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West Heating Plant in Georgetown Denied Extra Historic Designation

by Lark Turner

image
Rendering of the Heating Plant, courtesy of the Georgetown Companies.

The West Heating Plant in Georgetown is not a historic landmark, the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) decided in a split vote Thursday.

The building at 1051/1055 29th Street NW (map) is slated for redevelopment into 80 luxury condos by developer Richard Levy’s The Levy Group, The Georgetown Co. and the Four Seasons. The board’s decision not to designate the building as a historic landmark was unusual given that its staff report recommended the plant receive landmark status. The building is already subject to historical protections and extra review because it is part of the Georgetown Historic District, but landmark status may have had implications for the redevelopment — or sunken it altogether, if you believe the developer’s argument made before the board on Thursday.

The DC Preservation League filed the nomination for the building. Rebecca Miller, the group’s executive director, told UrbanTurf on Wednesday that the building deserved to be recognized separate from the historic district to give the agencies reviewing the redevelopment a “better understanding of the individual landmark.” Miller told UrbanTurf after the meeting that she was surprised by the board’s decision. The local ANC didn’t support the Preservation League’s bid, but didn’t oppose it, either.

Historic Preservation Office staff agreed with the League, saying in its report that the building architecture merited special attention and preservation.

“For a city with relatively little industrial architecture, the West Heating Plant is a standout industrial building, significant to the appearance and development of the District, and should be recognized alongside infrastructure landmarks such the Central Heating Plant and the Main Sewerage Pumping Station,” staffer Tim Dennee wrote in his report on the project.

Levy and the developers plan to demolish nearly two-thirds of the building in the course of its redevelopment. They suggested that while many buildings within a historic district might merit landmark status, singling out buildings for extra designation in a historic district set a bad precedent for the board. Finally, the developers said the building wasn’t stable and that further restrictions on what they could do with the exterior of the building might sink the project.

“If it was heightened to a landmark, then it would remain a power plant,” a member of the development team told the HPRB.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/west_heating_plant_denied_extra_historic_designation_from_hprb/9804

1 Comment

  1. skidrowedc@gmail.com said at 4:41 pm on Thursday April 23, 2015:

    The developers are correct that landmarking this building would set a bad precedent.

    However, an even worse precedent would be set by allowing the developers to demolish 2/3 of a “historic resource,” as contributing buildings in historic districts are known, particularly in a situation like this where there are no secondary facades (that is, all sides of the building are visible and designed).  It would send the message that developers, when considering how much to pay for a site, need not take historic preservation into consideration.  That’s exactly what’s happened here—the developers wildly overpaid for a building that’s singularly unsuitable for their purpose, under the assumption that they can get HPRB to agree to massive alterations and demolition. 

    So HPRB was right to turn down the landmark nomination, but it must also turn down the application.  To do otherwise is to subvert the entire intent of preservation.  It would also send the message that if you are rich enough and hire sufficiently powerful lawyers and lobbyists, you can get HPRB to approve things they would never even consider for average-Joe applicants.  That would deservedly breed resentment, since the HPRB is notorious for forcing regular citizen and developer applicants into much higher expenses and lower yields.

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