When Richard Ward II bought 1953 Biltmore St. NW in October 2001, he cherished his block’s greenery and prime location. He also liked the fact that he could park his Range Rover in his front yard. The previous tenant had co-opted a small patch of ground, just off the adjacent alley, for his tiny Saab.
But Ward knew that his front yard was an eyesore, a mess of dirt and ivy receding to the parking space. So this past September, he had plans drawn up to turn the lawn into an idyllic space, with a cobblestone patio, shrouded by tall trees, shrubs, and flowers. “I was willing to give up my parking space for my patio,” Ward says.
Nine months later, Ward has neither. He has a pile of gray debris: two 5-foot bags of sand and stone dust, four large heaps of flag- and fieldstone. It all rests in a bog of pebbles, one work glove, two cups, two plastic bottles labeled “Muriatic Acid,” yellow “caution” tape, one stub of rebar, scattered wood pegs, and a lot of mud.
The construction project is stalled, thanks to angry neighbors, the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), and city inspectors. And as long as it’s blocked, Ward won’t touch the pile.
The makeover seemed simple at first. The HPRB signed off on the patio, granting Ward a permit. “If he wanted to improve the appearance, it would be fine if he wanted to spruce it up as a patio,” recalls David Maloney, deputy state historic preservation officer with the D.C. Office of Planning. “But no parking space.”
But when Ward started leveling his front yard in December, a few neighbors suggested he should inform the Kalorama Citizens Association about his plans. When he did, the association offered to form a subcommittee to hash over the plans. “I opened a Pandora’s box there a little bit,” Ward says.
More like a “yuppie jihad,” says Bryan Weaver, a local advisory neighborhood commissioner. In March, fearing more permits and caveats, Ward decided to build the patio without community approval. When he started work on Easter weekend, the D.C. Department of Transportation received 20 e-mails on the subject, including lobbying from Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham. By Good Friday evening, Ward had received a stop-work order and a $1,500 fine for constructing a stone wall without a building permit.
Neighbor Susan Magee, who spearheaded the fight against the project, says she believes that Ward didn’t intend to build a patio but was instead trying to put two parking spaces in the yard. Magee also charges that various parts of Ward’s plans violated public-space, zoning, and historic regulations.
Some two weeks later, Ward returned to the HPRB, the agency that had approved the original plans. He offered to abandon the project and return the yard to its pre-construction condition, including the parking space. The agency and Magee rejected it. “That original space was only used for that little Saab,” Magee says. “Once he removed that, it’s gone.”
No matter what, Magee says, Ward isn’t getting a patio or his parking space back.
Ward’s tenants, who occupy the basement and first floor overlooking the pile, are showing signs of fatigue. “To me, to see this is painful,” says tenant Eileen Weller. “I want it to be pretty. I want to live like a civilized person. This is the kind of neighborhood we live inthe ghetto of Kalorama.”
But her husband, Marc Weller, is proud to show off the other improvements in the housethe rooftop deck, the imported hardwood floors, the marble-topped shower. “We don’t fuck around,” he says.
“Rich has huge balls,” Marc Weller says. “He’s a good guy, and he’s just getting fucking hosed.” CP