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Preservation problems: predictability and pellucidity

The latest historic preservation plan essentially concludes that people don't trust historic preservation in DC because they don't know enough about it, and recommends that staff and advocates push harder to persuade people of preservation's positive effects.

Photo by JosephLeonardo on Flickr.

As I argued yesterday, that's not preservation's primary problem. Rather, it awkwardly absorbed many resident desires to shape development, from laudatory ones like wanting buildings to engage the street and eschew vinyl pop-ups to the too-common impulse to simply block any buildings that are even slightly tall.

Preservation needs to confront these questions of what it should and shouldn't restrict and what kinds of outcomes it's looking for. Meanwhile, it can take some immediate steps to define much clearer rules, make preservation decisions more predictable, and let people to see how projects have evolved through the process.

We need pictures!

The Historic Preservation Office (HPO) is right that people aren't aware of all of the positive effects of their review on development. One big step they could take to improve transparency (or, after using a thesaurus to find a word starting with 'p,' pellucidity) is to put images of the proposed buildings online.

Right now, you can access staff reports online, which go into ornate detail about the building. Take this paragraph about the project at 13th and U:

The composition has been organized with three vertically-oriented towers so that it doesn't look squat or horizontal; the corner balconies and paired windows help reinforce the vertical emphasis. The rhythm and proportions of fenestration on the residential floors is consistent with historic apartment buildings, while the first floor is designed and articulated to reinforce the street's pedestrian scale and retail character.
That's great, but can you really picture the building based on that description? As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and in the case of architecture, maybe many thousands. It's really almost impossible to understand what they're talking about without a picture:

I was able to post that picture because this developer put renderings online when they presented them to ANC 1B, but many don't. The preservation office isn't making their decisions based on prose, but on sketches.

Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) members get many pages of drawings before their meetings. These are almost always, if not always, just print-outs from the architect's computers. It shouldn't be hard to have the architect submit electronic files and put them online.

The DC Office of Zoning recently deployed a nice system that lets you search for a zoning case and see all of the submissions, both textual and graphical, as PDFs. Why not the same for historic preservation, or even work with OZ and use the same system?

Often, I hear about buildings where the board seemed to make the right decision, or where a project improved based on staff review. It would be great to run posts about those. With pictures, it would become far more feasible.

This should be a top priority for the office. I didn't see it in the plan.

We need information earlier!

When a project appears on the HPRB agenda, it's actually fairly late in the design review process. The property owner has usually shown the design to the staff and gotten considerable feedback already.

Often the staff makes designs better through this consultation. (Sometimes they make it worse.) If they want people to see the positive effects of preservation review, the next step should be to peel back the curtain on this somewhat.

It starts with a property owner submitting a permit application. Post those online, and then post the designs at each step along the way. Residents could see a slideshow of how a project has evolved, hopefully for the better, through the process from start to finish.

Maybe property owners don't want people to know about their plans until they are farther along, though it's not clear the government should be in the business of catering to that desire for secrecy. If there is a reason to maintain some silence, then perhaps the office can post all of the original and intermediate renderings once a project reaches the point of becoming public, such as going on the HPRB agenda or having a zoning hearing.

Create clear guidelines to define "compatibility"

The other major direction for the preservation office to pursue is making its decisions less apparently subjective. Right now, staff reports seem to pull aesthetic judgments out of thin air, and then the board either agrees or disagrees.

Since it's made up of architects, historians, and archaeologists rather than lawyers, most of the comments on the board involve statements like "I like the detailing" or "I think it's too tall."

Preservation should not be about what people "like." It's technically about what is "compatible," and an important, yet mostly absent, step is to define, ahead of time and clearly, what "compatible" means.

