LeDroit Park Market building owner seeks historic exception
The owners of the 1901 4th Street, which currently houses the new LeDroit Park Market, are appealing a denial from the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) to add a roof deck and exterior stair to the building.
The owners sought permission to add a 10′-by-14′ deck to the roof of the building, partly hidden by the parapet and gables at the roof’s edge. An exterior stair would be built above the garage, would be visible from 4th Street, and would connect the house to the roof deck.
The Historic Preservation Office (HPO) staff report summarized the project and recommended that HPRB deny the application for the following reasons:
- The exterior access stair would be visible from 4th Street and “would create a very prominent and modern intrusion into the character of the historic district.” Furthermore, the stair’s extension to four feet above the height of the roof would “alter the perceived dimensions” of the building and further obstruct the view of neighboring rowhouses.
- Though roof decks are sometimes permitted when they do not demolish historic features and are not visible from the street, HPO staff worried that this deck, placed close to the building’s edge, “cannot guarantee that the furniture, illumination and activity associated with a roof deck would also not be visible.” Furthermore, HPO staff noted that no contributing buildings in the LeDroit Park Historic District have roof decks (which is not entirely true).
At its September 18th meeting, HPRB voted to deny the application, following the HPO staff recommendation. The owners are appealing the denial to the Mayor’s Agent, a position created to review special historic preservation cases and grant exceptions to the rules under limited circumstances:
- If historic preservation rules would place an “unreasonable hardship” on the property owner.
- If the proposed project is “necessary in the public interest”.
- If the proposed project will deliver “significant benefits to the District of Columbia or to the community by virtue of exemplary architecture, specific features of land planning, or social or other benefits having a high priority for community services.”
Few appeals to the Mayor’s Agent ever succeed and those that do are typically public or public-private projects. In 2009 the Mayor’s Agent permitted the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, to demolish its brutalist sanctuary near the White House since the building’s upkeep was a financial burden to the church. In 2012 the modernization of a historic firehouse in Cleveland Park was deemed “necessary in the public interest” since modern firetrucks required the widening of the historic firehouse’s doors. In 1980 the Mayor’s Agent permitted the demolition of historic buildings to create the original convention center, deeming it a project of “special merit”.
The owner’s renovation of this historic property is certainly welcome. However, it is hard to argue that being denied a roof deck is an “unreasonable hardship” or that the construction of a roof deck is “necessary in the public interest” like a firehouse, or that a roof deck will deliver “significant benefits” to DC or the community like a convention center.
Nonetheless, the Mayor’s Agent will hold a public hearing on this case on Friday, February 27, 2015, at 9:30 am at the Office of Planning (1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650). Read these details if you wish to testify.
Here is the full HPO staff report: