Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Columbia Heights Endangered

It's hard to miss the dramatic changes that have been happening to DC's historic rowhouse skyline in many parts of the city. The rapid gentrification of many neighborhoods over the last few years has resulted in an influx of money, and consequently an influx of developers looking to take advantage of that.

The Washington Post today reports on this phenomenon. The article is timely, as a house that sold across the street from me only a month ago has already been gutted and popped up, towering above the two-story roofline across the street from my house.

I lived in Mount Pleasant for ten years. That neighborhood has been been given an historical designation that defines strict guidelines about exterior renovations. Over the years, I was involved in many discussions about this status and it's impact. A lot of people complained that it was discriminatory, because one consequence was that repairs or renovations would almost always be more expensive than necessary in order to meet the guidelines. While I am sympathetic to this position, the reality is that the Mt. Pleasant historical review board bent over backwards in many situations to try to accommodate special situations.

At the same time, everyone loses in the long run if this kind of thing is allowed to continue unchecked. One of the primary components of the value of our neighborhoods is the architecture itself. If people can just do whatever they want to the old homes, our beautiful streetscape will completely lose the charm that makes it so desirable. A few dollars saved on a cheap renovation, or a few more dollars earned by a developer by adding some square footage with a third-floor bump-up, are a short term gain only. The desirability of our historic neighborhoods will decrease as they start to resemble horrible suburban sprawl, with builders explioting every angle to put as much square footage of living space as possible in a postage-stamp sized lot.

The D.C. Preservation League has identified Columbia Heights as one of the most endangered places in 2007. Even in the short time I've lived there I've seen numerous examples of fine properties that are being completely reconfigured with no regard for the style of the street, with appalling visual results.

I hope that Columbia Heights can get an historic designation like Mt. Pleasant's before it's too late.


Anonymous said...

Do you know if any groups are trying to get that designation for Columbia Heights or what the process is?

I am also an ex MtP resident and now a CH resident and I share your concerns.

Jamie said...

I spoke with a friend who had been active in Mt. Pleasant about this and she seemed to think that the CH ANCs had at some point decided that they were not interested in getting an historic designation. I'm guessing, though, that attitudes may change as the times do.

Anyway, the place to start seems to be with the ANC, but beyond that I really don't know what the process would be.

Jamie said...

By the way, I stopped by your blog, like it. I grew up in Maine too!

Mercury said...

I don't think a third story detracts if it stays within the context of the design. We are in a city, and some areas could use more height to feel more urban.