Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Home sweet home no more?


Photo by Meghan Hess on Flickr.
Residents could lose homes: A landslide in May forced residents to evacuate the Piscataway Hills neighborhood in Prince George's. It would cost $22 million to stabilize the hillside, and the county may choose to dismantle the neighborhood instead. (Post)

Shotgun housing: Is a more than 150 year old "shotgun house" on Capitol Hill a historic treasure or an eyesore? The house's owner wants to tear it down and build a bigger house, and he says that it is structurally unsound. (Post)

Unaffordable housing: More than half of DC's households that rent their homes are paying more than they can afford. 51% pay more than 30% of their income, and 28% pay more than half of their income. (City Paper)

NoRamp for NoMA?: There's an easement so that the Metropolitan Branch Trail can get a ramp to L Street, but the NoMa BID's public space plans would use some of that space and imperil the ramp; the city seems to be going along. (TheWashCycle)

Need more human enforcement: Pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike say that police should enforce laws for all road users. They say police should put more officers on the street enforcing laws and not just rely on traffic cameras. (Post)

Parking problems in the future?: Plans to build a no-parking building on H Street, whose residents won't be eligible for residential parking stickers, gets the go-ahead, but Muriel Bowser worries residents will just lobby for RPP stickers later. (District Source)

Living up to his name: Prominent early Facebook backer Sean Parker is bankrolling a ballot initiative in San Francisco to prohibit Sunday parking meters, limit new meters, and expand parking garages. (Streetsblog)

Fund is temporarily trusty again: The House approved a temporary fix for the Highway Trust Fund, adding $11 billion that will string it along until next May. Democrats criticized Congress' inability to pass a longer-term bill; conservatives and liberals criticized the accounting gimmicks involved. (NYT)

And...: Pedro Ribeiro, Mayor Gray's spokesman, is stepping down. (Post) ... Baltimore has a housing voucher system that actually works. (Next City) ... Montgomery County is coming for your illegal signs. (Gazette) ... This parking sign makes sense. (Wired)

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David Koch is a native of Silver Spring. He first discovered his love of transportation and planning through Greater Greater Washington and Just Up The Pike. He has a planning degree from Rutgers University and is a planner with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. You might see him on his bike around Columbia Heights. 

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Well, if you believe that building more housing means more affordable housing, the FPI study should prove you wrong:

Since 2000, 45,000 new "high cost" (more than 1500 rent) built.

Same number of midcost (750 to 1500)

And a reduction in low cost units form 70K to 34K.

Here is the real problem:

"he lowest-income 40 percent of DC households did not see a statistically significant change in income between 2000 and 2010. (See Table 1.) Incomes have risen significantly for those in the top three income quintiles, though not as much as housing costs. From 2000 to 2010, for those in the fourth and fifth income quintile, incomes have risen about one-fourth."

Building more housing isn't going to solve that.

by charlie on Jul 16, 2014 9:12 am • linkreport

Without some financial assistance to the property owner, the historic preservation community is essentially bankrupting this property owner in order to "preserve" what is in this instance a marginal property. The shotgun housing type is not a particularly good example of its type, nor is this type representative of working class housing in the 19th century in DC. It is in other cities, like St. Louis, Memphis or New Orleans, and such efforts might be appropriate there. My own mother, in fact, grew up in one. Preserving this property adds little to the historic fabric of DC, especially in the absence of any money to improve it. No visitor walks by and thinks anything more than, "this is a dump", and that is how it will stay, since no private owner can afford to do anything this the property with this structure.

by Crickey7 on Jul 16, 2014 9:18 am • linkreport

Building more housing doesnt mean more affordable housing, the same way that skipping dessert doesnt mean you will become thin - if you keep eating too much anyway, and exercise too little. but skipping dessert will make you thinner you would otherwise be.

And changing the income distribution, though it may well be desirable, will not enable more people to live in the metros most in demand.

The cost of having fewer people in those metros, and more in other metros, is not trivial.

http://www.vox.com/2014/7/15/5901041/nimbys-are-costing-the-us-economy-billions?utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=mattyglesias&utm_content=tuesday

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 16, 2014 9:18 am • linkreport

Charlie, except when the new housing isn't going to house the top 3 income quintiles. And btw housing supply isn't a solution to the bottom quintile anyway, that lowest income group will always need some assistance in the form of subsidization.

But yes, if you address the LACK of supply, and the amount it costs to provide that supply (arbitrarily kept low due to density and zoning limits) then the competition for new apartments and vacancy in those units increase which means prices come down.

Tysons is showing this working right now the entry into the market of 3 separate high rise apartments forced significant price decreases on all 3 in order to get occupants. This happens on a region wide basis too, if there are options in Tysons or Alexandria that save $900 per month vs Arlington or DC, then that is going to start weighing in on Arlington and DC pricing.

The problem is, we see vacancy as some horrible thing, when it is the HEALTHIEST thing. We need vacancy in offices so small businesses can afford spaces and the same for apartments and housing.

by Navid Roshan on Jul 16, 2014 9:22 am • linkreport

More than half of DC's households that rent their homes are paying more than they can afford. 51% pay more than 30% of their income, and 28% pay more than half of their income.