DC has some design guidelines. They are extremely vague and quite out of date. For instance, the document on additions to historic buildings says:

a contrasting rear addition may be acceptable if it is not visible from a public street or alley and when it does not destroy existing character-defining details, ornamentation and materials of a rear elevation. A new rear addition that can be seen from a public street or alley should be compatible with the design of the rear elevation of the existing building. If the new addition is not visible from the street or alley, a less compatibly designed addition may be acceptable.
That's fairly clear, but isn't the preservation office's practice in much of the city. I live in the Dupont Circle historic district and am a member of the Dupont Circle Conservancy. We discuss many rear additions, and at least in Dupont, the Conservancy's policy, and HPO's policy, has been that rear additions of any type are fine as long as they're not visible directly from the street. You wouldn't know that from reading the guidelines.

If the rules are different among historic districts, then the guidelines need to say so.

The guidelines on new construction in historic districts say:

Typically, if a new building is more than one story higher or lower than existing buildings that are all the same height, it will be out of character. On the other hand, a new building built in a street of existing buildings of varied heights may be more than one story higher or lower than its immediate neighbors and still be compatible.
Sounds like on a street like U Street, a building like that 8-story apartment building should have been a no-brainer. Anyone on the board saying it was too tall was clearly ignoring the written guidelines—except that the guidelines are widely ignored and out of date.

Guidelines use nonspecific, hand-drawn sketches.

The answer is simple. Write newer, much clearer guidelines. That would let property owners figure out for themselves fairly well what is likely to get approved or rejected. What you can build on your property shouldn't depend on the whims of the preservation official, but rather have a firm basis in the code with officials only interpreting the guidelines and applying them to the specifics of a case.

Guidelines would also give residents and leaders a chance to actually debate what kinds of restrictions there should be. Each historic restriction also has a consequent impact on the city's ability to house more people, economic growth, the tax base and more.

We need a balance, but right now that balancing happens almost entirely behind the scenes, in the minds of HPO staff, who then crank out a report that recommends for or against a project purely on historical grounds. Let people debate whether or not a historic guideline is a good idea, not just on the basis of "compatibility" but on its total effect on the city.

Cite the guidelines in reports and decisions

Then, when crafting staff reports on projects, cite each recommendation to a guideline. Say that the building needs to have more of a setback? Then refer to a guideline that says this. If there's no guideline to that effect, then it's not incompatible. Write a new guideline that defines the incompatibility, and use it for future cases.

Likewise, if HPRB goes against the staff recommendation, it should have to quote guidelines that form the basis for that decision. Don't simply declare that a building ought to look different; point to a written document that other people besides the board would likely interpret as meaning the same thing.

This would make decisions seem less arbitrary. Instead of reading like an aesthetic judgment, a staff report would be interpreting the guidelines in a clear way. Others might disagree with the interpretations at times, but it's not just coming from nowhere.

The Mayor's Agent can also hold HPRB to a more rigorous standard. When the Board of Zoning Adjustment grants a variance or a special exception, it writes a detailed, legalistic set of factual findings and conclusions of law based on the regulations.

HPRB doesn't need to be quite so meticulous, but nor does it get carte blanche to make any judgment unquestioned. In the law, it's actually technically only an advisory body. But it's usually not treated as an advisory body; the staff follows HPRB's rulings as if it's the official arbiter of "compatibility."

In the law, the mayor, who acts through an official known as the Mayor's Agent, can override any HPRB decision. The Mayor's Agent could declare that if HPRB votes to deny a permit, they need to point to some guidelines that justify it, or not have its "advice" given much weight.

A few steps can make a difference

Preservation has many beneficial effects on our built environment. However, it's too opaque and decisions often seem capricious. The preservation office can work to repair preservation's reputation by tackling two problem areas:

First, make sure that people can see what property owners propose and what changes came out of the preservation process. Post online renderings of projects when they first come to HPO, as they evolve through consultation with staff, when they go to HPRB, and the final outcomes.

