Capitol Hill Restoration Society

Support for Protecting Historic Homes Amendment Act of 2023

Posted on March 26th, 2024

CHRS testimony in support of  “Protecting Historic Homes Amendment Act of 2023

Illegal demolition of historic buildings is a problem on Capitol Hill and in other neighborhoods.  Two examples: 

326 A Street, SE, HPA 17-591,   This preCivil War house was to be preserved, but during restoration, three walls fell, a stop work order was issued, and the owner and contractor were fined. HPO inspected the demolition and halted the work until the project applicant and contractor submit for review and approval updated demolition plans showing the extent of demolition and HPO later signed off on the reconstruction permit and the stop work order was lifted. Eventually the project was completed.   

639 A Street, SE,  HPA 22-277, May 2022, HPA 23-239, 2023. This two-story two-bay porch-front frame house, apparently one of a pair, was built in 1874 or earlier. Renovation plans called for a rear and side addition.  HPRB approved the plans in 2022. But on March 17, 2023 a stop work order was issued for work exceeding the scope of the permit—demolishing the entire house — only the façade remained.  At an HPRB hearing on June 1, 2023, the contractor testified that he encountered unexpected safety problems, did not notify the project architect about these problems, and removed rotted fabric.  The Board stated that it is the owner’s responsibility to report and correct problems, and that unexpected situations arise in many projects. It is not the building inspector’s responsibility to find problems. The Board also noted that the photographs in the file showed that not all the fabric removed was rotted, that the demolition was “a real shame,” and that fines (said to be approximately $4,000 by one witness) should be high enough to deter violations. Because the plans were essentially the same as the plans that the Board approved in 2022 we supported the project which the Board approved “holding our nose.” 

For prior coverage see CHRS News July-August 2023 (page 4), May 2019 (page 5).  

Councilmember Allen and two sponsors have introduced a bill to increase the penalties for “substantial” illegal demolition. CHRS supports this bill and offered suggestions to clarify the definition of a “substantial demolition.”

Article by Beth Purcell