City Paper Widget

Monday, November 11, 2013

Church Joins Exodus from Future Historic District

Augustana Lutheran Church (2100 New Hampshire Avenue NW) has successfully pleaded with Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street to be, in effect, excluded from the soon-to-be-created Meridian Hill Historic District. The Church will be designated as "non-contributing" to the future historic district.

Historic district approved -- with exclusions

At V and New Hampshire NW
The last-minute plea came just before ANC1B voted to endorse the historic district overall, including the designation of certain buildings within the district as non-contributing. The vote took place at ANC1B's regular monthly meeting on November 7.

Property owners of most buildings within a historic district must obtain the permission of D.C.'s Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) before taking on a wide variety of renovations, including nearly any to the exterior of a property. If a property is designated as non-contributing within a historic district, however, the owner has a much greater variety of activity which can be carried out without HPRB approval.

Of the 65 buildings in the proposed district, there will be fifteen other properties proposed to be designated as non-contributing within the future Meridian Hill Historic District, according to Kim Williams of D.C.'s Historic Preservation Office (HPO), who testified at the meeting.

These may include four single-family homes along on the 2300 block of 15th Street, facing Meridian Hill Park. Representatives of the single-family homes got the support of ANC1B's Design Review Committee for exclusion at its meeting of October 28. This was the subject of the October 30 SALM blog post.

The full ANC's endorsement of the historic district followed the Design Review Committee's recommendation to exclude the four single-family homes.

Testimony from Augustana

The Reverend John Kidd, Pastor of the Augustana Lutheran Church, and counsel Meghan Meier appeared before ANC1B to ask for the exclusion. They gave two reasons. The first reason: the church was not part of the vision of Mary Henderson, the driving force behind the creation of the Meridian Hill district more than 100 years ago. This statement is difficult to evaluate, but the church seems to date from 1915, according to documents presented at the Design Review committee meeting. This was a time when Henderson was intensely involved in the creation and improvement of every aspect of the Meridian Hill district.

The second reason: the church is not visible from Meridian Hill Park, nor is it visible from 16th Street.

"We are sandwiched between two apartment buildings," Reverend Kidd said.

One of Augstana Lutheran's neighbors is Meridian Towers Apartments (2112 New Hampshire Avenue). This multi-story apartment building, built in 1964, is also designated as non-contributing.

In addition, Kidd and Meier indicated being part of a historic district would burden the church with additional responsibilities that it could not afford to carry out.

The vote

Commissioner Ricardo Reinoso (district 05) made the motion to support the Meridian Hill Historic District with the exclusion of the non-contributing properties, including the four single-family houses and the Lutheran church. Both the homes and the church are in Reinoso's district.

Of the twelve ANC1B Commissioners, the vote was five votes in favor of endorsing the proposed new historic district with exclusions, and two opposed. One of the "no" votes came from Commissioner Dyana Forester (district 06), who said she felt local residents had not been adequately notified about the district.

Three Commissioners were completely absent from the meeting, and a fourth arrived over 45 minutes late, after the vote was taken.

ANC1B Vice-chair E. Gail Anderson-Holness (district 11), who was presiding, did not vote. She explained at another point in the meeting that her practice was not to vote when she is presiding, except in the case of a tie vote.

In addition to ANC district 1B, the proposed historic district will also fall in part into three other ANC districts. Reinoso reported the other three districts -- ANC 1A/Columbia Heights, 1C/Adams Morgan, and 1D/Mount Pleasant -- have all voted to support the district.

The four endorsements will now go to HPRB, which is expected to approve the new historic district in general. The fate of individual buildings is not so easy to predict.

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