City Paper Widget

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

ANC1B Homeowners May Face Renovation Catch-22

A motion passed by Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street at the very end of its October 3 monthly meeting may create a Catch-22 situation for some area homeowners who are seeking to renovate.

The burden of a historic district home

Homeowners: first go here
Then go here
The motion applies to local homeowners whose homes fall into one of the area's historical preservation districts. At least three historic districts -- the U Street Historic District, the LeDroit Park Historic District, and the 16th Street Historic District --  fall in whole or part within the boundaries of ANC1B. If a home is located within one of these districts, a long list of home improvements -- especially improvements visible from the outside the home -- are subject to review and approval by DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB).

The motion, championed by ANC1B Chair Tony Norman (district 10), requires homeowners get ANC1B endorsement of their planned improvements before, not after, they approach the HPRB. If homeowners don't do so, it is implied, then ANC endorsement will be withheld.

This order (ANC first, then HPRB) is the order in which homeowners are supposed to approach the city bureaucracy. Homeowners, however, are sometimes confused by the process and unable to get clear guidance on how to proceed.

A problem might occur when a local homeowner, unversed in local law but desiring to be compliant, approaches the HPRB first. In some cases, the HPRB has issued approvals conditional on ANC endorsement.

The Catch-22

So, a homeowner, wishing to obey the law, may find him- or herself in the position where there is approval from one part of the DC government conditional on endorsement from a second part of the DC government, but the second part of the DC government will not give endorsement, not because of any objection to the project itself, but only because it was not consulted first.

Commissioner Norman made the motion at the October 3 meeting, minutes after ANC1B unanimously voted to approve the proposed renovation of a house at 2241 12th Place. (The details of the renovation were the subject of an SALM blog post on August 28.) The homeowner of 2241 12th Place is someone who approached the DC bureaucracy in an incorrect manner, and received HPRB approval contingent on ANC endorsement, which he received.

Although he had already received his approval and would not be directly effected by the new policy, the homeowner, after hearing the motion, pleaded with Norman to do outreach to HPRB first to insure that future well-meaning homeowners would not find themselves in a bureaucratic bind. Norman and the ANC made no indication that they would do so.

In addition to being Chair of the ANC as a whole, Commissioner Norman is also Chair of ANC1B's Design Review Committee. This Committee frequently deals with HPRB applications before the full ANC votes on them.

HPRB: non-cooperation previously noted

Last year, ANC 2B/Dupont Circle passed a resolution criticizing the HPRB for its lack of coordination with ANCs. It said that the HPRB
is the only regulatory board that does not currently send a notice document directly to ANCs for each application within the respective ANC that will be on the board’s agenda. This is contrary to the practice of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, the District Department of Transportation Public Space Committee, the Board of Zoning Adjustment, and the Zoning Commission.
This practice, the resolution said, prevents ANCs from carefully reviewing HPRB applications and from providing timely and thoughtful opinions.

Given ANC1B's decision and the HPRB's history of poor communication, it seems like only a matter of time before a historic district homeowner will find his or her renovation ensnared in this Catch-22. It will probably cost some poor unsuspecting homeowner time, money, and aggravation.

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