Tuesday, October 7, 2008

HPRB and BZA process order may be "backwards"

Scott Roberts recently pointed out the possible illogical order of the review process: -

‘Backwards’ HPRB/Zoning Process Reviewed

The Economic Development and Zoning Committee is taking action against a series of procedures that they say DC has backwards. As it stands, someone who wants to develop a property needs to go to the Historic Preservation Review Board first to make sure that their proposed development doesn’t violate any historic restrictions. Then the person goes to the Board of Zoning Adjustment, taking them through a tougher process to determine whether their proposal violates any zoning regulations. And finally, they get approval on any use of public space their proposal may involve.

The committee researched other cities’ systems, and they found that in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston, zoning and permit issues need to be resolved before the local historic commission reviews the plans. They concluded, “We believe that the current system in Washington, DC, would be improved by a change in the order of review. Putting the public space and zoning issues ahead of the historic review would give HPRB the ability to review the project in total in making their decision.”

Commissioner Alberti agreed that it makes sense to reverse the order. “How can HPRB rule on design issues when BZA hasn’t ruled on how much space you can occupy and for what uses, and how can BZA decided how much space you can use without talking to Public Space?” he wondered. “DC is anomalous.”

The commission agreed to send a letter to the mayor and DC Council, per the committee’s recommendation, suggesting that the city restructure its permitting process.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Photographic Link to the Past

Shorpy.com is a photoblog featuring high-definition images from the first half of the 20th century. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a boy who worked in an Alabama coal mine and ironworks in the 1910s. It's a wonderful site for high quality photographs documenting a wide range of elements of Washington D.C.’s history as well as other parts of the nation. One becomes mesmerized and transported in time as you peruse this huge and well constructed gallery! I highly recommend spending a little time here if you have any interest at all in history. (ed)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Georgetown Saves Stable from Destruction

(31st Street between Dumbarton and N Streets)

According to a reliable and well placed source within Washington’s architectural preservation community, this stable (the white one on the left) was nearly destroyed several years ago. Outrage from the Georgetown citizens resulted in “a bonanza of stop work orders,” the demolition ceased after half of the building had been destroyed and the contractor was forced to restore the building to its original configuration. Parenthetically, it was unusual for a Washington D.C. stable to be built facing a main street rather than within an alley.

At a community function several months ago, the editor asked Jack Evans about the July 2008 destruction of the 1863 Historic Landmark protected Civil War stable in Naylor court (1316 rear 9th Street). He said he couldn’t understand why it was allowed to be torn down and that if something like that had ever happened in Georgetown the outcry would be overwhelming. He’s right!

In 1954 when developers threatened to destroy the historic stables and warehouses along the canal in Georgetown, the residents of Foggy Bottom and Georgetown created a coalition to save the properties and succeeded. Today, 54 years later, this area has become a destination landmark. Small businesses – such as Blues Alley - are thriving.

“It may be a jazz world, but it looks like it’s going to be a Blues Alley universe-Blues Alley clubs everywhere, Blues Alley CDs and videos, a Blues Alley clothing collection, and even a Blues Alley crystal decanter.

Washington’s well-known jazz club-which attracts legendary jazz performers such as Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Charlie Byrd and Wynton Marsalis-has signed a $57 million licensing agreement with a group of Japanese investors to open three clubs next year in Japan, according to Blues Alley owner John T. Bunyan.

And other deals with investors in the United States, Germany and Spain are in the works to capitalize on the popular supper club’s name and knack for booking jazz …”

(Washington Post, December 13th 1989)


1316 rear 9th Street (originally a Civil War stable) was a home and furniture repair

shop up until a year before its destruction by a developer/investment company.

Few can see clearly into the future, but it shouldn’t be difficult for all of us to recognize and respect the past. Washington D.C. is blessed with many small alley structures that have earned the right of preservation. The history of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom preservation activism should serve to educate the rest of the city. There is no reason why these lessons cannot be used to guide other sections of the city as development continues to threaten our history one brick at a time.