Housing Complex

Why Do We Even Have the Old Georgetown Board?

Would a two-story window here be such a disaster?

Whenever you hear about some ridiculous form of historic preservation overreach, it's probably from the Old Georgetown Board, the three-member panel that reviews and approves every significant architectural change and new development in that historic district. There was the long, drawn out process of getting an Apple Store design that would look no different from the buildings to its left and right. There was the absurd remark from one board member about how there should be no activity on the roof of EastBanc's new development on the Exxon station for fear of "fat people in bikinis."

Most recently, the OGB has objected to plans for a two-story window on the M Street facade of the Shops at Georgetown Park, saying that "it’s not appropriate for this facade, or for Georgetown" (despite the fact that at least one other retailer, Cusp, already has one). Large windows are the kind of thing that large-format retailers are looking for these days, but apparently Georgetown can't handle anything that wouldn't have been built in 1900.

But let's put aside the substance of the board's requirements of architects and developers. Why does Georgetown have an additional level of review anyway? Remember, it's only one of the several bars a project has to clear: There's also the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, often the Board of Zoning Adjustment, and sometimes the Historic Preservation Review Board as well.

The Old Georgetown Board's three members are appointed by the seven-member Commission on Fine Arts, of whom are themselves appointed by the President of the United States. But the OGB, established in 1950 by an act of Congress in response to the demolition of many historic waterfront buildings to make way for the Whitehurst freeway, has much broader authority than its parent organization, looking at facades and small additions to private buildings rather than just large public projects and monuments.

Twenty eight years later, the District passed its own comprehensive historic preservation legislation, currently enshrined in Division 1, Title 6, Chapter 11 of the D.C. code. From that, historic districts have been created in dozens of neighborhoods, and none of them has any special protection like Georgetown. The District's Historic Preservation Office and Historic Preservation Review Board have proven themselves more than equal to protecting the city's historic resources. Why should another federal body be needed? Why make businesses and residents kowtow to the aesthetic whims and preferences of three people appointed by seven people who were probably too far down on the chain of appointments for the president to even notice?*

As with all vestiges of federal authority over D.C., it's probably useless to complain about, given the inertia in favor of the status quo. But sometimes, it's hard not to express some frustration.


* Edited to reflect the fact that District residents do, in fact, vote for the president, thanks to the 23rd Amendment.

  • http://marketurbanism.com Stephen Smith

    It is quite interesting how many organizations sprang up in resistance to government highway building efforts, but now exist solely to police the activities of private developers. As I understand, the Committee of 100 and the Bay Area eco-NIMBYs got started the same way – opposing highway projects – despite their current focus on private sector development.

  • Bob See

    I sat in on one of their hearings. One of the cases involved the DCFD when they wanted to replace their garage door, which was deteriorating and had compromised function. Cue the typical bickering from people about the style, and material, and this and that. Someone else mentioned, and made sure the FD person assured them that they wouldn't run their sirens until they got 3 blocks away.

    Just absurd to the point of parody.

  • Dizzy

    "Why make businesses and residents kowtow to the whims and preferences of three people appointed by seven people who were appointed by one guy they didn't even vote for?"

    How do you know whether they voted for Obama or not?

    But yes, the OGB has outlived its usefulness.

  • DC Guy

    OGB predates HPO and HPRB. It has a different authority. Given that it is already there, why would those in control give it up? I agree, it is redundant, but until you see residents in Georgetown with torches and pitchforks demanding its repeal, it is probably pretty safe.

  • Maeve

    Time to learn some respect Lydia, but that's never been something the WCP cared about much.

  • Lydia DePillis



  • crin

    Small correction. OGB doesn't have greater powre than CFA. CFA regulates private property too under the Shipsted-Luce Act if that property is adjacent to federal land like the Capitol, Mall, Rock Creek Park, the Zoo, etc. And when the CFA reviews those private projects, it's standards aren't historic preservation and compatibility, but aesthetics and whether a design is ugly enough to affect the experience of the federal property.

  • BobInDC

    The people who "run" Georgetown have somewhat of a "To the Manor Born" attitude. The only development should be nothing more than repairs to Episcopal (Church of England) Church structures. Or perhaps in a fit of comradery with the working class, they might permit a local shopkeeper to get a racy new striped awning for his butcher shop.

  • Mrs. D

    @Maeve, because commentary about fat people in bikinis, as a justification for government regulation of private property, is totally respectful.

  • Pingback: The Morning Metropolitan | The Georgetown Metropolitan

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

    Maeve: I don't know you, but I'm pretty sure your "tut-tutting" isn't a way to earn respect, either.

    Hugs and kisses! Don't let the stench from the dirty fucking hippies rub off on you!

  • http://Kiftsliskbz@gmail.com prappitle

    ugg boots, drugs whatever send me i buy all - ok toff ? here i my adress facts

  • http://www.lookonstore.com/ray-ban-sunglasses-ray-ban-cats-sunglasses-cheap-1_3.html cheap sunglasses with rayban cats

    How to find a Discolored Precious stone

  • http://www.lookonstore.com/oakley-sunglasses-oakley-sport-sunglasses-cheap-16_50.html Oakley Sport Sunglasses

    How to get Jewellery regarding Sensitive Skin color

  • http://www.lookonstore.com/oakley-sunglasses-oakley-eyepatch-2-sunglasses-cheap-16_30.html Oakley Eyepatch 2 Sunglasses

    How Much Will My personal Real Estate Agent Need To Know