Friday, November 09, 2012

City Again Rules to Save Historic Mt. Vernon Triangle Houses

Mt. Vernon Square historic district renovation of townhouses
The DC government has ruled three nineteenth-century row houses in DC's Mount Vernon Square Historic District must be preserved, giving some resolution - at least for now - to a long-running saga that spotlighted tensions surrounding urban church parking and historic preservation.

Washington DC historic district renovation of commercial property
1232, 1234, and 1236 New Jersey Avenue, NW. Image: HPO
On Thursday, the city released its most recent ruling that the Third Street Church of God, located in DC's Mount Vernon Square Historic District, must continue to preserve three nineteenth century row houses it owns at 1232, 1234, and 1236 New Jersey Avenue NW.  Last year the Church petitioned the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) for permission to totally demolish the homes, built in the 1860's, to make way for parking.  It argued saving the buildings would constitute an "economic hardship."  The HPO rejected the permit, so the Church requested that the office of the Mayor's Agent hear the case.

The Church first announced plans to 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.

Washington DC real estate news


Adam L on Nov 9, 2012, 7:06:00 PM said...

Good. Nobody should be allowed to get around historic preservation laws through demolition by neglect. There's no hardship, especially when the church pays no property taxes on the buildings. Fix them up or sell them.

Anonymous said...

In this day and age, to tear down historic properties for a parking lot is a crime...or in the church's case, a sin!

Anonymous said...

Good call on the city's part. I've noticed a few churches lately get smart and sell their properties and work out deals with the developer to get reserved Sunday parking for their parishioners. Seems like a easy win-win solution.

Anonymous said...

The church should bring in the wrecking ball, tear them down in a day, and tell the HPRB to shove it. The preservation nazis strike again.

IMGoph on Nov 11, 2012, 3:18:00 PM said...

and right after the church does that, anonymous, the city should move to seize their other properties in the neighborhood.

they are not "community" members. they are cancerous.

aaa said...

who's not community members, IMGoph? i hope you're not talking about the church.

Anonymous said...

I live very close to this church and am very happy with the result. Forget the preservation argument - I'm glad my neighborhood won't add parking for church members who do not live in the neighborhood. Additional parking does not serve the area, it just adds more drivers and congestion.

Anonymous said...

@ IMGoof,

I don't think the city can just "move to seize their other properties in the neighborhood." There is this pesky little thing called the Fifth Amendment that prevents the Government from doing that except for certain limited purposes. You may not like the church, but it has rights, too.

IMGoph on Nov 12, 2012, 5:39:00 PM said...

5:20 anonymous: real classy with the purposeful misspelling of my name there.

anyway, someone was arguing for the church to break the law, so i argued right back for the city to break the law too.

if you're going to lecture me on what's legal, make sure you lecture the fool who ranted about "preservation nazis" too, okie dokie?

Anonymous said...

This feels like more anti-black behavior on the part of the HPRB. Do the preservationists and the neighborhood not feel comfortable with African-American neighbors? Preservation law is the new Jim Crow.

aaa said...

I also wonder about anti-black behavior--not so much on the part of HPRB but by commenters on blogs like this one. It seems like people are seriously anti-HPRB when it comes to young professional (read: white) homeowners, then flip around when the target is a black institution like this one. I know personally that this church's pastor is trying her damnedest to feed and minister to the neighborhood's poor, so I don't get where the pushback here comes from. Ahem, @IMGoph?

IMGoph on Nov 13, 2012, 12:33:00 PM said...

aaa: I'm against groups that want to destroy our city's architectural heritage. I don't care if they're christian or atheist, black or white, gay or straight.

Follow the law, church, or sell the buildings. Pretty simple.

Jay said...

This happens all the time in DC. Developers, wether unsophisticated churches or Jim Abdo, leave the building to rot until it can be torn because they have let it become worthless. Churches can't get away with it so easy, but Jim Abdo, on the other hand, has gotten away with it a number of times.

IMGoph on Nov 13, 2012, 3:46:00 PM said...

Jay: I'm curious, where has Abdo done this? I know that Douglas has that reputation as well. Perhaps it's univeral.

Anonymous said...

This is not a racial fight and anyone that makes it out as one is either misinformed or doing so for their own agenda.

The same ANC and HPRB opposed the plans of another church at 700 A Street NE that has a caucasian pastor and primarily caucasian clientele.

The new owners of what was Unity Baptist Church (until the church sold the property for $1.25 million) undertook illegal renovations and demolished historically significant stained glass windows without a permit. The ANC, neighborhood and City government pursued action against this church just as aggressively.

Following the law, including historic preservation laws, is a responsibility of all property owners who choose to purchase or own property in a historic district, regardless of their racial or ethnic background.

Anonymous said...

Liberals instinctively embrace dilapidated hovels. They claim to be "progressive" and never like to promote the past... unless it means preserving blight.

Anonymous said...

I am a long-time, faithful member of my church (not the church in question). We too have problems with parking on Sundays because EVERYBODY drives, including those that live walking distance from the church. So I understand the needs of this congregation to fix the problem and get cars off the street.

That said, I am a proponent of following the law, in this case the historic preservation law. Of course the church asked for an exception (don't beat them up for that!). But now that it is clear that the exception will not be granted, the church must decide to bite the bullet, restore these buildings and putthem to good use or sell them to someone who can restore them. Historic proprties are all around us and it's important to preserve them.

If they sell, maybe the church can use those funds for construction of some kind of underground parking? Who knows?

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