|1232, 1234, and 1236 New Jersey Avenue, NW. Image: HPO|
The Church first announced plans to totally the demolish the structures last year, but the HPO recommended only partial demolition, as it stated in a staff report that parts of the houses still had structural integrity to justify saving. The Church changed its plans to comply with the HPO's recommendation, and the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), the HPO's decision-making body, approved that permit. The church went forward with the demolition, but then decided to make the case for a full demolition permit again. It was that permit that the city again rejected on Thursday.
Mayor's Agent hearing officer J. Peter Byrne wrote in the ruling released Thursday that historic preservation trumped the Church's economic hardship argument. Byrne wrote that the church's plans to use its property to serve its programming deserved "great respect," but that the Church "must pursue its facility goals within the constraints of the Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act, which benefits both the surrounding neighborhood and entire District of Columbia."
According to public record, the Church bought the row houses over 20 years ago for $98,400, but their 2011 assessed tax value was more than $500,000 - almost the exact same amount as the church's annual revenues. In any case, the city ruled, the church's economic hardship argument doesn't stand, as securing the buildings for the Church's original estimated cost of $77,420 "does not seem prohibitive in light of the Church's revenues and assets." The best option, the city suggested, might be for the church to avoid any expense to itself at all and just sell the row houses.