Friday, February 15, 2013

Dumpster Ordered to be Removed & Stop Work Order Issued

Today DDOT issued a stop work order against the individuals using this dumpster without a permit in a public space in Naylor Court NW. 

From DDOT: - 

[The] Inspector ... has concluded his inspection for the dumpster located in the vicinity of the subject address. His inspection revealed a dumpster in the rear of the location where he engaged a work crew on location and issued a “STOP Work Order”.  Afterwards [the]  Inspector ... contacted the dumpster company and advised them to remove the dumpster immediately, his report is below for review.


At the request of my supervisor I performed [an] investigation to the given location. I did find a dumpster at the rear of [an] open lot. I informed the crew on site that all work should and will stop immediately. A stop work order was issued as well notification number 602026. I also made contact with the dumpster company, and informed them that the dumpster should be removed from the public space immediately. GTI is the name of the company contact information :703-392-0050"
The dumpster contained miscellaneous trash items, numerous trash bags, multiple replacement car fenders and other parts which had been stored on the roof at one point and fallen into the inner space as the roof collapsed. 

One passerby commented on the odious nature of the inside of the building as it was being emptied, saying that it reeked "of human waste." No doubt the unsecured building has provided refuge to criminal activity as well as comfort to the often seen large rats that have been living there. 

 Cell phone photo of the interior of the building as it was being cleared of trash. 

For now the property appears to have been secured and the inside trash removed. Today's stop work order will arrest the illegal process that the owner has undertaken and continue to protect the building from intentional injury. Now the walls must be secured and the roof replaced to come into compliance with the orders of the Historic Preservation Review Board and the Historic Preservation Office. 

A huge nod to DDOT for their role in responding and acting quickly and decisively today. A sincere note of community appreciation also goes to Council Member Jack Evans' Office and staff for their role in lighting fires!

The community is watching this story very closely. Today was just another chapter in a long saga. 

Demolition Dumpster Arrives in Naylor Court

Early this morning a demolition dumpster appeared unheralded, in the public space in Naylor Court NW in front of the small building at the rear of 1322 9th Street. The owner's application for a raze permit was denied last month through a recent forceful HPRB ruling. The building has been abused and neglected for the almost 30 years it has been in the hands of its owner. The building has been assigned a blighted status thereby seriously raising the property taxes. The owner was admonished by the Historic Preservation Review Board to secure and stabilize the building by ensuring that the roof was replaced and the walls were stabilized so that it did not deteriorate further. 

The men who arrived in the yellow van stated very clearly that their task was to remove the material on the inside of the building. They denied any intent to demolish the structure. DCRA does not appear to have issued a permit for demolition. (The owners had applied for one recently)

The sudden appearance of a demolition dumpster (that appears out of proportion to the work proposed by the workers) on a Friday before a long weekend is highly suspicious. It has been alleged in the neighborhood that this is a classic move for developers who are willing to scoff at the law and defy authority rulings.

If this dumpster arrival is a good faith move to obey the guidelines published by HPRB in this case, then the community will doubtless applaud the property owner's initiative. (Bernard and Vera Ehrlich Revocable Trust). If on the other hand this is not a good faith act, but one of stealth demolition, then all of the city agencies who have already been contacted today about this potential demolition will respond. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Protecting Party Walls

A New Jersey Avenue row house site is "bookmarked" by temporary joists supporting the party walls on either side. Note the "history" outlined on the wall of the building at the left where you can see room divisions and stairs. "If only the walls could talk."

New infill construction with a poured concrete foundation and basement wall on the right. Note the "white" barrier on the left side running beside the adjacent wall. This property is on N Street NW just near the North entrance to Blagden Alley. 

These are not party walls but conjoined walls. The building on the right is currently being constructed and the building on the left is slated to be torn down shortly and replaced by a Reatig project. These walls coexist but are not codependent. Yet if there had not been a "barrier" in place, there would have been significant adherence between the walls and potential for great damage when the basement walls of the building on the left were removed.

In another development (Naylor Court Stables) meticulous brick-by-brick dismantling of an adjacent wall progressively reveals 5 horse-head-height windows four of which had been covered for exactly 100 years! The "structural stars" were a common feature in freestanding buildings such as this one when they were originally constructed. A bolt and plate are under each window and correspond to a horse rein ring on the inside of the stable. You can see the wear and tear on these outer wall equine anchors as horses have tugged on them over the years. The inside rings have been preserved by the owners and have become conversation stimulating artifacts. 

Shilpi Paul has recently nicely profiled this building in its modernized configuration in an article in Urban Turf -  Live/Work Carriage House of Naylor Court

Before - (source - author)

After - (source - Urban Turf)

This is an excellent example of how preserving DC stables and other small Accessory Dwelling Units in DC alleys can create very practical and exciting alternate living options for those who eschew cookie-cutter-condos. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Mayor’s Agent's Decision Saves Capitol Hill Stable

A rather large and stylish Victorian home was built at 1310 East Capitol Street NE 
in 1908 for $9,000 ($208,721 today). 

