Hill East Residents Pan Historic District Expansion Plan

by Andrea Swalec November 18, 2014 at 10:45 am 1,507 5 Comments

Historic districts (Photo via Capitol Hill Restoration Society)

A growing number of Capitol Hill residents are voicing skepticism about historians’ designs for the creation of the Capitol Hill East Historic District and the expansion of the Capitol Hill Historic District.

About 60 locals listened to a 45-minute presentation last night (Monday) by Emily Hotaling Eig, president of the architectural history firm EHT Traceries, Inc. The firm said its research supported additional historic designations to protect neighborhood character.

“We believe there are some wonderful buildings and housing stock that should be recognized for its value to the community,” Eig said, describing notable corner stores and wood-frame buildings that fall within the studied area to the north and east of the current historic district.

But locals said they don’t want additional restrictions on their homes, and that EHT and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, which commissioned the study, had made an insufficient case for the designations.

Susan Fariss, a 17th Street SE resident for the past 14 years, said the creation of a historic district that included her home would have a real impact on her neighbors. She described having recently spent $1,000 to have a wooden picket fence built around her yard. A historic designation would have required that fence to be wrought iron, she said, which she estimated would cost two or three times more money.

“If there’s a historic district, then I’m not building a fence, and I’m going to let my dog s**t in your yard,” she said to laughter.

The designation would cost locals time and money, said resident Peter Gould, a homeowner in Hill East for the past 3 years.

“In the event that you are permitted to improve your house, you’re talking about the need to have full architectural drawings,” he said. “That’s several thousand dollars.”

ANC 6B commissioner Francis Campbell said that while he wanted to stop homeowners from building “garish” third-story additions, locals need to be able to expand their homes as they see fit.

“How is this going to benefit us?” he asked.

Whether long-time residents will be able to make home modifications they need, like installing a wheelchair ramp, was a key concern of ANC 6B commissioner-elect Denise Krepp.

“There are a lot of older residents who have lived here 40, 50 years,” she said. “How will they be able to alter their houses so they’ll be able to remain?”

ANC 6B commissioner Brian Flahaven said he wanted to improve the public process around the construction of pop-ups, but wasn’t sure a historic designation is necessary. He said he hasn’t heard much support for the plan.

“I would have to see pretty strong neighborhood support,” he said.

Pat Taylor, who has lived in the area since 1988, supported the designation plan and said residents should seek to protect the neighborhood.

“I’m appalled by ugly pop-ups and inappropriate condo buildings,” she said.

CHRS said it will not sponsor the historic designations without local support.

The plan cannot advance without community backing and an official champion, Kim Williams, a representative of the District’s Historic Preservation Office, assured locals.

“There has to be a germ of interest, and there has to be a sponsor,” she said.

Whether to designate the additional areas as historic would be an informal process, rather than a ballot initiative.


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