Housing Complex

Barney Circle: God Willing, A Smooth Road Ahead For Historic District

Look at that green space and those porchfront houses!

Look at that green space and those porchfront houses!

Here are some fun facts about the history of Barney Circle: It contains no 19th century buildings and over 70% of its buildings were constructed between 1919 and 1924. It’s named after Joseph Joshua Barney, a hero of the War of 1812. It was a transit hub in the streetcar days, where cars turned around and bus transfer lines crossed. Slow to receive the utilities and amenities afforded to other neighborhoods, its streets weren’t entirely paved until 1919. More Navy Yard workers lived there than in any other neighborhood (up to 25%!). Its most distinctive housing style is the “bungalow-esque” porchfront house.

With so much history, it’s unsurprising that the Barney Circle Neighborhood Watch Association (BCNWA) has been taking steps since as early as 2004 to have their neighborhood designated as a historic district by the city’s Historic Preservation Office. And now, it’s moving swiftly towards a final verdict.

About 40 people braved last night’s rain to assemble in the basement of Liberty Baptist Church on Kentucky Avenue SE—a solid turnout for a neighborhood as small as Barney Circle, which is bounded by Barney Circle to the south, Potomac Avenue to the north, the Congressional Cemetery to the east, and Kentucky Avenue to the west. The meeting began with a prayer, which did include a request to the Lord and Saviour that the preservation process be a smooth one.

After Reuben Hameed of the BCNWA lead gave a presentation chock-full of Barney Circle history, the Historic Preservation Office got into some nitty-gritty of what becoming a historic district would mean for residents. Some of the office’s “design guidelines”—intended to protect the neighborhood’s signature front porches and green space—got down to specifics (as Housing Complex noted earlier, they’re only the second set of draft guidelines to be tailored specifically to the neighborhood). From the draft of the guidelines: “Original wall materials, both primary and secondary, should be retained and repaired. If beyond repair, original materials should be replaced in kind or with an exact match...” and “Five or six paneled wood doors, or half- or full-light glass doors are appropriate door choices.”

The largest cause for concern voiced by the community appeared to be the existence of a used-car lot just outside the boundaries of the proposed historic district (across the street from the McDonald’s). Developers have previously expressed interest in the lot, and without inclusion in the historic district, they’d have license to build in whatever style they chose. No clear answer came from the BCNWA leaders, nor from the Historic Preservation Office officials, as to whether or not the lot could be adopted into the proposed historic district. Mary, a 13-year resident of Barney Circle, acknowledged that though she preferred that the lot not be developed in a non-historic style, her understanding was that the boundaries of the historic district were drawn to include residential buildings only.

Barney Circle is entirely residential and has made the DC Preservation League's yearly list of Endangered Places twice (in 2008 and 2009); so far, the neighborhood has lost only one original structure (a house at Potomac Avenue and 17th Street). The Preservation Office hearing to determine whether the neighborhood will be designated historic is scheduled for June 24, 2010. Residents will be notified by May 10, and will have until the day of the hearing to voice any contestations. It didn’t appear that there would be too many, though—Barney Circle residents seemed entirely invested in preserving their neighborhood’s charm and character.

Residents were encouraged to contact the Preservation Office with any questions or concerns about Barney Circle. Amanda Molson and Preservation Office Director David Maloney, who were both in attendance last night, can be reached at amanda.molson@dc.gov and david.maloney@dc.gov.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    good to hear. wish more neighborhoods were actually excited and/or interested in preserving their architectural character. places like bloomingdale, eckington, brookland, edgewood, even trinidad (hell, all of ward 5) are mostly intact, but seeing tear-downs and mc-mansionizing pressures all the time.

  • Potomac Ave Resident

    "God willing"? What happened to objective journalism?

    This piece glosses over all of the concerns voiced by the residents who were totally shut out of this process. Many of us had no notification and no chance to weigh in this.

    There has been no vote or other neighborhood-wide referendum on this and it's disappointing none of this was covered in this article.

    The concerns of those in favor of the historic district are worth consideration, but the process has been unbalanced and unfair, and does not have full neighborhood support.

  • alexbaca

    @Potomac Ave Resident—"God willing" was a reference to the prayer that BNCWA leaders instituted at the meeting's beginning.

    This post covered what the April 26 meeting looked like. The residents I spoke to there were in favor of the historic designation and concerned with the used-car lot. As I recall (it's a few months later now), some who didn't agree walked out early on. There's absolutely a larger picture to this story—which is being sufficiently covered now that the neighborhood didn't get its historic designation—but it didn't come out at this particular meeting. Whether that's a testament to the BNCWA's power to draw only its supporters to its meetings or the presence of a vocal minority, I couldn't tell you.

    I apologize for an inaccurate representation of the process, but this meeting and its attendees came off as favoring the historic district designation, and this post was about the meeting.

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