Stop building luxury condos, start building places that poor and average people can afford.

Muriel Bowser worries residents will just lobby for RPP stickers later.

As is their good right. Since when do politicians oppose citizens using their democratic right to petition the government? Bowser for mayor!

This parking sign makes sense.

It almost does. There should be a legend explaining what the red and green mean. And It should be made legible for color blink.

I prefer a schedule with simple instructions. Problem is that the number of permutation is rather high. At each time you need to indicate:
* Can you park: Yes/no
* Do you have to pay: Free/Pay
* Is there a time-limit: 2h

by Jasper on Jul 16, 2014 9:22 am • linkreport

@Navid; but you see that is exactly the problem in DC -- how to provide for the bottom third. You can rest assured they are not going out to Tysons.

Bottom income of the botton 20% is 9000. Next 20% is 30K.

Assuming no taxes, that means building housing that would cost about 250 to 350 a month in rent. And supply doesn't get you there.

by charlie on Jul 16, 2014 9:27 am • linkreport

People always say DC housing is so expensive and it is, but I point out that I save hundreds of dollars a month by not adding a car. But yeah there is a premium for living somewhere interesting. The luxury condo effect (at the end of the day there is finite demand for that) is pretty localized too, yeah it pushes up prices in Logan and U St but I don't think it's affecting prices in Brookland or Takoma very much. Obviously more housing overall of all types with transit access would be a good thing.

by BTA on Jul 16, 2014 9:33 am • linkreport

Re: Historical shotgun house - one option is to move it to another location, such as a historical village, if one exists.

by DaveG on Jul 16, 2014 9:34 am • linkreport

"@Navid; but you see that is exactly the problem in DC -- how to provide for the bottom third. You can rest assured they are not going out to Tysons. "

NoVa is far more than Tysons. I don't have the income figures, but there are certainly people with incomes in that range living in market rate housing in Fairfax County. Mostly with multiple breadwinners sharing modest sized apartments in 50 year old low rises. From Merrifield to Annandale to Herndon to Springfield to the Rte 1 corridor.

The more new housing there is, the cheaper those places will be (via multiple steps of filtering)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 16, 2014 9:37 am • linkreport

Bowser said she is worried several owners down the line (after the units are sold once or twice) may come back to the council demanding parking since they pay taxes that funds street parking.

Well, there is a simple solution to that - don't subsidize street parking with general tax dollars.

Or, perhaps it would be more politically feasible to create some sort of a property tax discount equivalent to the cost of maintaining the appropriate number of spaces for owners of these units. I'm sure it would be an exceptionally small amount of revenue loss, and remove the argument that future residents might have.

by Ross on Jul 16, 2014 9:41 am • linkreport

Tear down the shotgun. It was ugly in 1853 and it is ugly today.

by kob on Jul 16, 2014 9:42 am • linkreport

@y AWalkerInTheCity ; those are household incomes BTW. Not individuals.

by charlie on Jul 16, 2014 9:45 am • linkreport

Jasper, there are more current versions in the article that display the information better.

by selxic on Jul 16, 2014 9:51 am • linkreport

I understand. In Fairfax you got day laborers who do not have the incomes someone employed full time at minimum wage would who share housing with other unrelated people, sometimes multiple individuals to a unit, sometimes multiple families to a unit. I am not sure if they are considered one household for data purposes.

I suppose its possible that with say, for earners in an apt, each making 10k a year, those FFX households have "household" income of 40k. They are certainly still quite poor though.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 16, 2014 9:53 am • linkreport

I should have previewed before that last image...

Hopefully the iterations can be seen now.

by selxic on Jul 16, 2014 9:58 am • linkreport

re: parking. Why build parking when so many older buildings have none? And why discriminate against those who would rent in a new building vs. an older one by refusing them a parking permit? The lack of parking is not an issue. If you like the neighborhood that much, you will adjust your life style accordingly, and retailers will follow suit.

by Thayer-D on Jul 16, 2014 10:12 am • linkreport

re: Human enforcement of traffic and parking laws.

In one Harlem district, there were fewer than 50 speeding citations in a month by the police. A speed camera got that many in fewer than 12 hours.

Lesson: Human enforcement gives enormous latitude to the police. That is fine as long as they are relatively impartial. Unfortunately, the police seem to be more generous to cars than other modes.

by SJE on Jul 16, 2014 10:15 am • linkreport

Probably most bang for your buck would be retrofitting parts of the suburb for TOD.

by BTA on Jul 16, 2014 10:17 am • linkreport

@Crickey7 "nor is this type representative of working class housing in the 19th century in DC"

That's actually not true. The fact is that only about two are left in the city (the other is near congress heights), which is why people have seen the import in this structure. After reading the Post story, it seems like the owner bought the property expecting to do an easy tear-down in 1985, without fully realizing the implications of the Historic District protection (blame his realtor, I guess?). Since then, it seems like he's been letting the house rot so that he can finally do that 30 years later by saying "but it's structurally unsound." That probably wasn't true in 1985, which is kind of crappy. I mean, it's easy to say now that it's falling down and stuff, but he could have just sold it after a year or two and maybe someone would have put the money into it them to stabilize it. For a blog that's always talking about how diverse housing types are good for the city, there's a lot of hate for this place.

by Daniel on Jul 16, 2014 10:17 am • linkreport

It's getting to be really ridiculous the type of buildings that preservationists demand to be preserved. This "house" not only has zero historical significance, but is a huge eyesore.

