by Shauna Holmes
Owners of historic Capitol Hill homes take great interest in their windows, and many turned out for CHRS’s October 15 Preservation Café to hear Christian Kelleher, of The Craftsmen Group, tell the story of our historic wood windows and explain their importance. It can be difficult for us, in the 21st century, to really comprehend how hard it was in the mid- to late-19th century to craft the windows we enjoy and admire today. For instance, only in the 1870s did the steel industry ramp up the capability to make machinery that could produce the metal pulleys necessary to suspend windows for the double-hung design we now take for granted. Larger window panes weren’t technologically feasible until the latter part of the century, and the process to make really large panes wasn’t perfected until the 1950s. Similarly, until steam power and new railroads could transport a wider range of parts and materials to more regions of the country, 19th-century window makers were limited to locally available woods, parts, and glass.
Because our original wood windows were painstakingly hand-crafted and thus much harder to make than current products, they were typically made very well and made to last. The careful workmanship is reflected in the high quality of the windows, and Mr. Kelleher believes we owe it to ourselves and the people who made our windows to respect those objects, value their quality, and preserve them to the fullest extent possible. In short, he said, quality matters.
Mr. Kelleher finds historic windows easier to repair than factory-made ones, both because of the quality of their craftsmanship and the high quality of their wood. On Capitol Hill, windows were usually made of old growth pine, which is a very durable wood that stands up well to many decades of use and weathering. Contemporary farmed pine, in contrast, can’t measure up to the old growth in durability and resistance to bacteria that attack wood and break it down. Therefore, homeowners should be very careful about what woods are used to repair or replace their windows.
Mr. Kelleher recommends Spanish cedar or South American mahogany or white oak as pretty good substitutes for old growth pine and warns owners not to let contemporary pine be used for any window part that would be outside exposed to weather, since it would be susceptible to rot.
To fight drafts, Mr. Kelleher said the best thing to do is stop air infiltration with putty and weatherstripping. To protect woods, he recommends using tung oil, first cutting it with a solvent, then applying it in graduating thicknesses and rubbing it in well. Varnish can also be used (he suggests Marine Spar or Sikkens), but never polyurethane, which is brittle. As to old, leaky glass, it can be retrofitted in-house.
CHRS provided attendees two sets of window guidelines: CHRS’s Windows: The Eyes of a Building, and the DC Historic Preservation Office’s Window Repair and Replacement for Historic Properties. The speaker’s company, The Craftsmen Group, is among the businesses suggested in the Preservation Office guidelines for window repair and is currently working on the windows for Eastern Market’s restoration.
by Shauna Holmes
CHRS’s fall Preservation Café series began September 17 with Tailored to Fit: Creating an Accessible Home. Architect Rebecca Stevens and architectural designer Lindsey Vanderdray, both with Capitol Hill architectural firm Architrave, provided a wealth of tips for making our homes more comfortable and easier to live in as we deal with temporary or permanent mobility challenges and/or age-related limitations. Their presentation broadened the scope beyond wheelchair accessibility to include sometimes simple modifications or rearrangements to make the activities of daily life easier and safer to carry out.
For instance, the speakers congratulated the audience for having already taken a big step in this direction by choosing to live on Capitol Hill, where residents are already close to public transportation, services, goods, and entertainment. When we’re bringing those goods home, they suggested having a seat or bench near the door to put stuff on while we unlock the doors. Then we don’t have to juggle bags and packages while fumbling for keys and won’t have to bend over so far to pick things up. Having railings on both sides of exterior and interior steps and staircases will provide more balance and safety than a single railing, and glow-in-the-dark treads on stairs or motion-activated lights can make nighttime forays safer too. Adding good lighting doesn’t have to be expensive and can help prevent stumbles and falls, as will taping or otherwise securing area rugs.
Single-lever faucet handles can be easier to use than ones that have to be twisted and can help prevent accidental scalding. Similarly, replacing cabinet and door knobs with levers or pulls can be easier on arthritic hands as well as hands and wrists that are sore from daylong computer use. Many folks find that lights activated by rocker, slide, or touch switches are easier to operate, as are phones with large digital displays and adjustable ironing boards that allow users to sit.
