Housing Complex

HPRB Nominees Are In: Two Old, One Predictable, One Dark Horse

The recommendations were made, and now word's gone out to people in the preservation world: Mayor Vince Gray has settled on his picks to replace four members of the powerful Historic Preservation Review Board. A couple of them will make the confirmation process particularly interesting.

Two of the Gray's nominees are actually already on the board: Maria Casarella, an architect with Cunningham and Quill who is heading up the board's sustainability initiative, and local developer Elinor Bacon, who is a partner in the redevelopment of the Southwest Waterfront. The D.C. Building Industry Association endorsed their reappointment.

The first newbie is Nancy Metzger, coordinator of the Historic Districts Coalition and chair of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society's historic preservation committee. She is viewed as something of a traditionalist, leading the charge against the Heritage Foundation's third-floor addition. She was endorsed by the Committee of 100, but not the D.C. Preservation League (and certainly not the DCBIA).

The last name is one that made neither the building industry nor the historic preservation groups' lists: Niani Kilkenny, who served as the director of the Program in African American Culture at the National Museum of American History from 1982 to 2003, and is now an independent consultant in design and concept development for museum and humanities projects. Difficulties may arise from the fact that she is being offered to fill the spot on the board that must be occupied by an historian*, which requires an academic background in history. Despite her long tenure at NMAH, her education is in business, economics, and marketing. If the National Park Service determines that she doesn't fit the qualifications for being an historian, the Historic Preservation Office could lose federal funding, to the tune of half a million dollars a year.

So, should be an interesting confirmation hearing!

* The post originally said that Kilkenny was nominated as an architectural historian, not a regular historian.

  • DC Guy

    It isn't just a difficulty. This happened with the nomination of Chris Landis. The preservation groups rightly objected to his nomination by Fenty as an Architectural Historian. This is a slot that is mandated by the Secretary of Interior Standards. Failure to comply with these standards puts funding for the Historic Preservation Office in jeopardy. This is a serious failure on the part of the Mayor and the Office of Boards and Commissions.

    Mayor Gray should withdraw the nomination of Nancy Metzger and slot Kilkenny into the Citizen's chair. Metzger is not a good choice for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact she is on the Board of an organization which is embroiled in the 227 Penn Ave, SE case.

    The Mayor needs to identify an architectural historian to fill the position. Neither of these candidates are qualified.

  • Kathleen

    Nancy Metzger has alienated some Capitol Hill residents--like myself--with her high-handed tactics and close-minded views. I have to believe there is someone with a better sense of process out there for this position.

  • Niani Kilkenny

    This is an interesting assessment. I, too, am interested in the outcome. Please note that I have corrected my Linkedin profile because it is misleading. I worked at the National Museum of American History from 1982 until 2003. I was coordinator of that program, under the direction of Bernice Johnson Reagon until she retired. I became the director in 1992 until I retired in 2003.

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  • Hill Filler

    I don't think Nancy Metzger is on the CHRS board. She is, however, Chair of the CHRS Historic Preservation Committee which is charged with evaluating activities in the Historic District and then testifying before the HPRB.

    Things would be a lot easier if Nancy and her husband Norm, the ANC Commissioner, were mean-spirited jerks but they just aren't. They are unfailingly polite and gracious. The problem is that they are also unfailingly polite and gracious in advocating for positions that put Historic Preservation over absolutely everything else.

    Nancy stopped letting new data about the the evolving needs and wants of the Capitol Hill community impact her thinking about historic preservation long ago. Today, she is remorselessly advocating (and, yes, litigating) an absolutist preservation agenda that is out of date and is smothering development on the Hill.

    Yes, the CHRS is actively involved in Stanton Development's work on the Hine school; but, consider the many projects and investments that business people and homeowners have not even started because they have watched efforts to develop the 1200 block of Pennsylvania go down in flames, efforts to tear down the shotgun house at 1229 E St. and replace it with a historically appropriate single-family residence be vociferously opposed, and seen innumerable neighborhood activists use the Historic Preservation process to grind various axes and create and win a war of attrition.

    Nancy is a great person but an implacable obstacle to rational historic preservation and economic growth on the Hill.

    Interesting hearings, indeed.