How it got built there in the first place is a wonder. Shotgun houses were built almost exclusively in the South for the working class. Rowhomes were the most popular popular forms of housing in DC, Baltimore, and other cities in the Northeast.

So, if the preservationists love the style so much they can book a trip to tour Richmond, Memphis, Charlotte, Atlanta, New Orleans, and wherever else down South to get their shotgun house fix.

by K Street on Jul 16, 2014 10:20 am • linkreport

K Street

I think the point of preservation is to try to preserve many different histories and voices, not just those of say, the white gentry. Vernacular architectural types like this may sometimes be eyesores as you say, but the "wonder" of why it was built in D.C. is what makes it so interesting and important. Even back then, not everyone could afford a rowhouse, and the history of those people matters just as much as the history of their more wealthy (if still working-class) neighbors. Especially in a city so known for having a high percentage of non-native residents, it's important for D.C. to keep tangible connections to its past, for those of us from here to relate back to, and for those of us who aren't to learn about the full history of this place.

Granted, maybe in this case preservation isn't the answer, I don't know. But in general, that's where the impulse to preserve "different" or seemingly "less-worthy" places comes from.

by Daniel on Jul 16, 2014 10:33 am • linkreport

No, the shotgun shack was not a common housing type here. And no, this was not a good example. Perhaps it was at some point (though I deem that unlikely), but that point is long, long ago in its history.

This is what representative examples look like.
http://www.historic-restorations.com/a-blast-from-the-past-shotgun-houses

Making historic preservation into a fetish only makes preservationists look bad.

by Crickey7 on Jul 16, 2014 10:33 am • linkreport

For a better history of the Shotgun House on Capitol Hill, see this 2002 City Paper story on it. The core issues haven't changed much.

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/articles/24891/dwelling-in-the-past

by Alex B. on Jul 16, 2014 10:39 am • linkreport

@ Selxic: That last version is much better. However, it does not indicate when you need to pay to park. You'd have to find a modification for that. Perhaps paid parking can be indicated with a $ sign or something.

The paid parking or not thing is my biggest frustration. I can usually figure out whether I can park or not, but figuring out whether you have to pay is a disaster.

by Jasper on Jul 16, 2014 10:43 am • linkreport

More info on the shotgun house:

http://capitolhillcorner.org/2014/07/13/the-past-week-and-the-week-ahead-fragers-update-and-anc-elections/

by Hill Feller on Jul 16, 2014 10:43 am • linkreport

@ Daniel:the owner bought the property expecting to do an easy tear-down in 1985, without fully realizing the implications of the Historic District protection (blame his realtor, I guess?). Since then, it seems like he's been letting the house rot so that he can finally do that 30 years later by saying "but it's structurally unsound." That probably wasn't true in 1985, which is kind of crappy.

Why? What makes people think they can tell other people what to do with their property. Why does it take 30 years for a preservation committee to figure its shit out? If the owner does not want to keep the structure, why maintain it?

by Jasper on Jul 16, 2014 10:48 am • linkreport

@Thayer-D:

I don't really understand your discrimination point. Off-street parking minimums exist so that new projects internalize costs like parking. When parking requirements are reduced or eliminated, without more, parking costs are externalized, and are especially burdensome in areas where little or no street parking exists already. The argument that proponents of parking-less or -lite projects make is two-fold: it will encourage transit use and by reducing costs for developers, it will result in cheaper rents or unit purchase prices. So, if parking-less or -lite projects do not have access to RPP, it really serves to encourage transit use over car ownership. Moreover, because renters/purchasers are getting a distinct benefit -- lower rents or purchase prices than in a project with off-street spots -- any burden of no RPP elgibility is more than offset by the economic benefit they are receiving. Finally, prospective renters/purchasers should have full knowledge that they will not be eligible for RPP.

by Sally on Jul 16, 2014 10:49 am • linkreport

For what it's worth, here is the Restoration Society's testimony on the shotgun house. Take with a grain of salt...

http://chrs.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/CHRS1229EStSEhpLt06182014.pdf

by Hill Feller on Jul 16, 2014 10:59 am • linkreport

Some more parking signs:

parking sign
parking sign
parking sign
parking sign

And we need signs like this as well in DC:

parking sign

by Jasper on Jul 16, 2014 11:02 am • linkreport

Off-street parking minimums exist so that new projects internalize costs like parking.

If this is the rationale, then the zoning code is exceedingly poorly designed to actually accomplish the task.

