Should Affordable Housing Trump Historic Preservation?
On Wisconsin Avenue just north of the National Cathedral, in a gap between large boxy apartment buildings, a modest house sits back incongruously from the street. It's been empty and deteriorating for the last several years, since the Historic Preservation Review Board rebuffed owner Mark Kaufman's attempt to move the building to another location (the staff report recommended that the move be allowed, given that the site's hard to develop with the house there, but former chairman Tersh Boasberg didn't go for it).
Now, Kaufman's back with a different proposal, detailed in the Northwest Current a few weeks ago: Raze the building entirely, and build condos for low-income people instead. He's teamed up with affordable housing developer UrbanMatters and come up with an 18-unit, 60-foot-high building by Cunningham and Quill architects that very much blends into the stuff around it.
They anticipate that the Board will again reject the application, somewhat bound as it is by precedent, and they'll have to appeal their case to the Mayor's Agent. There, Kaufman and UrbanMatters' Rax Nix will argue that this falls under the category of exemptions known as "special merit," because it's providing affordable homeownership opportunities in a neighborhood that sure doesn't have many. According to the Historic Preservation Office's Steve Callcott, this is the first time anybody's made that claim—so the Mayor's Agent's decision will carry more import than most.
You can bet this one will bring out folks demanding that Kaufman simply rehabilitate the house for a single family, which is a heavy economic lift (though possible, if a rich enough person were to come along and fall in love with it). It's too bad they didn't let him save the house in the first place.