Second, make sure people can see why those changes came about. Develop detailed and specific guidelines that any property owner could read and understand generally what would and wouldn't go forward. When a case is controversial and goes to the board, make sure staff reports and board decisions then cite these guidelines to ground the decisions in something other than flighty opinion.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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This is such an important point:

"Rather, it awkwardly absorbed many resident desires to shape development, from laudatory ones like wanting buildings to engage the street and eschew vinyl pop-ups to the too-common impulse to simply block any buildings that are even slightly tall."

But I’m not sure that the proposed solutions here really get at the heart of the matter. As others have pointed out in various contexts, there are many desires that various interest groups use historic preservation to pursue.

To cite just a few:

1) Residents that don't want new development because of parking.

2) Genuine historic preservationists that want to save every nail of every house.

3) New urbanists / urban planning people that want to use the historic planning process to advance a new urbanist planning approach.

4) People that do not want their neighbors building a house, perhaps because the construction process would damage their own house. "You're going to put a crack in my foundation" quickly morphs into "The massing is too large" as soon as the aggrieved neighbor finds out about the HP process.

4) Folks that want to have a soft say in the apperance of their neighborhood but are not the preservationist equivalent of religious fundamentalists.

There are three logical policy changes:

1) Make it statutory that considerations around parking, urban planning, land use, etc., cannot be considered as part of the historic preservation process.

2) Allow the creation of historic districts to be something other than a one-way ratchet (as soon as it's a historic district, it's a historic district forever and ever). Allow citizens in the district to vote on whether they want to stay a historic district every, say, ten or fifteen years.

Barring that, to ensure a bit more flexibility, require a super-majority of the HPRB to vote against the ANC's wishes regarding a historic property. The "great weight" that the HPRB is supposed to give ANC's has been butted by the DC Court of Appeals.

3) Bring in "Historic District light." Two models seem like good options. First, allow the ANC to remove "contributing building" status from buildings in historic districts. This could be limited to five a year. Alternatively, allow the ANC to choose what level of historic preservation rigor will be applied to certain properties. In general, we should be putting more decision making power in hyper-local elected hands.

Keep up the good work, David. Historic Preservation does much good but has also become a kind of unaccountable monster.

Let's ensure that HP policy reflects the wishes of the community and not a select band of extremists that spend their time egging each other on and ignoring balanced and nuanced external opinions.


by Hill Resident on Mar 14, 2013 2:23 pm • linkreport

Incidentally, for those of us for whom the word pellucidity is not, for lack of a better word, pellucid, here is the definition from

Pellucid (adj.)

- Admitting maximum passage of light without diffusion or distortion

- Reflecting light evenly from all surfaces

- Easy to understand

by Hill Resident on Mar 14, 2013 2:26 pm • linkreport


One other thing. What is the response of the preservation community to these points that you are making? Have you reached out to them for a response?

I would think that any of the local preservation groups would be happy to talk you and their leadership is easy to identify. I would also think that the HPO staff would be happy to talk and give their side of the story.

I think your criticisms and observations are right on (and I am thrilled to see these issues get raised in such a widely read blog).

But I would be even happier to see the preservationist community --both the city government and the civil society organizations-- be held accountable for responding to them. It seems like there would be two upsides: they may have a perfectly good response; and, the very act of asking them puts pressure on them to adjust policies (at the gov't level) and advocacy (by the various preservation outfits) to address the issues that you are raising.

Keep up the good work!


by Hill Resident on Mar 14, 2013 2:34 pm • linkreport

Hill Resident: I agree that these are not the only things. These were just a few things I thought the staff could and should do now, that aren't about changing the law or HP policies, that I'd like to see in their document.

I think many of the suggestions you make are good ones or at least worthy of more discussion. When I said that preservation has to confront these fundamental issues, that involves having a discussion and considering more far-reaching options like the ones you lay out.