People who are planning to renovate a room or area, or build an addition, are in a great position to think right up front about making things easier and more readily accessible. With some thought for the future and the possibilities it may bring, homeowners can build accessibility and ease-of-use into their plans and outfit their new kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas with hardware, accessories, and other carefully chosen items that will make life easier. Examples included installing a dumbwaiter to reduce trips up and down stairs, or a higher dishwasher to reduce bending over, or moving the washer/dryer upstairs where the clothes and other laundry are.
No design or feature can serve 100% of people all the time, so individual homeowners should think about their houses and what bugs them — make a list — and then start making changes. Depending on what those changes are and what they involve, be sure to get a building permit (or any other permit that may be necessary) before starting. If considering something really major and costly like installing an elevator, talk to the staff at DC’s Historic Preservation Office; they are very interested in working with residents to devise measures that would allow people to remain in their homes.
by Shauna Holmes
CHRS’s June Preservation Café featured the little-known Market Master’s Office on Eastern Market’s second floor. Tucked away above the central entrance pavilion on the Market’s east side, the office was untouched in previous renovations and survived the April 2007 fire.
After the fire, three organizations—the DC Preservation League, DC’s Historic Preservation Office, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation—joined together to commission a conservation report that would provide a history of the Market Master’s Office, document its condition, provide technical recommendations for rehabilitating the space, and determine the optimal period of historic significance to provide a framework for interior rehabilitation and interpretation. Three of the preservation experts who worked on the report spoke at the Preservation Café: Tanya Beauchamp, an architectural historian, and Gretchen Pfaehler and Cristina Radu, preservation architects at EwingCole, which developed and produced the report.
As Ms. Beauchamp said in her introductory remarks, German-American architect Adolph Cluss designed Eastern Market to provide Washington with a prototypical modern American market for an expanding city and expanding urban neighborhood. “The plan, lighting, ventilation, and other details of the building were carefully thought out. The role of the Market Master and the design of his office were central to the efficient working of the market. Providing the Market Master with an elevated position where he could observe both the indoor and outdoor marketing activities, have easy and quick access to all areas…and yet provide a measure of privacy in which to conduct the business of the market was key to its success.” The space was used as Cluss intended for nearly twenty years, after which it was converted to public space and used mostly as a café for several decades. The report recommends 1873-1908 as the period of significance and interpretation for restoring and rehabilitating the space, since that includes the earliest years of the market and the time when the space was used as originally intended.
Using excellent PowerPoint slides to illustrate their architectural survey and findings, the speakers described their examination of the space’s surfaces and finishes; its partition, door, windows, and knee wall; and the winding stair and its enclosure. The original configuration was one room with no enclosures and showed a high quality of craftsmanship. The condition of original materials was found to be fair for walls, windows, and floors, but poor for the stair and ceilings. Changes over time included a partition wall, mantel surround, stair enclosure, a platform along the stair, and wallpaper. The meticulous survey of finishes included identifying historic paints through stereoscopic and polarized-light microscopy and microchemistry.
Recommendations for rehabilitation of the Market Master’s Office include following the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation in all work, which would include removing additions like the partition wall, platform doors, stair enclosure, and miscellaneous wood pieces. Recommended work would also include restoring the stairs’ structural soundness; constructing a handrail along the stair; reconstructing the ceiling in the stairway; repairing and refinishing the wood floor boards and the knee wall along the stair; restoring and refinishing all wood trim and window frames and sashes; and reconstructing hatches to the attic in their original locations. The plaster walls should be repaired and refinished per the finishes recommended in the Historic Paint Finishes Report, and the missing section of baseboard should be reconstructed and finished according to that report as well.
The conservation report recommends too that interpretation play an important role as the office is rehabilitated. It recommends, for instance, that current ceilings should be removed and new ceilings constructed and finished according to the recommended period of interpretation; the fireplace surround should be retained and interpreted; small sections of wallpaper should be saved, mounted, and exhibited as part of the history of the space; and the gas fixtures should be documented and removed for use in an exhibit interpreting the café period. And, since Adolph Cluss designed the space as an office, the report recommends that the space continue to be used as an office, which would also comply with the first of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, which states that “A property shall be used for its historic purpose or be placed in a new use that requires minimal change to [its] defining characteristics…”
by Shauna Holmes
Who knew so many Capitol Hill homeowners were thinking about digging out their basements? Fifty people attended CHRS’s May 21 Preservation Café to hear architect and Capitol Hill resident Judith Capen talk about the process and perils of Digging Out Your Basement.
