The District of Columbia passed the Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978 to protect “properties of historical, cultural, or esthetic merit.” Under this law, anyone proposing to alter, demolish, or subdivide a property in a historic district must apply for a permit through the Mayor’s Agent (the Historic Preservation Office within the Office of Planning). The permitting process involves multiple hearings with the HPRB and the Mayori? 1/2s Agent.
The HPRB is comprised of professionals who meet national qualification standards in the disciplines of history, prehistoric and historic archaeology, architecture, or architectural history, and citizen members from across the city. The appointments are made with the goal that the membership reflects the demographic diversity of the city.
Despite the fact that the HPRB has a mandate to consider community input, a conflict in the guidelines for the Board’s review process makes it clear that the community’s opinion is not considered as highly as it could be. This is in stark contrast to other agencies that are required to incorporate community input into their decisions.
Until the District streamlines these procedures, developers will continue to have their designs for new construction or alterations to existing buildings shot down by the Mayor’s Agent and HPRB. This will require savvy developers to engage with local organizations early in the process, and make sure that they have buy-in from neighborhood groups before applying to the HPRB and the Mayor’s Agent.