Testimony of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society before the dc historic Preservation Review Board hpa 15-065

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Testimony of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society before the DC Historic Preservation Review Board

HPA 15-065 645 Maryland Avenue, NE
My name is Beth Purcell and I am testifying on behalf of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society's Historic Preservation Committee.

The applicant proposes to add two stories to this one-story garage to create three condominiums. The changes to the first story would preserve the building's original color scheme and openings, and remove an inappropriate door and blocked transom. Although we believe that some aspects of the design are appropriate, we have major concerns because the proposed second and third story addition are not subordinate to the historic one-story building.

We understand that the HPRB approved earlier but different plans for this project in HPA 03-472 (February 26, 2004). Those plans had a second and third story addition, setback 17 feet from the front face of the existing building, so that the addition "no longer sits flush with the adjacent rowhouses to the west, but rather sit[s] 6 feet behind them, reducing somewhat its overall visibility from the street." HPO staff report, HPA 03-472 (Sept. 25, 2003). This case seeks a two-story addition, set back only 12 feet, which would be very visible from public space and have an impact on the rowhouses on this attractive residential street. If the HPRB decides to approve the concept, we urge that the board again require the 17-foot setback.1

We believe that that HPRB's more recent precedents from 2012 and 2013 on additions to one-story commercial buildings should apply. As we noted in our letter dated November 12, 2014, a series of precedents concerning additions to one-story commercial buildings (the 1300 block of Constitution Avenue, NE) should control. One-story buildings are important elements of the Capitol Hill Historic District’s development history, and thus they should not be lightly transformed into two- or three-story buildings. In those cases, adding a second or third story was allowed because

(1) one building had already acquired a second story during the historic district’s period of significance,

(2) another building had a rear second-story wall that was falling down.

(3) The block's commercial character was fractured.

(4) The third story addition approved for one of the buildings was not visible from public space.

Given the fractured historic context of this block and these buildings’ setting, as well as the loss of the block’s original strong commercial presence, we believed that in this isolated instance a second story on one of the buildings could be acceptable. We noted that we viewed this decision to be an anomaly because of factors specific to this particular location and set of unique circumstances, and hoped that this case would not set a precedent for the historic district or even for other nearby one-story buildings. In this case, CHRS did not object to the rear third-story addition only because the applicant had made a commitment to build the third story in such a way that it would be totally invisible from Constitution Avenue.2

In 2013, the HPO staff report on another one-story building on Constitution Avenue, NE, noted that that the historic context of this block was already fractured due to inappropriate construction which preceded the city's preservation law and demolition of historic buildings approved by HPRB because they were structurally unsound.3 HPRB allowed adding a second story and a third story to this one-story building at 1331 Constitution Avenue only if the third story was set back and not visible from public space.

The Constitution Avenue projects are in no way comparable to the proposed garage addition at 645 Maryland Avenue.  This garage is in a block that retains well its historic integrity, the garage has no rooftop additions on it already, and the third stories on the formerly one-story Constitution Avenue buildings are low enough and set back far enough that they are not visible from public space on Constitution Avenue, a relatively narrow street. In contrast, the proposed second- and third-story addition to the garage is very close to the front of the garage, in line with the mass of the rowhouses beside it, and will be totally visible from Maryland Avenue, which is very wide.

For these reasons we believe that the project is not compatible with the Capitol Hill Historic District, and that approving this project would be precedent-setting.

Thank you for considering our views.

1 "Roof Decks and Roof Additions: Design Considerations and Submission Requirements", in the section on Roof Additions reads, in part:

Adding vertically to a historic building is generally discouraged as such additions typically alter significant features, such as its roof line, height...and overall form and mass. Additions on top of a building can sometimes be achieved when they are not visible from street views....this approach typically requires a substantial setback, the extent of which depends on the height of the addition...the width of the street, and views from public vantage points surrounding the building....Under most circumstances, roof additions that are visible from a public street are not appropriate.

2 1321-1323 Constitution Avenue, NE, HPA 12-260 (March 22, 2012).

3 1331 Constitution Avenue, NE, HPA 13-186 (HPRB March 28, 2013).

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