The effect of parking requirements does not internalize the cost of parking, nor does it manage existing on-street parking spaces. It fails to accomplish these purported goals, and in the process of failing at these tasks it also imposes a number of dramatic unintended consequences, like inducing more car traffic, driving up the cost of housing, forcing valuable urban land to be used for car storage rather than more productive uses.

If we want to internalize the costs of new parking demand, then let's talk about policies that will actually accomplish that goal - zoning code requirements for parking in new buildings will not (and has not) accomplished that task.

by Alex B. on Jul 16, 2014 11:04 am • linkreport

RE: Parking Signs

I'll say what I said last time this same design came up (in January). It 'works' for two reasons: first is that the designer picks simple situations to display, second is that you are looking at a comparison of the new and old signs - seeing the graphics and the words provides more information.

Once you move into even more complicated parking situations - no parking on school days, alternate side street sweeping certain days during certain times of the year, etc. you run into issues. The graphics alone cannot really explain those without the complex words accompanying them.

by MLD on Jul 16, 2014 11:04 am • linkreport

@Daniel: After reading the Post story, it seems like the owner bought the property expecting to do an easy tear-down in 1985, without fully realizing the implications of the Historic District protection (blame his realtor, I guess?). Since then, it seems like he's been letting the house rot so that he can finally do that 30 years later by saying "but it's structurally unsound." That probably wasn't true in 1985, which is kind of crappy.

I'd say our approach to historic preservation is pretty crappy if this is what it's come to: property owner has to let this house fall into such disrepair that it literally falls down so he can finally realize the value of his property.

by Matt on Jul 16, 2014 11:10 am • linkreport

Regardless of who is right/wrong/etc., the result of the dispute between CHRS and the shotgun house owner has been to blight the eastern end of Capitol Hill and to create a gap in the neighborhood's natural commercial corridor. On the south side of the 1200 block of E Street SE, we have an abandoned house falling into disrepair. And, even worse, more than half of the north side of the 1200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE is comprised of weedy empty lots sitting behind derelict fences. Shame on the owner for sitting on this property for a generation. Shame on CHRS for being so resistant to compromise and change that an entire block of the neighborhood's main commercial corridor remains home to weedy empty lots that blight the neighborhood and could be put to much better use. As I remember the dispute back in the 90s and 00s, CHRS did not want any development on this site. They wanted a restored shotgun shack sitting in the middle of an otherwise half-empty block. How is that good for the neighborhood? Why can't we restore the shotgun shack and build multistory mixed-use building fronting Pennsylvania Avenue? Seems like a good compromise unless you are opposed to anything being built on the site apart from single-family homes, which makes almost as much sense at that location as leaving the lots empty.

by rg on Jul 16, 2014 11:28 am • linkreport

Crickey7,

I wouldn't call it a "fetish" to recognize the regionally-specific differences in a vernacular housing type (as regional variations are one of the most basic ways to break any style into typologies), but thank you for the personal attack nonetheless. Those are, indeed, excellent examples of shotgun houses from places that are not Washington. How the architecture of Louisiana is relevant to this discussion is beyond me though.

Jasper,

In this case, and in any other case where you buy a property in a historic district, The Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978 (http://planning.dc.gov/DC/Planning/Historic+Preservation/Maps+and+Information/Policies+and+Procedures/DC+Preservation+Regulations) is "why people think they can tell other people what to do with their property," as you say. Whether it's due to zoning, easements from the city, or historic district legislation, no one really has pure property rights the way they are often though of.

In general, as a prospective buyer, one should really make sure they know the regulations on the property before they buy it. And I don't mean that in a snarky way at all, but really, in a scenario where you are buying a place just to tear it down, make sure you'll actually be able to before you sign.

Also, just because the owner doesn't want the property/is having buyer's remorse, doesn't make it right to leave a blight in the neighborhood for almost 30 years. That seems kind of un-neighborly to me. If I bought a car and decided that I hated it, it'd be pretty rude to just leave it rotting and rusting on the street instead of selling it while it still runs to someone who maybe actually wants it.

Matt,

Regulations exist to help preserve other values that land has, not just financial value. I know it's heresy, but money really isn't always the most important thing, even when it comes to real property. If it were, someone would have filled in the Grand Canyon with asphalt and built a Super-Target on it by now (I know that's hyperbole, but I could also see it happen in a society where NOTHING was considered more valuable than developing a piece of land). In 1985, there was plenty of land in D.C. that was develop-able, and not in a historic district, and plenty of other property-related fortunes to be made, so I can't feel too too bad for this guy (after reading the 2002 city paper story that Alex B linked to earlier).

Just to be clear, in general I could see how, especially back in 1985, the CHRS would maybe have been not purely motivated by their interest in preserving this working-class vernacular housing type (the preservation movement wasn't exactly known for its multivocality and diversity back then), so, fair enough to people who think they were/are just being obstructionist. I don't know. But I still think that, divorced from the politics of Capitol Hill, this structure provides a tangible connection to a past that is underrepresented in Washington, and it stinks that at this point, it's probably too late to do anything about preserving it. For the record, I also think that requiring a reconstruction (CHRS's second choice, apparently) would be pretty silly, if the building does have to be razed. A far better use of money would be an archaeological survey or something.

by Daniel on Jul 16, 2014 11:29 am • linkreport

@ Alex B [Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

Please elaborate on your ideas about how to best accomplish this goal, and why the zoning code is not the place to accomplish that task.

by fongfong on Jul 16, 2014 11:43 am • linkreport

@Daniel:

You need standards. Old is not a standard, it's a description. It is the very lack of standards that has made development in historic districts in DC the kind of byzantine process that serves no one, as so sadly embodied in this story.

