Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, June 15, 2009

More on the need for stricter anti-demolition regulations in DC

This is also in response to an email, which lambasted the Historic Preservation Office and the Historic Preservation Review Board, about the demolition issue, in particular the case in Eckington:

HPRB is not laughable.

What the problem is that there aren't adequate remedies in DC law, other than designation as a landmark, or existence of a historic district, to prevent demolition.

And as the Meads Row case makes clear (and for the first time in awhile, I detected some sympathy-empathy in the staff report for the difficultly local preservationists have in stopping demolition while having to meet the higher standards embodied in a landmark nomination, vs. the lesser requirements of a contributing structure in a historic district), having a landmark nomination succeed in the face of integrity questions is very difficult.

What is laughable is CM Bowser's proposed legislation on placarding requirements for raze permits. While more notice is always laudable, again, without any addition to the remedies available under DC law to prevent demolition, it's meaningless. In other words, even with notice, citizens can't do anything, other than file a landmark nomination that is not likely to meet the required criteria necessary for success.

Sure it's fun probably to bash the HPRB, but they understand that they can only operate within the context of the enabling legislation (and resulting regulations) that created DC's historic preservation law.

In the 2006 technical amendments legislation, probably as a sop to me, because I had testified for 3-4 years running on the need for stronger demolition protections, a procedure for protecting eligible but not designated buildings was inserted into the legislation.

The building industry was extremely successful in getting this provision struck from the final bill with the acquiesence of then City Council Chairman Cropp.

Now you could argue that in the give and take of drafting legislation, this provision was included not with the expectation that it would sail through, but that it could be excised in support of passing the overall legislation. I don't know. But in any case, that provision didn't make it through and we are still in the position that we are in.

Rather than bashing HPRB, we must identify the evident needs we have in terms of supporting a citywide preservation agenda, one that is focused on, as the NTHP used to say, "protecting the irreplaceable" and making sure that items such as:

1. Stronger demolition protections fpr eligible for designation buildings;
2. Stronger demolition by neglect provisions;
3. Creation of a revolving fund to protect threatened buildings;
4. Creation and implementation of more significant interpretation and outreach plans for historic districts;
5. Creation of interpretation, outreach, and conservation plans for undesignated but eligible for designation areas of the city; etc.

ARE ADDED TO THE CITY'S PRESERVATION PLAN AS SUBMITTED TO THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, SO THAT NOT ONLY DOES THE CITY REMAINS CERTIFIED WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF REQUIREMENTS OF THE HISTORIC PRESERVATION ACT, but we move forward with stabilizing, maintaining and extending the city's livability by protecting the historic architecture, neighborhoods, urban design, and identity of areas that matter but lack protections currently.

Last week I read through the State of Arkansas 2009 work plan. I don't know if it is better than other such plans across the country, I do know that I found it more detailed than DC's. Whether or not they implement it better is another question.

Another thing where I do think that HPO and HPRB could do the preservation agenda one better would be an annual report that identifies gaps and issues in the preservation agenda, with suggestions for how to address these gaps.

Parenthetically note that LA and NYC have some interesting parallel issues that we don't have, but also demonstrate gaps in the laws and regulations in those cities:

- Los Angeles' preservation ordinance could get major overhaul from the Los Angeles Times and
- Arts, Briefly - City Council Seeks Landmarks Change from the New York Times.

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