Monday, July 05, 2010

Barney Circle: Preserving Hill East

Historic preservation at Hill East:  HPRB considers measures for the Capitol Hill communityFor some residents of Hill "proper," Hill East is the ugly duckling of Capitol Hill.  Its numbered streets have double-digits, its architecture is eclectic. And isn't it near...the river? While many Hill East residents are eager to prove the neighborhood has charm and historic character, others, including long-time residents, are happy to keep the long arm of the preservationists away. Last week, the Historic Preservation Review Board decided to wait a little longer before officially creating the Barney Circle Historic District that would bring the same level of historic protection to real estate that Capitol Hill now enjoys. Hill East preservation and Barney Circle, Washington DC real estateThe Capitol Hill Historic District's eastern boundary is 13th Street SE, with parts of 14th Street included. 

As you venture beyond the confines of the historic area, the boundaries do much to explain the odd mix of new 4-story condos next to the townhouses. The Barney Circle area is bounded by "the houses fronting on Barney Circle on the south, by those on the north side of Potomac Avenue on the north, by those on the west side of Kentucky Avenue on the west and by the Congressional cemetery on the east," according to the HPRB. Once the terminus of the Pennsylvania Avenue Streetcar, the neighborhood was built largely between 1905 and 1929, inhabited mostly by employees at the nearby Navy Yard. The homes were contrived from Henry Wardman's "daylighter" model, which offered a suburban feel with a front yard, front porch and copious daylight inside. The HPRB staff report recommended an approval, noting the neighborhood as a "prime example of an extremely cohesive and intact early twentieth century, working-class, rowhouse neighborhood." The "period of significance" for the ares was determined to be between 1905 and 1941; of the 192 homes in the new district, all but 3 will come under the auspices of the HPRB. The Historic recognition would mean more headaches for the owners of the 189 homes. The Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) quickly points out on its website that being in an historic district means that "if you want to install a fence, make any changes to the porch, garage, or exterior of your building, or even install sculpture in your front yard, you must get a building permit." Though the ANC voted unanimously to approve the nomination, neighbors will take their time to debate the merits of the recognition; HPRB was prepared to approve it last week but has left the door open for a larger area to be included, should the community request it.

Washington, DC real estate development news


Anonymous said...

Regardless of the merits of Barney Circle as a historic District, it would be fair to at least note that in-kind changes to structures require a permit that takes about 15 seconds to obtain.

The trade off between such a minor inconvenience against the uncertainty of waking up one morning to fined that the Wardman next door is being significantly altered in terms of use and aesthetic is, in my opinion, a relatively fair one.

Anonymous said...

Unless the architects and builders can show they can do better, save it!

monkeyrotica on Jul 6, 2010, 1:18:00 PM said...

In the history of nimbyism, there's no better illustration than the neigbhorhood's successful attempt to block the Barney Circle Bypass.

Eric said...

Anonymous said - "The trade off between such a minor inconvenience" ...

Being told which kind of door and window I can install or what type of roofing material I can use isn't a minor inconvenience to me.

I doubt these victims of historical preservation gone a muck would agree that historical designation was a mere inconvenience:

Anonymous said...

The HPRB approved nothing last week. In fact their report states "No action taken."

There has been considerable neighborhood opposition to this. Many residents have not been uninformed and have been left out of the process. And most do not want arbitrary and subjective "aesthetic" requirements, regardless of how "minor" they may or may not be.

But yes, thank you, CHRS for "saving" us from ourselves.

Anonymous said...

If historic preservation would get out of the home owner maintenance realm and actually focused on saving buildings so they could be re-habilitated, then they would be so much more welcome.

JHoward on Jul 7, 2010, 2:40:00 PM said...

Thanks for this post. As a resident of the proposed historic district, I wholeheartedly support it. It's important to note that the idea of establishing the HD originally came from long-time Barney Circle residents, so it's not fair to say that residents have been left out of the process. There's been an extensive public-comment period. I also have to say that some of the opposition has been playing off people's unfounded fears about historic districts. There's a lot of misinformation about HDs out there.

Anonymous said...

This whole process has been a sham from the start. The individuals behind this proposal do not live in Barney Circle nor have they EVER owned property in Barney Circle. They are not effected by this, unlike us who OWN in this proposed district. HPRB did a TERRIBLE job of informing residence, they did not poll anyone for feedback, and once the HUGE opposition came out in force, all the HPRB did was "delay" the vote, treating the opposition like they were "uninformed or not educated on the facts. When sadly, the HPRB could not even articulate how their processes of determining applications and approve even works! Shame on the HPRB for not doing it's job correctly and shame on the ANC for not doing it's homework and just going with the flow.

Anonymous said...

That's not what I heard. I heard that the new residents decided to be self-absorbed uninterested neighbors who chose to have an opinion at the last minute. Have to love the transients who bought $500,000+ homes that move into the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Yikes, Anonymous. Are you honestly complaining that people paid a good chunk of money to live in your neighborhood? What jerks!! How dare people raise your property values!!

Seriously. Get a grip.

JHoward on Jul 7, 2010, 5:12:00 PM said...

All this anonymity is making my head spin. It reminds me of the flyer left on my doorstep from "Concerned Barney Circle Resident" telling me that my property rights were being trampled on and using highly alarmist language. Talk about imposing on the neighbors! We've also been harangued on our front porch by opponents of the HD who refused to allow us to agree to disagree. I think of Barney Circle as a friendlier place than that.

Anonymous said...

JHoward – your earlier post mentioned “unfounded fears” and "misinformation" from the opposition. Can you elaborate on that? I’m honestly curious what issues you think were not correctly explained by those opposed to the historic district. I didn’t put the flier together that you just mentioned, but it seemed 100% accurate to me after reading through the guidelines. If not, please tell me what specific aspects were wrong, so I can be better informed.

And sorry, you are not getting anything more than "anonymous" as my handle. Take it or leave it, but its really not your call what identity I use.

JHoward said...

Dear Anon,

Here are three examples of misinformation in that flyer:

1) "Once a neighborhood is marked as historic it is permanent and irrevocable." David Maloney of the historic preservation office told us at one of the community meetings that a neighborhood can be UNdesignated as historic and that the HD status is not irrevocable.

2)"Any improvements you want to make to your home need to be approved by this board." Not all improvements need to be approved by the board--just those specifically designated in the guidelines. So if you want to paint your house purple, you don't have to ask the board if that's okay.

3) "Your only chance to weigh in on this decision is now." The board is keeping the proposal on the table for more comments, so that's not true either.

Of course it's your right to remain anonymous if you like. I'm not sure what you're afraid of, though.



Anonymous said...

JHoward – thank you for your response. A few rebuttals –

1) My understanding of the historic designation is that it is, if not irrevocable, near impossible to undo (which is the same thing honestly). The regulations as listed on the HPO website do not sufficiently explain how to go about the process of revoking an HD. I have never heard HPO staff say this could be done, and an elected official I spoke with explained that it is extremely difficult to revoke an HD. If you have any other proof (other than “I heard it at a meeting”), please share.

2) The current guidelines are only a draft, and are not finalized until after the HD is approved. The guidelines mention that painting brick is “discouraged”, and HPRB could certainly decide later on in the process to include painting in the list of repairs that require a permit (see the Foxhall design guidelines as an example – they are “not permitted” to paint brick, stone, etc). And if painting is the only thing you can point to that the HPRB would not have a say over (which you cannot even guarantee), then that means they have a say over every other thing I want to do. Which is too much, in my opinion.

3) At the time the flier was handed out, the final hearing was scheduled for June 24. Had those opposed to the historic district not voiced their opinions, the board would certainly have voted in favor of the HD and therefore that would have been the last possible time to speak up. Only because of our voices did the HPRB decided to hold the vote open. So your comment is incorrect and doesn’t even make sense, honestly, as its completely after the fact.

So far, you haven’t convinced me that those opposing the historic district have said anything inaccurate.

I’m going to ignore your comment about what i’m “afraid” of; it really doesn’t add anything to the discussion.

Happily Anonymous

Mark said...


As to 1) When the officer of the HPRB is asked point blank if the historical designation can be revoked and he responds in the affirmative, that rises above "I heard it at a meeting," as it would be actionable if he lied in that forum. The process, as he described it, is about as difficult as getting the designation, which is to say difficult, but not impossible by a long shot.

As to 2)How many things not covered by the draft guidelines do you need? Nothing to say on paint, nothing to say on interior remodeling, the vast majority of rear remodeling, um, pipe widths, patio furniture...

As to 3)You miss the essential point. The meeting on the 24th was one of a number of meetings held over the last six years by a number of groups. I received flyers, I heard about them at other ANC meetings I attended, I saw them on the posted agendas for ANC meetings. The suggestion that the meeting on the 24th was the ONLY chance to voice an opinion sought to give the impression that only a tiny window for community input was being offered.

Overall the flyer read like a leftover from a Tea Party rally: long on drama and innuendo, short on facts.

Anonymous said...

Mark, I really don’t find it helpful for you to belittle my concerns about the additional financial requirements that would be placed on me under this historic designation. I’m happy for you that you don’t mind having to purchase expensive roofing materials, but I can’t afford that.

I can keep debating all these points with you and the others who are in support, but I don’t need the sarcasm. The flier that was given to people was not even remotely like a “Tea Party” anything, and to suggest that is just trying to direct attention away from the legitimate concerns that those opposed to the HD have.

Mark said...

To whichever anonymous poster,

When a flyer is headlined YOUR RIGHTS AS A PROPERTY OWNER ARE UNDER ATTACK!! and the language that follows is similarly hysterical and misleading, that is trying to direct attention away from a legitimate debate. There are reasonable arguments to be made on both sides of this, but the mostly anonymous foot soldiers of the opposition seem unwilling to engage in them.

darren said...

Mark -- I helped hand those flyers out and of course they were meant to get your attention but there was nothing 'hysterical' or 'misleading' about them.

If one day I can use whatever door or windows I like and the next day I can't, and the windows you say I have to use cost twice as much, then yes, my property rights are under attack.

The first we learned of this was only 3-4 months ago, despite 2 years in the neighborhood. Other neighbors have been here far longer and heard nothing.

I spoke up as soon I heard about it. I asked for a vote or a poll or something fair and inclusive of all residents but nobody would budge.

There was no debate until we finally forced everyone to listen. Clearly many many others felt the same way.

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