Historic Preservation Council reversed decision and designated Colony Hill as a Historic District – Greater Washington



For six days, it appeared that the District Historic Preservation Review Board had finally voted against a historic district application for the first time in its known history. But after another meeting, four board members changed their votes and named Colony Hill as DC’s last historic district.

The Commission first considered Colony Hill’s claim at its January 28 meeting, beginning with presentations from the claimants and HPO staff arguing for him. This case focused on three of the district’s legal criteria for registration.

DC Criterion B: History – Most of the claim argues that the neighborhood deserves the designation because it represents the national and local trend of developers to build more car-centric suburban communities in the 1930s.

DC Criterion D: Architecture and Urbanism – The application also describes the neighborhood’s properties as good examples of the popular colonial revival style that came with thoughtful landscaping to create a quaint suburban aesthetic.

DC Criterion F: Work of a Master – The staff report describes the neighborhood as “important as a collaborative work of renowned architect and AIA vice president Horace Peaslee, renowned local architect Harvey Baxter and respected landscape architect Rose Greely.” .

The Council also heard testimony against the appointment. Full Disclosure: I was one of those witnesses and presented similar testimony to the case I presented here last month, arguing that the recorded story did not reach the required level of significance by criterion B. In short, the application describes the neighborhood as a good example of the trend towards suburban style development, but not as the first or only notable example. Additionally, the story of white communities creating exclusionary neighborhoods is not a missing theme among our existing list of historic properties in the district.

Also testifying against the nomination, ANC 6B06 Commissioner Corey Holman stressed that Criterion D requires not only outstanding architecture and design, but also design “important to the appearance and development of the district,” for which the claim fails to plead.

He also touched on Criterion F, pointing out that the app does not prove at all that these architects are masters. It does not cite the awards they have received nor does it refer to how they were viewed by their peers; he simply calls them “prolific” and “noticed”. Commissioner Holman referred to an earlier case in which the board of trustees voted against the designation of an addition to the Folger Shakespeare library. In this case, the staff report concluded that criterion F was’ not relevant ‘because although the architect was highly regarded and had won several prestigious awards, the nomination’ did not rigorously analyze the work cabinet… nor did it establish a broader context. to assess its work from a preservation perspective. The board eventually agreed, believing that while there may, in fact, be a case for the nomination, the nomination was not made enough and candidates should refine and resubmit a better case s ‘they wanted to try again.

Following testimony on Colony Hill’s request, the Commission had a particularly brief deliberation which ended with a motion to approve the appointment. The failure of that 5-3 vote seemed to take the Council by surprise – they moved on to the next case without commenting on the unprecedented result.

Revisit the vote

The rejection, and the lack of an explanation, did not please supporters of the nomination, who then submitted letters to the Council urging them to reconsider their decision. Their request was accepted at the continuation meeting of Council the following Tuesday. When the deliberations reopened, the Board of Directors spoke in more detail about the individual criteria, with the most detailed conversation taking place around Criterion F (work of a master).

Recalling the Folger case, board member Andrew Aurbach asked the most direct question about the standard the board would set if it voted for it:

“If one supported the idea that because they are creative masters it should be supported, it basically means that any structure created by a creative master should be supported throughout the city. And I don’t think that’s the threshold below which this advice has operated over the past few decades. “

Board member Outerbridge Horsey responded that he believed the bar was set by the collection of properties being considered together and by the nature of the neighborhood as a collaboration of several designers.

“For me, it’s more the collective conception of these masters that makes the difference. And it is the fact that yet there are many houses – 30 odd houses – which together form a whole which is greater than the sum of the parts ”

Board member Gretchen Pfaehler struggled with her decision, ultimately voting for criterion F (but not D or B), but said she saw this as the broadest definition the board had. administration should give:

“I’m really on a razor’s edge about this one… it’s really a thin hair… it’s just that I feel like we’re about to go through this.” I don’t know if we’re clearly on the other side, I think we’re on the line.

In another ballot, the Council voted in favor (6-1) of criterion F (Work of a master) and in favor (5-3) of criterion D (Architecture and town planning), but voted against (3-4) Criterion B (History). As the designation requires only one criterion to be successful, the appointment was approved.

What to do with all this?

Clearly, the overturned decision ultimately reminds us that a board engaged in a broad reading of historical criteria can likely find a path to nomination for virtually any application that comes before it, and that the political pressure it faces. is facing is important.

But it should be noted that the Council at least expressed some hesitation in this case. Their vote against Criterion B was quite unprecedented, and their deliberation on the other criteria at least showed some effort to try to establish minimum standards.

It remains to be seen whether these floors have majority support and whether the Council will stick to them in the future or simply find a unique and worthy detail for each of them, remains to be seen.

Nick Sementelli is originally from Texas, but has lived in Washington since 2005. He works as a digital strategist serving primarily advocacy organizations and publishers. Outside the office, you can find him on the soccer field or at Nats Park. He is currently Treasurer of the Board of Directors of GGWash.


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