It matters that this house is not representative of working class housing in DC. Accordingly, to preserve it serves no purpose in telling the history of DC, other than that were houses back then. You don't need to blight a neighborhood for a generation to do that.

by Crickey7 on Jul 16, 2014 12:07 pm • linkreport

Preserving buildings of particular historic importance I understand. Preserving good examples of a particular building typology I understand. But preserving every style, whether or not it is particularly meaningful sounds like you are trying to live in the past.

by BTA on Jul 16, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

DC tried to force the owner of the shotgun house to fix it. In this they failed. Then they tried to punish them for demolishing it through neglect. In this they have had some modes success. But the tools just aren't there to save it or to properly punish the owner. So let's just move on. I think any chance of a moral hazard has, after this long war of attrition, been removed.

by David C on Jul 16, 2014 12:36 pm • linkreport

Please elaborate on your ideas about how to best accomplish this goal, and why the zoning code is not the place to accomplish that task.

Since part of your comment got deleted, I'm not sure of the full context, but here goes:

If the goal is to reduce spillover, the solution has to address parking behavior, not parking supply. The zoning code fails to do this because a) it only addresses new buildings, and b) does not address management of parking assets (pricing, operations, permits, etc), it only says that you should build X spaces.

What to do instead? Start by removing all parking mandates from the zoning code. They don't work. Recognize that the zoning code is a regulatory tool. It has limits. It is good at regulating some things, and bad at regulating other things. You need the right tool for the job. A hammer isn't gooing to drive a screw for you - you need the right tool.

If the concern is about spillover parking, the concern is really about managing on-street parking. Therefore, the solutions will involve (drumroll please) parking management. There are lots of potential ways to do this; permits, pricing, meters, some combination of all of the above, etc. But this is the only way to actually do it.

Manage on-street parking effectively, and then that will inform the decisions of the builders about what the real benefits of building new off-street parking is; and they'll adjust their expectations accordingly.

by Alex B. on Jul 16, 2014 12:37 pm • linkreport

What makes people think they can tell other people what to do with their property.

Well, I think everyone agrees that owners of property have rights. But most everyone agrees that those rights are not infinite. I can not build a fire hazard on my property because it endangers my neighbors, for example. In between the two extremes is where we all argue. As usual.

by David C on Jul 16, 2014 12:41 pm • linkreport

Also, just because the owner doesn't want the property/is having buyer's remorse, doesn't make it right to leave a blight in the neighborhood for almost 30 years.

Totally agree. Why wasn't the house subject to DC's punitive blighted property tax?

I have no idea whether the building should be designated historic but no building should be allowed to be blighted without paying the proper (and very large) penalty.

by Falls Church on Jul 16, 2014 12:49 pm • linkreport

BTW, I like the idea of a historic home preserve. An area where DC can move historic, but unwanted structures - like the Palisades Sears house a few years ago. They could be worked on by high school students and volunteers and turned into real houses for real people. Probably not cost effective, but it could be a real solution.

by David C on Jul 16, 2014 12:50 pm • linkreport

On Shotgun house

@RG raises the issue of 1200 Penn SE block. The real issue is less the shotgun house itself than the existing adjacent curb cut to the lot it sits on. The shotgun house owner also owns the vacant commercially zoned land on Penn, which has far greater value with this lone access point than without. I'd imagine it's harder to sell the PA Ave lot when it comes with a historic headache thrown into the deal as the driveway sits on the lot for the shotgun house.

by anon_1 on Jul 16, 2014 1:00 pm • linkreport

If a property owner imposes costs, including negative externalities, on nearby property owners, that certainly is an appropriate use of the police power. If a municipality wants to create a public benefit for all, it can either choose to pay affected property owners, or arguably they could impose costs on property owners as a whole, though not to the extent that it makes these properties uneconomical. What is not appropriate is to create a public benefit for all, and expect isolated, individual property owners to incur all the costs at a level that make the properties uneconomical.

by Crickey7 on Jul 16, 2014 1:00 pm • linkreport

@David C.

There's a nice model for the historic home preserve in the open air museum. See Seurasaari in Helsinki, Skansen in Stockholm, and Greenfield Village in Michigan.

Of course, an inhabited preserve is a different and interesting idea in its own right.

by David R. on Jul 16, 2014 1:08 pm • linkreport

Historic landmark preserve?

http://theinfosphere.org/images/4/45/Monument_Beach_2.jpg

by MLD on Jul 16, 2014 1:13 pm • linkreport

@Daniel

Nicely put.