She minced no words right from the outset—digging out is a huge, messy, expensive undertaking, and advised that if you can avoid it, don’t dig. The benchmark she suggested for deciding is whether or not your basement’s floor-to-ceiling height is at least eight feet: if it is, don’t dig, unless you want to expand your basement; if not, dig down to create the necessary height for a comfortable room.
Before calling a contractor about digging out, it’s important to find out as much as possible about the house’s foundation conditions. The homeowner can probably do this by using a spade to dig several test holes beside the exterior walls of each section of the house to see how deep the walls go and what type of footings were used. Also try to find out where the waste lines are, as well as other utility lines, and whether they could be affected by any digging.
If it will be necessary to dig below the bottoms of existing footings, underpinning will be needed to provide support for walls during the dig. In that case, a structural engineer will need to develop an underpinning plan and a schedule for the work, which will have to be done in segments to protect the structural integrity of the house. Owners should not assume that loadbearing features in their houses are overbuilt, but should also have the structural engineer determine whether, for instance, a steel beam may be needed above a new opening in a loadbearing wall.
Excavating and underpinning will require permits (other related work may need permits too), and neighbors need to be notified because digging and underpinning can impact their walls and their homes’ structural integrity as well. Adjoining homes on the Hill may have been built at different times and have two different foundation conditions on each side of a party wall. Depending on the work being planned, one or both neighbors may need to be informed of the plans, so homeowners should be prepared to discuss their plans with their neighbors and seek to address and allay any concerns they may have.
With almost any kind of basement work, homeowners need to think about moisture control and options like extending the vapor barrier in a new slab up the sides of the new lower walls. And, as digging proceeds, be prepared for concealed conditions, such as previously unidentified waste lines and other potential surprises.
With spring turning everyone’s attention to sprucing up their houses, over fifty folks turned out for CHRS’ April 16 Preservation Café on Repointing Historic Brick Exteriors. Danny Palousek, President of Pointing Plus, Inc. — who was featured on This Old House — provided a wealth of information on repointing masonry like that found in so many Capitol Hill row houses.
Signs that you may need to consider repointing include moisture on inside walls, drafts, external cracks, and sagging of exterior arches. When repointing is necessary, it is critical to ensure that external paint is properly removed, appropriate mortar is used and applied correctly, and mortar joints are properly prepared.
Mortar acts as a kind of “marshmallow” between bricks and must be softer than the bricks to protect and cushion them as outer walls expand and contract. It also needs to be more permeable than the bricks so the inevitable moisture can escape through the mortar. Properly prepared mortar should be aesthetically pleasing and as close a match as possible to the original to maintain the historic appearance of the house. On Capitol Hill, builders often added crushed brick, ash, or soot to their mortars to improve hydraulic set, so a good match would more likely be a shade of gray or red, rather than white. Mortars should also have appropriate kinds and combinations of ingredients, which for the Hill’s historic homes would rarely, if ever, include Portland cement.
Mr. Palousek provided a checklist for use when hiring a contractor for masonry repair and repointing. Suggestions include getting a preliminary mortar analysis to provide a basic understanding of what you have so new mortar will closely match the color, texture, and hardness of the original; requiring the contractor to repoint a small, inconspicuous area first to test how closely it matches; asking lots of questions about the mortar recipe and strength; inspecting the cleaned mortar joints before new mortar is inserted; and ensuring that curing conditions are carefully controlled.
Additional information on repointing is available in CHRS’ Capitol Hill Brick Guidelines and Repointing and Paint Removal: A CHRS Case Study. You can request individual copies from Jeff Fletcher at CapHRS@aol.com.
The audience at CHRS’s March 19 Preservation Café received a wealth of information about Making the Most of Your Basement from longtime Hill resident and architect Judith Capen, author of the Ask Judith column in local newspapers. For rowhouse owners wishing for more usable living space, maximizing the potential “down under” is very important.
