Plans to demolish 1870s row house win city approval

The tan row house at 1312 13th St. NW can be razed after the Historic Preservation Review Board concluded that the 1870s building has lost its character-defining architecture. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

Plans to demolish an 1870s row house and construct a modern new condo building in its place have won Historic Preservation Review Board approval, despite community objections to the 1312 13th St. NW project.

The four-story building had been listed as a contributing building to the Greater 14th Street Historic District, a status that usually protects against demolition or major alteration. But developer Acumen Cos. successfully argued that the structure had already been modified so heavily over the years that it was no longer valuable historically.

“The board determined that the building really didn’t have any integrity of design, materials or feeling,” Steve Callcott of the D.C. Historic Preservation Office said in an interview. “It didn’t really relate to the historic district as a historic building any longer.”

The board’s 7-1 vote on Aug. 3 reclassified the 13th Street building as non-contributing to the historic district and endorsed the site’s redevelopment plans. Acumen intends to construct a five-story building similar in size to the four-story structure it will replace, according to the company’s Beck Vissat. The nine condo units will be a mix of one- and two-bedrooms, he said.

The board signed off on the project despite opposition from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2F (Logan Circle), which voted 5-1 against the development. This was in part because of 12 at-risk windows in a neighboring condominium building, Solo Piazza, which would have been blocked by the new project.

The plans presented at the preservation board meeting had since been changed and no longer block the windows. The Solo Piazza condominium board initially spoke at the meeting in opposition to the plans despite the design changes. However, after asking for a break during the meeting to have a last-minute discussion with the developer, the condominium board withdrew its opposition.

While the Solo Piazza board left the room to negotiate with the developers, other residents of that building testified against the project. These residents discussed the importance of the eclectic nature of the block, with buildings from different periods in the city’s history.

“I consider 1312 also [to be] one of the historic buildings,” Solo Piazza resident Mansour Abu-Rahmeh said. “I don’t think everything has to be pretty and conforming. It’s part of where we live and why I enjoy living in Logan.”

This design rendering shows the four-story condo building that will replace 1312 13th St. NW. (rendering courtesy of Acumen Cos.)

Despite the revised designs and the condo board’s support, ANC 2F chair John Fanning said he still has reservations about the project. In particular, Fanning told The Current that he is concerned about whether these kinds of reclassifications will become a broader trend, allowing new developments to continue replacing historic buildings.

Fanning also expressed doubts about whether the design of the new project at 1312 13th St. will fit in with the rest of the neighborhood.

“Any time you have a property within a historic district reclassified, it jeopardizes the architectural character of the block,” Fanning said in an interview. “We thought this would obviously happen if they were granted a reclassification.”

While deliberating on the case, preservation board members considered sending the proposal back to ANC 2F, but ultimately decided to vote on the project without seeking further input from the commission. In part, this was based on Callcott’s report, which wholeheartedly endorsed the application.

The existing structure is a four-story building built in the 1870s, which has undergone significant renovation since. As early as the 1920s, there were changes to the building that stripped it of defining architectural details, according to a staff report prepared for the preservation board. The exterior was covered in stucco in 2000 after it was discovered that the original brick was too deteriorated to restore.

“The extent of alteration is significant enough that the building no longer conveys integrity of feeling or association with the historic district,” the report said.

Now that the preservation board has approved the project, Acumen will move forward on creating a full design for the project and begin getting permits, Vissat said. Demolition and construction are slated to begin in early 2018.