+1

by alurin on Jul 16, 2014 1:25 pm • linkreport

What is not appropriate is to create a public benefit for all, and expect isolated, individual property owners to incur all the costs at a level that make the properties uneconomical

Perhaps, but I'm not entirely sure this property was made uneconomical. The current owner may have, because he was unaware of the historical requirements of the property, paid too much for the property. But that's really his fault.

Maybe there was no way, even if bought for $1, to bring the home up to code enough to allow the owner to rent or sell it at a profit. If so, then the DC law really needs a way to address that.

But it is more likely that the owner saw this house as an impediment to an enormous payday (and if so, he's likely right). With it the land was of little value, without it, the land was very valuable. So he let it fall apart.So the public benefit didn't make the land uneconomical. It just reduced the value of the land. We do that all the time, and it is often entirely appropriate.

by David C on Jul 16, 2014 1:28 pm • linkreport

As the City Paper article points out, he bought before the Historic District was established. So much for that argument. It's debatable there is in fact any economic use. What is would cost to restore the property, plus real estate taxes, would likely not result in rent covering the expenses. Similar for selling. They call them shotgun "shacks" for a reason. I've been in several, and they were made to be cheap housing.

The added irony is that in order to make the house code-compliant, it might bear only a passing resemblance to the original house--which,as I pointed out, was essentially always an outlier stylistically in the neighborhood. That is the point at which historic preservation is unsupportable and a fetish.

by Crickey7 on Jul 16, 2014 2:11 pm • linkreport

Turn the old Walter Reed into our own Colonial Williamsburg of DC historical dilapidated structures.

by The Truth™ on Jul 16, 2014 2:22 pm • linkreport

Curb cut? You sure that's not a public alleyway?

by DaveG on Jul 16, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

The owner doesn't want to replace the shogon/shotgun house with a multi-level shipping container house, does he? ;-)

by DaveG on Jul 16, 2014 2:27 pm • linkreport

he bought before the Historic District was established.

Well then, that is different. If the establishment of a historic district or historic preservation laws changes the value of property to the point of giving it a negative value, then the govt needs to come in and make them whole. If, on the other hand, the land has value, then lowered assessments can address that.

If he can't bring the building up to code for a price that will make it economically viable, then the govt should give him a waiver/grandfather him in or subsidize him.

Still, I think this case is an outlier.

by David C on Jul 16, 2014 2:45 pm • linkreport


This has some good info on the adjacent lot (that fronts the 1200 block of PA Ave SE). Looks like Quillian is leasing to Frager's, the hardware store that burned down across the street a few years ago.

http://capitolhillcorner.org/2014/07/13/the-past-week-and-the-week-ahead-fragers-update-and-anc-elections/

by Charlie van Vonderen on Jul 16, 2014 3:06 pm • linkreport

"he bought before the Historic District was established."

Actually, no, he did not, if the WaPo story's purchase year of 1985 is correct (which, who knows because the DC goverment's info seems incorrect (they think he purchased the property on December 25, 1900 (http://geospatial.dcgis.dc.gov/realproperty/ - search for "1229 E STREET SE")). The local designation happened in 1973. But don't take my word for it:

"In 1964, Capitol Hill was identified as a Landmark of the National Capital, and in 1973 was designated an historic district. In 1976, the Capitol Hill Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places."(SOURCE: http://planning.dc.gov/DC/Planning/Historic+Preservation/Maps+and+Information/Landmarks+and+Districts/Historic+District+Brochures/Capitol+Hill+Historic+District+Brochure [see brochure page 28 / PDF page 16, first column).

"the original house--which,as I pointed out, was essentially always an outlier stylistically in the neighborhood." Right, which is why it would be seen as significant. Saying that something is insignificant BECAUSE it's unique seems kind of backward. Imagine, wanting to preserve something that there are FEW examples of instead of preserving one of something that there are MANY examples of. I suppose we should stop protecting endangered species as well, with that kind of thinking.

Anyway, my point is that just because you don't recognize the values that are being considered, doesn't mean that there aren't any standards. You just don't see those standards as having any value, which is fine, but it's quite disrespectful to deride anyone who might disagree as a "fetishist." I don't think it's really fair to act as if anyone who might appreciate different values in a place is just doing it out of blind obstructionism anymore than it would be fair for people to paint any cyclist as a terrorist who wants to take their cars away, or whatever Courtland Milloy said. Remember the whole thing about how we should be building bridges with people with different viewpoints, sheesh.

Also, and I can't stress this part enough, the only person who "blighted a neighborhood for a generation" here is the property owner. The city didn't do that, and I certainly didn't. So if anyone is upset about that, be upset with him.

by Daniel on Jul 16, 2014 4:10 pm • linkreport

@crickey7, David C

My understanding from the City Paper article is that the owner bought the land along Pennsylvania Ave before the historic preservation law was in effect, but didn't buy the shotgun shack until later.

by alexandrian on Jul 16, 2014 4:12 pm • linkreport

According to the City Paper story, he owned the property before stringent development controls went into place and beore his house was made subject to them. If that is not true, it's not true. I don't know either way.

