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Driving up Martin Luther King Avenue in Anacostia, on the left you’ll see two once-grand old houses, now derelict and boarded shut.They’re known as the “Big K” properties, at 2228-2238 Martin Luther King Avenue SE, recognizable by the large K on the side of Big K Liquors.
Since 2005, their namesake, the Kushner family, has wanted to raze the turn-of-the-century houses. But they fall within the borders of the Anacostia Historic District, so the Historic Preservation Review Board has rebuffed the Kushners’ request. It was only the second test of the “demolition by neglect” statute, which prevents owners from effectively demolishing their historic buildings by allowing them to fall into dangerous disrepair. The Historic Preservation Office wrote:
The Board has always stood against approving razes of buildings brought to a state of dilapidation by lack of maintenance, as approval would not only result in the loss of historic fabric and character in the particular but would reward and encourage such neglect in general. Just as reconstruction is an appropriate remedy for unpermitted active demolition, so is rehabilitation the appropriate remedy for passive demolition….To the extent that these two houses in particular can be rehabilitated, they would make a profound statement about the both the history and the revitalization of Anacostia, as lovely and conspicuous landmarks on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, a street that has otherwise been transformed to nearly all commercial uses and building types during the twentieth century.
Ann Kushner, whose husband Lenard has since passed away, wasn’t going to take that lying down. Claiming economic hardship, she appealed the ruling to the next highest authority in D.C., the Mayor’s Agent, a spot currently filled by Office of Planning director Harriet Tregoning. The hearing was supposed to be today. But on Wednesday, the news came out that the hearing was off—the Department of Housing and Economic Development had agreed to buy the properties. Sources say the price was flat $1 million, which would be $400,000 more than their combined assessed value for 2009.
What does the District want with those properties? Nobody I’ve talked to seems to know, and DHCD has not returned a request for comment. The agency is headquartered only a few blocks away, and may either look to use the land itself, or dispose of it through one of the programs discussed this morning. Either way, the eventual owner will most likely have to do something with those historic structures, unless the Mayor’s Agent disagrees with the HPRB. And we won’t get another showdown with Harriet.