On March 11 the Friends of Kingman Park Civic Association hosted an “Informational Panel on Historic Districts”.  “Representatives from the DC Preservation League, Historic Preservation Office, Ditto Residential, Capitol hill Restoration Society, Emerald Street, and Barney Circle join WAMU journalist Martin Austermuhle for a conversation about historic districts in Washington, D.C.”

I participated on the panel to give insight into the still-unfolding Emerald Street experience.  I was happy to participate, and I thanked the Friends for organizing the discussion.  I also thanked the participants for their contributions.  I learned some things and was happy to contribute.

Let me indicate a few of the salient points that came out of the two-hour production.

(1) The Historic Preservation Office doesn’t hold up hearings before its Historic Preservation Review Board as the right place to lodge objections to applications for historic designation.

This is a little distressing, because representatives from the Historic Preservation Office had implied to Emerald Street residents that a hearing would be a place to speak up effectively.  And yet, Brian Flahaven, a veteran of the Barney Circle experience, indicated otherwise.  The experience of Barney Circle residents is that the Historic Preservation Review Board sets itself up not to discuss the merits of historic designation but rather to sort out the details of historic designation.

Brian’s observations are consistent with what Emerald Street residents have understood all along.  The Historic Preservation Review Board is there to rubber stamp applications.  And yet Brian observed that resistance was not futile.  Barney Circle residents showed up and spoke up.  Many years later, the application has yet to be rubber stamped.  And, yet, the application remains “active”.  Barney Circle remains in Limbo.

(2) The representative from the Capitol Hill Preservation Society warned Kingman Park residents that a wave of investment would soon wash over the neighborhood.  That investment could be expected to change the character of the community.

And, yet:

(3) Emerald Street survived the wave of investment that had washed over it. 

Indeed, investment improved the street.  In 2003 when I first moved in, something like ten houses were nothing more than vacant shells.  “Investors” refurbished these homes one by one, transforming them from boarded-up shells to little gems.  The character of the street changed from hints-of-urban-wasteland to a place in which you might want to raise kids.  We now have lots of kids and young families of the street.

(4) Less restrictive alternatives to “historic designation” were indicated.

Participants observed that no regulatory options between normal zoning processes and historic designation currently exist.  Ideas about alternatives that would be less restrictive than historic designation were advanced, and such alternatives could make it easier for residents to accommodate competing demands.  Although, it was also observed that as of right now such alternatives remain nothing more than ideas.  No legislative process yet contemplates such alternatives.

(5) Folks in other neighborhoods are besieged with demands for “historic designation”.  And they don’t like it.

The audience that attended the panel discussion were very engaged and were very engaging.  I learned that other neighborhoods have been swept up in efforts to convert them to “historic districts”.  Not everyone is happy about it.  The Blomingdale neighborhood in Northeast comes to mind.

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My own contribution to the panel discussion started with a short statement I had drafted the day before.  I post my statement at liveandletlive.guru/panel-discussion-on-historic-districts-my-opening-statement/.

The panel participants were:

Timothy Dennée (DC’s Historic Preservation Office)
Martin Ditto (Ditto Residential)
Brian Flahaven (Former ANC6B, Barney Circle neighborhood)
Beth Purcell (Capitol Hill Restoration Society)
John Sandor (DC Preservation League)
Dean Williamson (Emerald Street resident)