I do like the formulation: if it's not representative, it's unique and should be preserved, and if it's representative, it's an example of the vernacular and should be preserved. One might be forgiven for thinking the game is rigged.

You seem to be taking quite presonally my criticism of a process that does not seem to work. From all evidence, it hasn't preserved this structure. It hasn't helped the neighborhood. If it's served any actual historical values, I can't see it (how does tearing down a "historic" property and replacing it with a look-alike really do that, anyway?

I value historic preservation a lot. That's why it pains me to see it abused in ways that hurts the movement. I harp on the lack of standards in DC historic preservation because it's a real problem the community needs to address.

by Crickey7 on Jul 16, 2014 4:21 pm • linkreport

Thank you for the clarification, alexandrian.

by Crickey7 on Jul 16, 2014 4:22 pm • linkreport

Curb cut? You sure that's not a public alleyway?

It most certainly is not a public alleyway. The city may claim that driveways lie on public land, but there is no egress for an alley

@alexandrian is correct. 1985 is well after the CH Historic District went into effect (1976). the 1200 block was razed ahead of this designation by the same current owner almost 2 decades before he acquired the shotgun house.

by anon_1 on Jul 16, 2014 4:25 pm • linkreport

"You seem to be taking quite presonally my criticism of a process that does not seem to work. From all evidence, it hasn't preserved this structure. It hasn't helped the neighborhood. If it's served any actual historical values, I can't see it (how does tearing down a "historic" property and replacing it with a look-alike really do that, anyway?"

I have taken it personally, because your responses have seemed fairly dismissive and at least several times, have been directed specifically at my attempts to explain why one MIGHT see this building as having value (not even, mind you, arguing that it SHOULD necessarily be preserved, which I have been fairly non-committal about since I don't know much about it). But I do sincerely appreciate the clarification.

Putting that aside, I agree that the process hasn't worked in this case, but I would (again) blame the owner, as well as a lack of "teeth" for enforcement for that. He's the one who, in order to hopefully one day get his way and avoid following the regulations, has allowed this property to deteriorate over (supposedly) 29 years of ownership. The only way the system could have worked better in this case would have been if the city had been able to enforce the rules better, and had gotten him to at least do routine maintenance at some point during that ownership. Also, I agree that "requiring a reconstruction (CHRS's second choice, apparently) would be pretty silly, if the building does have to be razed," as I mentioned before. That would accomplish very little and further, could destroy any preserved archaeological data in the process during the demolition and rebuilding process. At least we have some common ground there, right? #BridgesBuilt!

by Daniel on Jul 16, 2014 4:45 pm • linkreport

So, the goal is a minimally maintained vacant eyesore? Unless you give economic incentives, that's the best you can hope for. It's can't be habitable without significant investment, and in its current configuration, significant investment isn't feasible.

Not everything can, or should be, preserved. And there are other values to weigh as well, like allowing neighborhoods to evolve organically over time.

by Crickey7 on Jul 16, 2014 5:05 pm • linkreport

It may still be a public alleyway. Most such curb cuts in the L'Enfant City are. I'd hold off on assuming it isn't public.

by DaveG on Jul 16, 2014 5:14 pm • linkreport

It may still be a public alleyway. Most such curb cuts in the L'Enfant City are. I'd hold off on assuming it isn't public.

There are ways to figure this out without blind speculation.

Search for the address on the zoning map: http://zmap.dcoz.dc.gov/

The driveway appears to be part of the property plot.

by MLD on Jul 16, 2014 5:24 pm • linkreport

So, the goal is a minimally maintained vacant eyesore? Unless you give economic incentives, that's the best you can hope for.

Right now that's true. But in 1985 it wasn't necessarily. It's entirely possible that a buyer who paid a reasonable price for the house and spent enough to make it habitable could have turned a profit.

But this owner never wanted to do that. He wanted to knock it down to add the property to his other property and make it all worth much more. That's fine, but he ran afoul of historical preservation laws. So what did he do? He let it fall apart and repeatedly asked to be allowed to knock it down anyway. Which, as someone said, is kind of crappy. It looks like he's going to win. That doesn't make it a victory for property rights.

I would LOVE to see the city come in and use eminent domain to take the house from him. The property has no value becaue the cost of complying with the historical preservation requirements exceed the value of the land with the shotgun house on it, so he'd get nothing. Then the city could restore the house. It would cost a lot of money, but from a spiritual stand point, it would be worth it.

by David C on Jul 16, 2014 8:30 pm • linkreport

OK you appear to be correct in this case but usually those ARE alleyway entrances.

by DaveG on Jul 16, 2014 11:21 pm • linkreport

@Crickey, here's the history of the shotgun house since 1985.

1985: "I just bought this house. Can I tear it down?" "No it's in a historic district, please restore it." "You can't tell me what to do. I'm going to let if fall apart then you'll have to let me tear it down someday."

1988: "Can I tear it down?" "No it's in a historic district, please restore it." "You can't tell me what to do. I'm going to let if fall apart then you'll have to let me tear it down someday."