I have talked to some people in the preservation world about this. In fact, some of the ideas come from suggestions that some former HPRB members made. I also participated in a roundtable that I think contributed to the quotations in the report there.

by David Alpert on Mar 14, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

While I agree that there is a lot of historical architecture in DC to preserve, that history sometimes impedes progress without significant need. As an example, several areas of the city have had streetscapes done in which the pedestrian street lights were replaced. However, the lights were replaced with non-LED globe lights that still pollute light into the sky. If we are going through the effort and expense of replacing a whole street of lights, we should have updated the design to address the light pollution issue. I received the following response on the topic mentioning the historic preservation partially preventing an update to address the design flaw.

"Currently, DDOT has over 7500 cast-iron post-tops fitted with high pressure sodium or metal halide fixture and the historic Washington signature globe. This globe disperses light equally in all directions, sending light where it is not needed- into the sky and into residents' windows. The globe has a historic significance to the city and its residents, and it is closely watched and guarded by the historic preservation society, the Commission of Fine Arts, ANC's, commercial Districts BIDS and some of the residents.

DDOT recognizes the negative impact light pollution and light trespass have on the City and its environment and is working hard to resolve it. We have previously tested prismatic globes from three of the leading lighting manufacturers, but none of the globes met the District's standards for preserving the historic look of the Washington Globe while providing the desired illumination and light spread."

The benefits of having "historic" lights especially not in the monument / downtown area, should not have prevented improvements in this area.

by GP Steve on Mar 14, 2013 3:12 pm • linkreport

"Cite the guidelines in reports and decisions."

Likewise, applicants should cite them as well. I observed this in several HP/ARB meetings I attended in a neighboring jurisdiction. The board members were always very good at citing county guidelines and Sec. Interior standards when making decisions. But one time an applicant did a very good presentation and when explaining their project, cited all of the applicable standards and how the various decisions they made applied to them. One of the board members was absolutely giddy because applicants rarely did that, and in this case it helped make the process much smoother when things start off on the right foot.

by spookiness on Mar 14, 2013 3:15 pm • linkreport

I have to say that I don't fully understand Hill Resident's points.

First, I don't understand the reference to new urbanism as a guiding practice in DC. DC is already old urbanism and the point about urban design is urbanity (cf. "L'Enfant and general writings about urban history). New urbanism practices as of themselves aren't really relevant to urban questions in DC. NU is a mostly sub-urban movement anyway, although it has brought renewed attention to urban design principles and urbanism.

Second, solution 1 "make it statutory that..." is already the law. By law, HPRB and HPO can only make decisions bounded by the Preservation Law.

Granted, some individual board members probably don't always vote fully within that--I know that when I've testified in the past on landmark matters I've sometimes pushed the envelope on that score, to further bolster my point, but when you do so, you're always aware that the chair may well comment from the dais that what you're saying is not relevant to the decision making process with regard to DC HP matters. (Yes, that happened to me too.)

Third, "great weight" for ANCs is strictly consultative, review the law. For ANC decisions on HP matters to be made law, then the ANCs would have to follow much stricter procedures wrt due process and the dictates of the HP law than they do.

The biggest reason much of ANC testimonies on HP matters is ruled irrelevant actually has to do with Hill Resident's #1 recommendation. ANCs typically provide testimony on HP matters that is more about parking, land use, zoning, etc., not by the HP law and regulations.

Fourth, the same goes for "HP light" and other recommendations. (DC doesn't have a conservation district status, which I think is ok. That does have a lower level of protection and review.) Since when does an ANC possess the knowledge and due process standards to make decisions on what buildings are contributing and which aren't--these are decisions based on HP laws, studies, etc.?

NOTE that I do think that the current process to deal with HP matters in historic districts is somewhat flawed. Most communities, not DC, set up formal "historic district committees" to make decisions on these matters. The committee members apply/are appointed, have expertise of various sorts, etc.

In DC, typically the local historic preservation group weighs in as do ANCs.

It would probably be better to create a formal HD Committee, that would include members from an ANC and from the historic preservation organization and the "public", that would make recommendations to both the ANC and to the HPO/HPRB.

And it would be based on guidelines.