Ms. Capen led with a recommendation to consider Capitol Hill basements “special needs” spaces because of what they tend to have in common: they’re usually short and dark and attract moisture. For comfortable headroom, she advises a minimum ceiling height of eight feet. To provide adequate light and air, as well to comply with code requirements, ensure a minimum of eight square feet of window glazing for every one hundred square feet of floor space, with at least half of that window area openable for ventilation.
Moisture in basements is inevitable because it will travel through walls and many flooring materials, and cooler basements condense the moisture from hot, humid summer air. Homeowners who accept moisture as a given and use strategies to minimize and control it will fare best. Since spores can feed on almost any building material, including drywall, those who have brick basement walls were advised to keep them unpainted and uncovered so the walls can breathe. If pipes are left uncovered as well, any condensation can evaporate and leaks will be visible and readily available for repair. Ms. Capen recommended tile, concrete, or stone for below-grade flooring rather than materials susceptible to moisture damage, like wood or carpeting.
Life-safety code requirements include adequate egress from sleeping spaces and adequate fire separation between a rental unit and the main part of the house. Because sound reverberates in joist space, soundproofing of some kind is advisable between dwelling units. A rental unit cannot share air conditioning or any other forced air system with the primary living space. To meet code, every dwelling unit must have at least one room of at least 120 square feet, and no habitable room, except for a kitchen, can be less than seven feet across.
Fixing up a basement for living space is not cheap, so Ms. Capen says it’s important to figure out what you want most and then decide if you’re willing to pay for it. An architect can help you figure out how to accomplish what you want. There are architects in the Capitol Hill area who can provide a general, “broad strokes” consultation for $350-500, with more detailed plans available for additional fees. Once you’re ready to implement plans, don’t forget to be sure you have the necessary permits before work begins.
At the May 21 Preservation Café, Judith Capen will present Part II of Making the Most of Your Basement, when she will talk about Digging Out Your Basement: To Dig or Not to Dig.
by Eric Snellings
A late-arriving crowd of almost 40 came to the February Preservation Café and prepared for spring by learning about options to address problems that many owners of historic properties face: failing walkways, bulging retaining walls, broken concrete steps, and crumbling brick patios. Dr. Christina Wilson of Renaissance Development provided a PowerPoint presentation of before-and-after examples of possibilities for all these situations.
Walkways and Patios
Dr. Wilson told the audience that concrete was used extensively after 1890 and is one appropriate replacement material. Others are brick and stone, of course, but care should be taken to choose appropriate colors of all materials so that they will blend with the historic fabric of the house.
In older neighborhoods there is often a mixture of paving and yard treatments in older neighborhoods as features have been added over time — concrete, brick, gravel, stepping stones, and mulch, often causing water collection areas that foster mosquito breeding. Wilson favors an approach that often involves removing all of these elements and starting over with a clean slate, regrading the yard and allowing runoff to be directed into planting areas and yards.
She said that it is desirable to use new paving brick, which is fired at higher temperatures and is more durable than wall brick, for horizontal surface longevity. She also advocates flagstone and slate as paving material options (along with concrete) for these horizontal walking surfaces.
For patios, she indicated that there is no historical precedent. [See Front Garden Info below.] The approach for this paved area should be treated in a similar manner as walkways. She provided a multiplicity of ideas of patterns for brick-paved areas, and sizes of stone pieces with different patterns for patios. She Tips for Improving Garden Walls, Walks, and Steps believes that regular rather than irregular patterns are more appropriate for the period of Capitol Hill properties and their location in an urban environment.
With the differing heights of adjacent properties, public sidewalks, and house entrances that are a result of our city’s design and house typology, there is a wealth of retaining walls and grade changes on Capitol Hill. Again, these configurations can result in water run-off issues, basement flooding, and other problems. Retaining wall problems can result from movement due to tree roots, soil and ground water pressure, and adjacent development.
In order to make repairs, Dr. Wilson often advocates a complete removal and replacement approach. When constructed, these walls typically did not include footings or reinforcement. In order to meet current codes, she noted that footings and back-up reinforced concrete block walls should be constructed and then faced with brick or stone to simulate the original appearance of a wall. In some areas, 18” high walls can be used for seating as part of a comprehensive design solution.