1991: "Can I tear it down?" "No it's in a historic district, please restore it." "You can't tell me what to do. I'm going to let if fall apart then you'll have to let me tear it down someday."

1994: "Can I tear it down?" "No it's in a historic district, please restore it." "You can't tell me what to do. I'm going to let if fall apart then you'll have to let me tear it down someday."

1997: "Can I tear it down?" "No it's in a historic district, please restore it." "You can't tell me what to do. I'm going to let if fall apart then you'll have to let me tear it down someday."

2000: "Can I tear it down?" "No it's in a historic district, please restore it." "You can't tell me what to do. I'm going to let if fall apart then you'll have to let me tear it down someday."

2003: "Can I tear it down?" "No it's in a historic district, please restore it." "You can't tell me what to do. I'm going to let if fall apart then you'll have to let me tear it down someday."

2006: "Can I tear it down?" "No it's in a historic district, please restore it." "You can't tell me what to do. I'm going to let if fall apart then you'll have to let me tear it down someday."

2009: "Can I tear it down?" "No it's in a historic district, please restore it." "You can't tell me what to do. I'm going to let if fall apart then you'll have to let me tear it down someday."

2014: "Can I tear it down?" "No it's in a historic district, please restore it." "You can't tell me what to do. I'm going to let if fall apart then you'll have to let me tear it down someday."

by crin on Jul 17, 2014 11:34 am • linkreport

And just a couple of doors down from the shotgun at 1211 and 1213 E Street are two even smaller one-story houses that have been maintained and sold a few times over (preumably at a profit, since apparently profiting in real estate is a legal guarantee somehow) since 1983.

by crin on Jul 17, 2014 11:57 am • linkreport


@Crin

Those houses just down the block are brick, attached, and do not sit on enormous lots. The shotgun is wood, fully detached, and sits on an enormous lot.

Furthermore, perhaps (I don't know) those houses have been kept up along and along. But, the shotgun house was derelict the day Quillian bought it.

In other woods, the house has been unprofitable to restore from the day he bought it.

by Andy Beanston on Jul 17, 2014 1:40 pm • linkreport

the house has been unprofitable to restore from the day he bought it.

I don't think we have enough information to know that. I could certainly see a scenario where that is not true. JPI tried to buy his property and planned to restore and expand the shotgun house. They thought it was at least close enough to profitable to negotiate it.

What is certain is that without the shotgun house, the land is worth much much more than with it - especially to someone who owns adjacent land as Quillian does. That's why he wants it knocked down and why he has not restored or maintained it.

We have laws against blight. Quillian has ignored these laws, and played games to get around the higher taxes.

"The house, which Quillian bought in 1987, went on the market by its lonesome in April. Quillian readily admits that it's for sale now to avoid the vacant property tax, which as of this year charges such properties at five times the tax rate for occupied homes."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/01/AR2008080101256.html

This guy is not a victim. The neighborhood is, but not Quillian.

by David C on Jul 17, 2014 2:04 pm • linkreport

Well...the reason JPI was willing to re-build the shotgun house (or whatever they were planning to do with it) is that they were also going to develop the 1200 block of PA Ave and were going to put in some condos behind the shotgun house.

It's note that the shotgun house itself was profitable; it was that the loss on the shotgun house was not enough to make the whole JPI project on the 1200 block combined with the shotgun house unprofitable.

In terms of blight, Quillian has made all of the repairs that the city has required. As for putting the property on the market to avoid taxes, that's not playing games. That's just being smart. Wouldn't you have done the same thing?

It's a tough situation. But, looking at the whole enchilada, I think it's pretty clear that this is the kind of case that the financial hardship clause in historic preservation law was meant to deal with. The HPRB is just eating the bitter harvest of having gutted that and the other safety valves against historic preservation absolutism.

Quillian is no saint but the real villains in this movie are the arrogant and inflexible preservation folks who continue to insist upon imposing their economic fantasy on others.

It's time that the CHRS and the HPRB realized that whatever historic value is lost w/ the shotgun house will be more than made up for in community goodwill. But, like the scorpion stinging the frog, they just can't do it: it's in their nature.

A.B.

by Andy Beanston on Jul 17, 2014 2:17 pm • linkreport

As for putting the property on the market to avoid taxes, that's not playing games. That's just being smart.

Those two are not mutually exclusive. But the options presented to Quillian were. Here's the game. Choosing any option removes all others.

1. Rebuild house or sell it at small profit. Comply with spirit and letter of law.

2. Wait for building to fall down and make enormous profit. Comply with letter of law.

It's possible that option 1 never existed, but I'm skeptical, and no one has put up any evidence that it didn't.

So the problem is obvious. Quillian was never going to choose 1 if he had a reasonable belief that he would eventually get to 2. He had every reason to be inflexible - and he was. That it sat blighted for 30 years is not a byproduct of HPRB's inflexibility it was part of Quillian's business plan.

Smart perhaps, but not good citizenship. The problem with the law is that it never really had a tool to force Quillian to change strategy.

by David C on Jul 17, 2014 2:37 pm • linkreport

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