Historic Preservation

Neighbor Notification in Georgetown      November 1, 2013

There is a pressing need to provide notification to neighbors of a building owner’s application for design review of exterior alterations in Georgetown.

Applications for building permits for exterior alterations or additions in Georgetown are subject to review by the Old Georgetown Board (OGB) of the U. S. Commission on Fine Arts or in the case of alterations not visible from a public way, the D. C. Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB).

However the current Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) permit regulations do not require that neighbors of the proposed project be given any notice of the referral of the building permit or design review application to OGB or HPRB. The Forms used by DCRA for conceptual approval or design review (attached) ask if neighbors have been notified, but do not require it. As a result residents who are unaware of their neighbor’s construction plans are deprived of the opportunity to provide comments to OGB and HPRB during the design review process.

Monthly publication by the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (ANC 2E), OGB, and HPRB on their web sites of long lists of properties subject to review at their monthly meetings are usually provided on short notice and with no detail on the proposed alteration. Those lists do not provide effective notice to neighbors.

It is important for the neighbors of a residential or commercial building project to have the opportunity to provide input on the important question of the historic appropriateness of the proposed alteration first to the ANC and then to OGB or HPRB. This is of equal importance to commercial neighbors of a commercial project. Currently ANC 2E encourages, but cannot require property owners to consult with their neighbors about planned exterior alterations. Indeed submission of plans to ANC 2E for review is currently not required.

The Citizens Association of Georgetown frequently receives calls from concerned and frustrated residents about building projects for which the design review has been completed, the permit issued and construction of something they believe is totally inappropriate in an historic neighborhood has commenced. Unfortunately there is nothing that can be done after the design review has been completed and the permit issued.

It would be of great assistance to property owners in Georgetown, and possibly other historic districts, if neighbor notification of exterior alterations in Georgetown was required as part of the design review process. Informed neighbors will then have the ability to participate in the design review process and also be able to monitor if what was approved by OGB or HPRB is being built. In some cases the approved plans have been ignored and additions built that were not consistent with the design review or permit.

Once historic fabric has been demolished and something inappropriate is built in its place it is difficult, if not impossible, to undo the damage.

We therefore propose that DCRA adopt a requirement (after notice and comment that an application for design review of a building project in Georgetown that is subject to review by OGB or HPRB, be supported by a signed statement by the property owner or agent. The signed statement would certify that a copy of the plans, and information on how to obtain information on the design review schedule from the ANC, OGB or HPRB have been provided to the owners of immediately abutting and adjacent properties. A draft bill is attached.

Pamla Moore, President
Michele Jacobson, Chair HP+Z Committee
Richard Hinds,  Legal Advisor

Councilmember ____________introduced the following resolution which was referred to the Committee on_________________
To amend the Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978 to require neighbor notification of proposed alterations.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, That this act may be cited as the “Historic District Neighbor Notification Act of 2013.”
Sec. 2. The Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978, (D.C. Law 2-144; D.C. Official Code §6-1105) is amended by inserting a new section c to read:
“The Mayor shall require all applications for permit or conceptual review that propose to alter the exterior or site of a building in the historic district defined in §6-1201 and which will be referred to the Commission of Fine Arts or the Historic Preservation Review Board for review to contain a certification by the applicant, or an agent of the applicant, that a copy of the plans of alteration and information on how to obtain the schedule for review by the Commission of Fine Arts or the Historic Preservation Review Board have been provided by certified mail to the owners of record of immediately adjacent properties and to the affected Advisory Neighborhood Commission. A property is immediately adjacent if it is located within thirty-five feet (35’) of the subject property, excluding the width of any streets or alleys.”

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