When historic preservation gets a bad name: Spring Valley edition
Parking lot at the Spring Valley Retail Center. Google Street View image.
The Washington City Paper reports ("A Lot to Lose: Can a Parking Lot Be an Historic Landmark?") that Spring Valley residents fighting a development proposal that would replace a parking lot with a building at the Spring Valley Retail Center--once an outlying department store for the now defunct Garfinckel's chain but now best known for having an expanded Crate & Barrel furniture store, are arguing that the parking lot is fundamental to the form of the complex and should be protected as a historic landmark.
The article discusses the work of architectural historian/American Studies Professor Richard Longstreth, but not specifically his journal article on the development of parking-centric shopping centers in the region ("The Neighborhood Shopping Center in Washington, DC, 1930-1941"). The Park and Shop in Cleveland Park and the Silver Spring Shopping Center are the most prominent examples. (Carytown in Richmond has a great example as well.)
Silver Spring Shopping Center vintage postcard.
Interestingly, smart growth advocates have criticized historic preservationists for arguing that parking lots in the case of the Silver Spring or Connecticut Avenue park and shops are integral to the overall ensemble, and that without saving the parking lot, the site loses its relevance as an historic landmark and artifact.
Spring Valley Shopping Center.
But all parking lots aren't equal or worth saving and a strong case can be made that the parking lot at the Spring Valley Retail Center doesn't possess architectural and cultural significance, even though the park and shop across the street, the Spring Valley Shopping Center, like the Cleveland Park and Silver Spring examples, does rise to the level of saving, were the issue to come up.
This effort is an example of nimbyism, of residents opposed to any development whatsoever seizing on historic preservation laws and regulations as a way to subvert the project. In DC law, in most instances, only do historic preservation protections require citizen involvement and more focused review.
I was thinking about this the other day, seeing a building going up next to I-395 on 2nd Street NW, and remembering the rowhouses that had been there. Years ago a tenant in one of the buildings contacted me, wanting to file a historic landmark nomination, not so much to save the buildings but as a negotiating tactic with the property owner. I said a nomination wouldn't be approved and it's a lot of effort to engage in a sure-to-fail effort, and I didn't agree to help.
Instead of people seizing on historic preservation processes as a tool to try to stop any project, whether or not the site/building is of historic significance, there should be building regulation review processes that provide for citizen input while recognizing that opposing development as a matter of course shouldn't be privileged as part of the review process, that instead decision-making should be judicious.
In the meantime, people who aren't preservationists mis/using preservation tactics end up demeaning and diminishing the historic preservation movement and process more generally, which makes articulating a strong historic preservation message all the more important.