I think David's post is accurate in that decision making has moved away from the guidelines, but I would argue that mostly it is still bounded by them. Basically decisions are made based on the specifics of the prevailing architectural styles determined to be predominate during the periods of significance for the historic district. These periods define the historicity of the district. When people argue that the decisions are not objective, usually I disagree, because I think it's pretty clear that the HP decisions are made in terms of that. Although yes, the height of buildings is a different question.

WRT the contributing structure thing again, I actually do believe that there are times and places where demolition or building bigger or building new is appropriate (such as the GGW post a few years ago about a corner property in Dupont Circle somewhere).

But judging by the comments on threads here in the past (e.g., the commentary on the proposed impingement of the Tabard Inn by a new construction proposal), I do think a lot of the beliefs about what HP is, what protection is, what HP should be, etc. are flawed.

It makes me very hesitant to say, HP is doing a bad job and we should give it up for the arrogant twit(terers).

by Richard Layman on Mar 14, 2013 4:13 pm • linkreport

Hill Resident:

“2) Allow the creation of historic districts to be something other than a one-way ratchet (as soon as it's a historic district, it's a historic district forever and ever). Allow citizens in the district to vote on whether they want to stay a historic district every, say, ten or fifteen years.”

HPO has been very sensitive to this in recent years. Chevy Chase was not designated a historic district because a majority of home owners within the proposed historic district boundaries objected. There is nothing in the regulations (local or national), to my knowledge, that prevents districts from being de-listed. Individual landmarks and designated historic districts are sometimes de-listed because of a lack of integrity (as defined in the National Historic Preservation Act and its implementing regulations 36 CFR Part 800), typically due to a number of changes within the fabric of the district. I.e., there are existing National Register historic districts in Arlington County that should be reviewed to see if they are still able to convey their historic significance because of a boom in McMansions or incompatible (non-historic, non-sensitive, non-appropriate) additions or alterations. And sometimes that happens and those districts are de-listed. For instance, here is a list of properties in Virginia that have been de-listed:

HPO is also aware of the issues with their design guidelines or lack thereof. In the last few years, they have moved to have design guidelines for specific historic districts, which is a fantastic idea. Fox Hall Village looks a lot different than Georgetown and their design guidelines should be different to reflect that. I’m not sure that it’s an official policy yet, but as a historic district is being considered for designation, the HPO has been working to create design guidelines for those individual districts. If Chevy Chase had design guidelines in advance of the debate about listing as a historic district, they may have felt differently about choosing to have their district listed. They may not have been as restrictive as many home owners feared.

“3) Bring in "Historic District light." Two models seem like good options. First, allow the ANC to remove "contributing building" status from buildings in historic districts. This could be limited to five a year.”

I think this is part of what HPO is talking about regarding the need to educate the public. Every historic district (whether locally designated or listed in the National Register of Historic Places) has a defined period of significance within which buildings either contribute to the significance of the historic district (contributing resources), or they don’t (non-contributing resources). Say a historic district has a period of significance that dates from 1890 to 1939. If a house was constructed within that time period and still retains its historic integrity (which is defined by the National Park Service as the authenticity of a property's historic identity, evidenced by the survival of physical characteristics that existed during the property's prehistoric or historic period. Integrity is composed of seven qualities: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.), then it would be a contributing resource to the historic district. However, a house that was built in 1922 and had a second story put on top and major alterations to the façade that compromise the integrity of the building, would be a non-contributing resource to that historic district. Other non-contributing resources would be those buildings that are located within the boundaries of the historic district but were constructed either pre-1890 or post-1939. In essence, if you don’t have contributing or non-contributing buildings, you don’t have a historic district.

Although from the outside it may seem easy to have a historic district listed, it’s not. There are very specific criteria that an individual property or historic district must meet. It’s not just that it “looks pretty” or has a bunch of old buildings. For the National Register of Historic Places, you can look at them here for guidance on designating historic properties: I would encourage you to look at Bulletins 15A and 16A to start. For DC law, look at the Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978 (as amended):

by ArchHist on Mar 14, 2013 4:32 pm • linkreport

A larger point I would make is that the cost of historic preservation needs to be accounted for somewhere. Right now we act as if it were free, but there's an opportunity cost that we all bear.

Several urbanists have proposed a "preservation budget" to make these costs explicit. So we would decide as a city that no more than X% of the District's building stock can be under historical preservation at any given time; and if you're at that threshold, then if you want to designate one building as historic, you have to undesignate another.

Otherwise there's nothing to prevent lots and lots of completely unremarkable buildings from being designated, which puts a straitjacket on the city, preventing it from growing and adapting organically to new circumstances.

by Herb Caudill on Mar 14, 2013 5:03 pm • linkreport

Herb, personally I think that the "preservation budget" concept proposed by Ed Glaeser is totally wacked. There is no logical justification for picking a number. And only in a couple cities, including DC, is this even an issue.

And Ed Glaeser isn't really thinking about neighborhood preservation or the ultimate ramifications (such as tearing down a block of houses in order to increase the city's density) of such theoretical constructs.

(That being said, his book _Triumph of the City_ is quite good.)

Glaeser and others make the mistake of forgetting what it was like when cities weren't in demand. In reality, in most cities, including DC, historic preservation practices are generally the only long term sustainable urban revitalization strategy that works.

e.g., if you haven't read them, I recommend _Cities Back from the Edge_ and _The Living City_ by Roberta Gratz and _Changing Places_ by Willkie and Moe.

by Richard Layman on Mar 14, 2013 5:28 pm • linkreport

And Ed Glaeser isn't really thinking about neighborhood preservation or the ultimate ramifications (such as tearing down a block of houses in order to increase the city's density) of such theoretical constructs.

Of course he isn't. And that's not the point.

His point is to show that preservation does indeed have a cost. It has a direct cost, and it has an opportunity cost.

In some cases, we go too far. Does the 13th and U building look better now? Sure, I guess. But not because it's shorter. The cost has been a drawn out approvals process and now we get less density than the original proposal on that site.

His proposal is simply one way to put those costs out in the open, so we can make decisions about them.

What about this, instead: instead of an HP limit, we coupled that with a zoning budget. We have some of this with transferable development rights, but for each historicly protected property (or a non-historic property where the development potential is limited by being in a historic district), the preservation reduces the legal entitlement of that site. So, compensate for it by allocating that density elsewhere, as a part of some master budget of zoning allotment.

Even the activists acknowledge the direct costs (since they keep arguing for more tax credits). The idea of a HP budget is to try and get them to acknowldge the opportunity costs, too.

by Alex B. on Mar 14, 2013 6:18 pm • linkreport

ArchHist -- while I understand places like the Fox Hall Village are distinctly different than others, DC's building stock is pretty straightforward and coming up with general guidelines isn't that hard.

For one, while out of print, both Le Droit Park Conserved and Anacostia Conserved, provide some of this discussion. (As do publications by CHRS and the Mount Pleasant group).

But it's why I am a big fan of design guidelines from other communities such as MoCo, Richmond, Philadelphia, and Roanoke:

- , this guide is really really good

- Philly Rowhouse Manual,


The thing I like about MoCo's guidelines is the one page description of each district, and an overview chapter on the architectural history of the county.

2. wrt your comments about what "contributing structure" means, that's the response I have about when people say that decisions aren't made with specific criteria, when in fact they are made in terms of the period(s) of architectural significance as defined for the various
historic districts.

3. You mention the NRHP Bulletins. They are excellent. It's been a long time since I've sat down and read them, but I wish more people would take the time. They educate you pretty fast. And they are very thorough.

by Richard Layman on Mar 14, 2013 9:46 pm • linkreport

Alex B. -- wrt activists agitating for more tax credits, I generally don't, with two exceptions. I think it's reasonable to have tax credits/revolving fund (which would not be monies from taxes) to support renovation-repair for people of limited means. I'd rather it be focused on all people of limited means, rather than limited to specific districts, which is how the law reads now. But you can argue conversely that tying it to place allows the areas deemed most important to be helped the most.

