Posts about Lanier Heights
During the debate and vote over the Chevy Chase historic district, many district opponents warned that HPRB could legally ignore community wishes and designate the district despite opposition. Since HPRB is made up of preservationists, some wondered whether they would really respect community opinion. And Marc Fisher, never a moderate on historic preservation issues, wrote that "the preservation review board has the right to overrule residents' desires."
The vague process (and press coverage) triggered even more hysteria in Lanier Heights (the residential area north of Columbia Road and east of Adams Mill in Adams Morgan), where historic district supporters have begun a survey of properties with an eye toward a future historic district. Upon learning this, some neighbors worried that preservationists were trying to designate their neighborhood in secret. While largely unfounded (neighbors would have ample warning once proponents actually assembled an application), these concerns triggered a panicked discussion on the neighborhood email list, followed by a community forum on the subject.
After the initial Chevy Chase concerns surfaced, Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced a bill mandating a vote for any new district, but with a high bar. Under her proposal, if over 50% of property owners affirmatively objected to a new district, HPRB would not be able to designate it or consider it again for three years. In Chevy Chase, only 51% of property owners even voted, with 77% of those opposing the district, meaning only about 42% of property owners had objected.
While HPO assured residents that it would not move forward on a new district with that level of opposition, and Historic Chevy Chase quickly withdrew their application, Cheh's standard would still not have kicked in and HPO could still have exercised their discretion on this district. Nevertheless, to head off legislative action in advance of tomorrow's public hearing, HPO has started writing new regulations to clarify this process.
According to a rough outline HPRB will consider today, HPO will "make explicit the Board's expectation of broad community support for proposed historic districts," with the applicant required to demonstrate community support and document the public outreach they conducted. The new rules will clarify that "property owners may concur in or object to the listing of a proposed historic district" and require HPO to "tally" owner objections. Finally, HPO will "establish procedures to ... resolve majority owner objection to a proposed historic district, or a Board finding of insufficient support for the proposal absent majority objection."
This is a good start, and these regulations sound like they will have more nuance than the Cheh bill. If anything, this puts an even greater burden on new districts than the bill would.
Clearly, HPO is trying to alleviate residents' fears that HPRB will simply designate their neighborhoods without public participation. To succeed, they must ensure the regulations are very clear. If the "procedures to resolve insufficient support" keep the criteria vague and still leave the decision entirely up to HPRB, opponents can continue to argue that residents don't have a real voice.
Historic Chevy Chase DC, the organization advocating for a historic district in Chevy Chase, plans to respect the results of the ANC's poll and not apply for historic designation. From their statement:
"Historic Chevy Chase DC ... understands the prevailing sentiment of the community with regard to establishing a historic district. Accordingly, we have decided not to submit the nomination of Chevy Chase DC as a historic district to the Historic Preservation Review Board.This will likely slow or stop efforts to designate Lanier Heights, the area north of Columbia Road between Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant. Some residents have raised similar objections as in Chevy Chase.
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