According to the original permit, its accompanying stable (18’ x 28’) was built in the same year for $450 ($10,436 today). The area was affluent and bordered Lincoln Park within sight of the Capitol. No doubt, originally the home and the stable were private. The first owner was Margaret E. Murphy and the builder was William Murphy. It is not unreasonable to assume that the two Murphys were related by marriage and that Mr. William Murphy probably lived in this home — what we would today refer to as a “builder’s home.” As such it would likely have had the best materials and the best craftsmanship. The architect for both the stable and the home was C.E. Webb whose career in Washington spanned 1902 to 1921. During that time he obtained 145 permits and built 247 homes. Eventually as cars flooded into DC the stable probably became a garage, was eventually abandoned and now appears to have been allowed to rot and crumble, the way that unloved structures do. The two buildings have been owned by the House of God for 27 years. 

The stable has a vestigial back wall and no roof whatsoever, yet it appears to have been secured by “I” beams. This structure is still defined by HPO as a “building.”

Original bricks from the building have been collected and can be seen neatly organized inside the remaining walls. They await incorporation back into the walls during restoration of the stable.

The collapsing stable appears to have become a liability and impediment for the owners. A request for a raze permit was submitted to the Historic Preservation Review Board and was denied. Not accepting this decision, the owners appealed to the Mayor’s Agent who also denied the raze permit. Excerpts of the decision follow below:

The Church is housed in a former rowhouse constructed in 1908. At the rear of the lot, facing the alley, is a masonry, two-story carriage house dating from around the same time. The Church purchased the property in 1986 from another church. At that time both the church building and the carriage house were included within the Capitol Hill Historic District. The carriage house has deteriorated over the years, and its roof collapsed during a snowstorm in 2010. The Church applied to the HPRB in May 2010 to demolish the carriage house and install a parking pad. The HRPB unanimously recommended against the application as inconsistent with the purposes of the Act and urged the Church to seek other solutions for the carriage house through consultation with community organizations.
Subsequently, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs issued an order to the Church to make the carriage house safe through stabilization or removal. In May 2011, the Church again applied for a demolition permit. The staff of the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) met with Church leaders and cleared another application for a permit to remove an unsafe wall. But the staff recommended to the HPRB that it not recommend approval of the application to demolish the remaining parts of the carriage house. While it admitted that the building needed extensive work, including a new roof, the HPRB stated that the building still maintained its integrity, conveyed its origins as stable, and contributed to the character of the public alley on which it stood. Church members testified about their worries about the safety of the structure and their need for parking. The HPRB voted unanimously, eight votes to zero, to recommend denial of the application, agreeing with the staff that the carriage house continued to contribute to the historic character of the neighborhood, so that demolition would not be consistent with the purposes of the Act.

While the law seems clear that the Church has not made out a case for unreasonable economic hardship, requiring the Mayor’s Agent to deny the demolition permit, the result hardly seems satisfactory. The Church now has a duty to stabilize the carriage house to address safety concerns, consistent with the order from DCRA. Merely prohibiting the demolition of the carriage house, however, will not restore it to beneficial use. HPRB urged the Church and local community groups to cooperate to stabilize and save the carriage house and share expenses, which seems highly desirable. The Church has not explored any adaptive reuse or conveyance of the carriage house through sale or lease. Indeed the Church expressed unwillingness even to consider leasing the carriage house.7           The Church feels beleaguered and lacks knowledge of real estate and preservation. Community groups ought to approach the Church with alternatives for restoring the carriage house. A renovated carriage house could generate additional income for the Church through rental of space. Our preservation law prohibits unwarranted demolition but seeks constructive solutions.
ACCORDINGLY, the demolition permit is DENIED.

________________ J. Peter Byrne, Mayor’s Agent Hearing Officer

________________ Harriet Tregoning Director, Office of Planning October 19, 2012

Reference: -

The role of the Mayor’s Agent and legal decisions are nicely explored through this link: -

Stables and other small buildings (now referred to as Accessory Dwelling Units) in the alleys of DC are disappearing through demolition by neglect, demolition by permission and demolition by stealth. The final data from the DC Alley Survey Project - undertaken by the Historic Preservation Office - comparing past maps of alley buildings to the extant buildings will be fascinating as one compares what was thought to exist by recent maps and the reality of what has been lost.

Why bother to save these rather humble structures? Because they reflect the unseen historic inner workings of the city where businesses mixed with residences. People gathered and talked and shared stories of their lives. Children played. The alleys provided essential services to the neighborhood such as bicycle repairs, blacksmith work, auto body shops, auto repair shops and workshops for artisans such as furniture repair craftsmen. In many ways they were the lubricant of the city. The alleys reflect a time when “things” were actually repaired and retained rather than being replaced and tossed. The Accessory Dwelling and Workshop Buildings in the alleys not only give a living sense of the past, but they also provide an opportunity to create living accommodations for young people of limited means who work in DC and love the city, but who cannot afford to break into the housing market. These buildings hold their own unique charm. When restored and adaptively reused they have proven to bring safety, pedestrian traffic and civility to places previously hidden from view as paths one feared to tread.

The currently evolving city code changes are a very encouraging step towards regenerating DC alley life.  Ultimately alley revitalization requires many ingredients working synergistically. Nonetheless this is an extremely worthwhile objective and a theme in urban planning that is gaining great traction throughout the country.