Decks and Stairs
Decks also have no historical precedent on Capitol Hill and often a deck was installed because it was the cheaper option or because it would hide a problem. When there are enclosed or semi-enclosed areas under these decks, a potential (and experience shows, likely) haven for rats is created. Sometimes these low-rising decks and wooden stairs can be replaced with masonry construction that can help eliminate these problems and provide a more long-term solution.
Where the existing stairs are already concrete, but in disrepair, they can be capped with stone or brick or they can be coated with concrete (parged) to improve their appearance and extend their usefulness.
Design and Installation
One design tip offered was to mark the area with paint or use cardboard patterns of the stone sizes and patterns to help visualize the area and design choices available. The use of stone dust rather than sand for the base of the paving area may be more cost effective and still provide drainage. Grouted areas are required at and around steps and stairs to reduce the possibility of movement. Mortar colors are varied and darker grey or red can be used to match historic materials.
Q and A
Several questions were posed after the presentation and covered such issues as: paving over existing concrete, radial pacing patterns at round building elements (turrets), yards that slope towards the house, and the protection of existing plant material. For answers to these questions or others, contact Renaissance Development at 202-547-2345.
Capitol Hill ’s front gardens were established under the 1871 “Parking” Act, passed to establish a linear park along our streets and avenues (an early “green” endeavor). Think of designing the front garden of your house as making a little park, which will be joined with all your neighbors’ little parks to produce the green space envisioned over one-hundred years ago. Keep the paving area in the front gardens to a minimum and consult your local garden centers or designers on plant selection to achieve a low-maintenance garden, if that is your preference. Ground covers, low shrubs and flowers, and trees are considered appropriate landscape materials under the “Parking” Act.
Changes and alterations to hardscape features (walks, stairs, walls, porches) and changes of grade in the front gardens require a public space permit as well as a building permit.
For more information about public space requirements and permits, consult the Capitol Hill Restoration Society Guidelines on those subjects, available at the NE and SE libraries as well as the CHRS office (202-543-0425; CapHRS@aol.com). Also check the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs website for more permit information.
by Shauna Holmes
The audience at CHRS’s November 14 Preservation Café filled the Community Room at Ebenezer’s Coffee House as dozens of Capitol Hill residents gathered for “What You Need to Know About Your Historic Wood Floors.” Our guest speaker, Mr. Sprigg Lynn, is president of Universal Floors, Inc., a family-owned business in DC’s Tenleytown that has been installing, repairing, and refinishing wood floors in the DC area over 50 years. Its customers have included the White House, the Library of Congress, the Octagon House, the State Department, and over 20 embassies, as well as many private homes.
A master craftsman whose involvement in the flooring business began in childhood, Mr. Lynn drew on his extensive experience to describe the kind of heart pine flooring found in most historic Capitol Hill homes and explain how to repair, refinish, and care for it. Heart pine, which was extensively used on the floors of area homes built during the 19th century through the 1920s, is almost as hard as oak and doesn’t turn red until it’s 250 years old. Vertical cut, pinstriped heart pine is the best there is, he said, like gold, and is now very expensive, so those of us who have them are very fortunate. Another advantage is that bugs don’t like to eat this kind of wood because they don’t like its resin. He recommended the Goodwin Heart Pine Company’s web site—www.heartpine.com—as a good source of information about the history, use, and care of heart pine floors (the How To and FAQs sections of its site map are very helpful in finding the specifics you’re looking for).
Mr. Lynn provided numerous tips for refinishing and caring for heart pine floors. For squeaks, he recommended graphite or baby powder. Prior to sanding, make sure nails are set low enough that the sander doesn’t hit them, and choose a contractor who won’t use overly aggressive sandpaper and will work with a light touch so as not to wear unnecessarily through the boards. Repairs can be major jobs, and when they are necessary, ask the contractor a lot of questions; the best repairs should barely show. Universal Floors, which stocks a warehouse with reclaimed antique wood, can be a good source of replacement heart pine for repair work (www.universalfloors.com).
