Georgetown University, which has battled with its neighbors over its Marriott-run conference center/hotel and its proposed cogeneration plant, now has clashed again. This time, the edifice in question is considerably smaller—it’s a temporary storage/work building to which the city has assigned the address of 3615 1/2 Prospect St. NW—but the issue is large: The structure was erected without a building permit, and has no certificate of occupancy.
In response to a neighbor’s complaint, a city inspector visited the structure in September. According to a letter from Patricia A. Montgomery, acting administrator of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs’ Building and Land Regulation Administration, “no permits had been issued for the construction of the building” and “no plans had been filed nor was any staff person aware of proposed [construction] and/or construction of the building.” The university was fined $1,000 for its violation, but still has the right to apply for the necessary permits and certificate of occupancy. Demolition of the building cannot be required until the city makes a final decision on its legality.
The mistake was made by NHP, a company hired by Georgetown to manage university-owned townhouses in the neighborhood, says Linda Greenan, Georgetown’s Assistant to the President for Community Relations. Preparing for some maintenance work, the company decided an existing shed was inadequate and replaced it with a new, larger one without doing the required paperwork. “They should’ve known better,” notes Greenan, who says NHP will now try to get approval for the structure.
Demolishing the Historic Preservation Act The Committee of 100 on the Federal City, a citizens’ planning group, has decided to appeal the decision of the Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation to allow the demolition of structures in the 500 block of 7th Street NW. The agent’s decision, handed down Sept. 27, would allow Square 456 Associates, a partnership controlled by the Equitable Life Assurance Co., to build an office building incorporating the old Hecht’s department store structure, and to gut the nearby May Building (also called the Murray Building), an 1868 structure, for the erection of a small apartment building. The demolitions are opposed both by the Committee of 100, which considers them a breach of the city’s historic preservation act, and the Market Square Condominium Association, which wants more housing on the site than the May Building façadomy would provide.
According to Committee of 100 attorney Cornish Hitchcock, the mayor’s agent both misread the law and ignored its legislative history. It’s the third major case where the agent has done so, noted Hitchcock, who was one of the lawyers whose suit led to the overturning of a mayor’s agent decision to allow demolition of the Woodward Building. In August, the city government was also reversed in the case of the President Monroe, a historic apartment building that the mayor’s agent ruled could be demolished after its owners allowed it to deteriorate significantly.
Under the city’s historic preservation act, demolition of landmarks is allowed for reasons of economic hardship or the construction of a new building of “special merit.” The Square 456 decision, however, merely finds the planned demolitions “necessary in the public interest.”