City Paper Widget

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

1508 Caroline Street: If Visible from Street, Then No

On January 29, DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) rejected for a second time a proposed renovation of a brick duplex at 1508 Caroline Street NW in the U Street Historic District.

The property in November 2014
Caroline Street, just south of U Street between 15th and 16th Streets, is a row of identical duplex houses built around 1880. The group of houses have remained largely unmodified. The exception to this is the duplex home connected to 1508 Caroline Street, which got a third-story addition in 1888. The owner of this adjoining home bought 1508 Caroline Street and hoped to be able to add a pop-up to match the third story addition on the existing home (on the left of the photo).

The pop-up addition was endorsed by Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle (see SALM blog post of November 19, 2014). The HPRB rejected the plan as represented to the ANC in November. Last week's rejection was of a modified version of the plan, somewhat less visible from the street.

"Even this amount of visibility is not compatible," said HPRB member Nancy Metzger.

The original design called for a two-story rear addition, a one-story side addition, and a basement entrance, as well as the third-story pop-up. HPRB staff accepted all elements except the pop-up -- see November 2014 staff report here. The Board accepted the staff report in a 4-3 decision, reported on page two of a four-page document here.

The owner and designer tried once again to get some addition to the height of the building approved. The new version of the design was set back 21 feet from the front and 4 feet from the side of the building. However, because this building (and all of the buildings on Caroline Street) are detached from their neighbors, the addition will still be visible from the street in front of the house. This did not seem to bother the architect designer.

"I think this won't really effect the aesthetic of the neighborhood," he told the board.

The HPRB asked the architect designer if he had conducted a "flag test" (see description on page three of document here), in which the applicant for HPRB approval sets up flags on the top of a building to demonstrate the dimensions of a proposed expansion and then invites HPRB staff to view the flags. The architect designer had not.

The board voted unanimously to accept a new staff report, which (like the November 2014 staff report) found the project to be "incompatible with the historic district". The Board told the owner and his architect designer that, should they decide to come back again, they were more likely to receive approval if they performed a flag test which demonstrated that planned modifications of the house would not be visible from the street.

I did not attend this meeting. I gathered the information for this report by watching a portion of the archived video of the January 29 meeting at the HPRB web site here. The portion of the meeting dealing with this property starts at time 1:41:23.

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