The other is for small commercial buildings. There is a lot of agitation now on the part of the pres. community for a "state" commercial property historic tax credit. There are spurious comparisons made between DC and other jurisdictions, about how we are not competitive without such a credit. E.g., Baltimore, through the state, has one.

OTOH, DC is a very strong real estate market, and with a handful of exceptions, the market value of property is high enough so that property owners will rehabilitate properties without wanting or needing tax credits. Such properties would be the biggest users of tax credits, and I think it would just be the equivalent of corporate welfare.

The exception is for small commercial properties, such as in a commercial district like H Street. Typically, these properties have been disinvested in for decades, and require multi hundreds of thousands of dollars for thorough repair and rehabilitation. Access to this amount of money is not typically present for small property owners. So the properties languish/they expect tenants to pay for the renovation out of their own pocket. So the tenant either pays for this, eventually failing or nothing happens.

This is why places like H Street, Anacostia, Georgia Avenue etc. have/had languished for decades.

But there is cost to participating in the program, and so you need to spend at least $1 million for it to be worthwhile. Most of these types of projects are under that threshold.

So I can see doing a targeted small commercial property tax credit program.

Similarly, a lot of apartment building owners will file for designation, to be able to use the federal tax credit, and I think that's fine. My understanding is that the low income housing tax credit cannot be paired with HP tax credits. So maybe, on affordable housing maintenance grounds, you could provide a supplemental tax credit there too, but that would be available to owners anyway, from DC housing related programs.

by Richard Layman on Mar 15, 2013 6:58 am • linkreport

Sorry, I dissed (left off the link) for the MoCo HP design guidelines:

by Richard Layman on Mar 15, 2013 7:06 am • linkreport

I love the proposed changes.
I'd also add that if the area, historic or not is zoned for a certain height, then take that issue of the review table, it's not up for negotioations. To soften the issue though, I might have graphic guidelines where by if you are putting 8-9 stories next to a 2-4 story row building, then it should dictate cretain belt courses that would make it relate to it's immediate neighbors and appear less tall by secondary cornices, roof structures, and set back penthouses.

Next I would consider rythem and proportions, which in historic neighborhoods tends to be dictated by the loadbearing nature of the masonry walls. Windows would be vertical like a human rather than horizontal like a big screened tv. The rythem of a facade would be similar to the bay dimensions of traditional architecture, so peirs wouldn't be 20-30 feet apart as a maxed out concrete slab office building with ribbon windows, but rather 10-20 feet apart, even though every other peir might not have a structural column behind it.

There are many ways to create clearly laid out rules that would allow potential builders and neighbors to view the process as a community building event rather than a proxy to whether the city should be frozen in amber or whether we can grow sensibly over time. Beware the Ed Glaeser's who advocate the laudable goal of increasing density for a city's vibrancy while avoiding the aesthetic realities of life on the sidewalk that make certain urban experiences a real pleasure.

There's a way of having both if we're not to scared to talk about it. Just because beauty and quality of life are hard to quantify dosen't mean their value should be ignored.

by Thayer-D on Mar 15, 2013 8:56 am • linkreport

Is HPRB subject to any council oversight? If so, could these points be directed to the councilmember with that responsibility? If not, which deputy mayor needs to be contacted?

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 16, 2013 11:18 am • linkreport

It's part of the Office of Planning, so the oversight is with Phil Mendelson. Tommy Wells had oversight of OP between when Kwame Brown took transportation away from him and the most recent set of moves, and many people were hoping he would keep it in the shuffle, but Mendelson took it back.

There's no deputy mayor but this plan is under Harriet Tregoning, director of OP, then Jennifer Steingasser, deputy director for preservation and development review, then David Maloney, head of the historic preservation office.

by David Alpert on Mar 16, 2013 11:28 am • linkreport

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