, however, was of little import to the HPRB, who in their denial of the landmark application, state,"Judged only for the H Street buildings Meads work would have to be considered typical of that of Washington's designers-builders of that era." Unsurprisingly, Holmes disagrees.

“These are some of the earliest buildings along H Street and they were important because the builder was trying to set a tone for H Street…They are very upscale and would be appropriate on Capitol Hill, closer to the Capitol, but he was putting it right at the boundaries of the old city’s L’Enfant plan,” he said.

Today, most of the Meads Row properties in are in functional, though somewhat degraded, condition. 1311 H St. has been condemned by District authorities and currently boasts boarded-up windows and a damaged roof. Despite attempts from the ANC to facilitate historic restoration tax credits for the buildings, which directly neighbor the Atlas Performing Arts Center, the owners have expressed interest in no development scheme for the site other than asphalt.

“It’s as if they wanted to put [the properties] in that condition. It’s a practice we’ve seen on Capitol Hill in the historic district too…People want to put up a new three-story building and sell it, so they allow the old building to be demolished by neglect,” said Holmes. “He’s doing it simply to reduce his [tax] assessment by taking down the historic buildings and eliminating the improvements, so he won’t have to pay taxes on the land value…It’s a tragedy. These are important, attractive buildings.”

11 comments:

Tom A. on Jun 10, 2009, 3:31:00 PM said...

Is there anyway he can be stopped from building a pay parking lot there?

It's NOT in the H Street plan to have a parking lot where businesses should be!

fourthandeye on Jun 10, 2009, 6:19:00 PM said...

perhaps the ANC can deny the land owner a curb cut on H?

LVTfan on Jun 10, 2009, 8:34:00 PM said...

Land value taxation (LVT) would be a fine idea in Washington. It would correct the perverse incentives that lead to more parking lots and less housing and fewer businesses than the community needs.

Align the incentives with where the community wants to go. LVT is a great first step to nudge the private sector into redeveloping underused sites, benefiting the entire community.

Anonymous said...

It bothers me that these absentee landlords can allow their properties to crumble for decades without any penalty. There is a serious social and economic cost to the city from all of these vacant buildings, and the truth is, that there are surely buyers.

That the owners can make more money off of parking for people being attracted to the area by folks who are actually investing in the neighborhood makes me angry. The owners are parasites.

Anonymous said...

"It bothers me that these absentee landlords can allow their properties to crumble for decades without any penalty. There is a serious social and economic cost to the city from all of these vacant buildings, and the truth is, that there are surely buyers. "

There are penalties. The vacant building is going to cost more in property taxes than the income generating lot.

Mic said...

Why should it matter, if the owner wants a parking lot so be it. Its better than just having an empty spot; as long as it does not effect pedistreans on the sidewalk I dont care if it is built or not.

If anyone is so against the land being used for a parking lot how about they purchase the land or otherwise shut up.

Anonymous said...

Mic - not sure of the parking lot design, but I assume the parking lot owners will request/want a curb-cut for a driveway apron to access the lot from H Street. This will decrease pedestrian and cyclist safety since cars will now cross over an exclusively pedestrian/cyclist pathway - the sidewalk.

Ken G.

Anonymous said...

This is so unfortunate. We must preserve historic buildings!

Cameron Conway on Sep 10, 2009, 3:28:00 AM said...

Who cares if the architecture was typical of when it was built? You can't bring that kind of architecture back. Also, you don't destroy buildings on a corridor that's the site of a future streetcar line and is seeing some of the highest numbers of new businesses of any area of the city. Also, there's tons and tons of parking in that area! Sure you might need to park like two blocks away but its there! What angers me the most is the condo building that will inevitably be built in that spot when prices go up far enough.

I don't know much about ANC but hopefully they can deny the curb cut.

Cameron Conway on Sep 10, 2009, 3:29:00 AM said...

Who cares if the architecture was typical of when it was built? You can't bring that kind of architecture back. Also, you don't destroy buildings on a corridor that's the site of a future streetcar line and is seeing some of the highest numbers of new businesses of any area of the city. Also, there's tons and tons of parking in that area! Sure you might need to park like two blocks away but its there! What pisses me off the most is the condo building that will inevitably be built in that spot when prices go up far enough.

I don't know much about ANC but hopefully they can deny the curb cut.

Joel said...

Parking lots are prohibited in the H Street Overlay District (HS). Section 1320.5 (f) of the Zoning Regulations specifically prohibits parking lots in the HS Overlay zone. The owners of the Meads Row would do well to consult a registered Architect or a zoning attorney licensed to do business in the District of Columbia.

 

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