Lots of older floors have been finished with wax, which will sink into the wood and last longer than anything else. Mr. Lynn’s father likes paste wax the best; you can add color to it, and it won’t be too slippery (Duraseal and Durafinish are brands he suggested). A simple way to tell if your floor is waxed is that a drop of water on it will turn white. Universal Floors also uses a lot of tung oil, which has been around for centuries. Some are low VOC (which is mandated in DC), and hardening agents and tints can be added to it. If you try to recoat your floor, be very careful and seek expert advice, because there can be bonding issues going from one finish to another, and peeling can result. To clean your floor, he recommends sweeping, vacuuming, and damp mopping.
Attendees left the Preservation Café with a wealth of information and tips, along with handouts and Mr. Lynn’s business cards. If you wish to contact Mr. Lynn, he can be reached through Universal Floor’s website at www.universalfloors.com, by e-mailing him at email@example.com, or by calling 202-537-8900.
After a two-month hiatus for the holidays, Preservation Cafés will resume in February. Look for information about the date, time, location, and topic in CHRS’s News, the website, and local Capitol Hill newspapers.
Restoring a landmark and bringing it up to code is always an interesting proposition, but at the October Preservation Café, Tony Esse and Tina Roach pointed out that the Eastern Market fire presented some unusual historic preservation opportunities.
Tony Esse, P.E., supervisory project manager for DC’s Office of Property Management, started off the session with a look at the restoration schedule for Eastern Market:
Tina Roach, AIA, architect with Quinn Evans architectural firm that is in charge of the project, gave the audience a close-up look at some of the conditions uncovered by the fire, the restoration challenges, and solutions that will be used.
Eastern Market’s signature iron trusses not only were twisted by the fire’s heat at the top of the roof but many were damaged where they rested on the brick walls. After two trusses were lifted from the building, disassembled, and each part carefully numbered, the architectural team was able to understand the original system better and use them as patterns. Since the historic iron truss system would be unable to meet modern code requirements, the new system will have both historic iron trusses and look-alike, load-bearing steel trusses. The iron trusses that will remain in place have been cleaned and painted. Those that will be removed will be “archived.” This solution combines the “archaeology” of historic trusses with the strength of modern steel trusses. Ms. Roach felt that Eastern Market visitors would not be able to discern the difference between the two.
One of the discoveries was the existence of an iron framework along the roof ridge that seemed to indicate at least the design intent by the original architect, Adolph Cluss, to have a skylight in the building. A modern skylight, warranted by the manufacturer, will be installed. The double insulated glass will moderate both the heat gain and the UV ray problems with food safety and display.
The completion of the restoration and move-in date for the vendors is scheduled for early 2009.
by Shauna Holmes
At CHRS’s September 19 Preservation Café, CHRS Zoning Committee Chairman Gary Peterson provided basic information about zoning designations and such technical aspects of zoning as special exceptions, variances, lot occupancy, and Planned Unit Developments (PUDS). Handouts citing brief excerpts from zoning regulations made it easy for the audience to follow along as Gary used humor, diagrams, and plain language to demystify zoning and make the arcane clear.
For example, in residential areas zoned R-4, one of the most common designations on Capitol Hill, structures are typically allowed to occupy up to 60 percent of a single lot. Anything with a roof—including sheds, carports, garages, and porches—counts toward lot occupancy, as can small courts under certain conditions. Special exceptions can be granted, however, if they’re in harmony with the intent and purpose of the zoning regulations and don’t have an adverse effect on the neighbors’ use of their property. Gary said these can be fairly easy to get when a property owner has letters from owners of neighboring properties expressing support for a proposed plan.
A zoning variance, which was described as sort of an “escape valve,” is harder to get. Variances are usually sought when owners claim an “extraordinary or exceptional situation or condition” applies to their property or assert that strict application of a zoning regulation could cause them “exceptional and undue hardship.” An area variance requires more weight to get than a special exception, and a use variance, which would change or add to a property’s use, needs the most weight of all to get.
Gary’s description of how Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) work was very helpful and timely, since we are seeing more and more of these developments proposed or underway in the Capitol Hill vicinity. A PUD enables a developer to work with a larger site and create something that benefits both the developer and the community. In exchange for providing specified, negotiated benefits for the immediate community, PUD developers can gain increased building height and density beyond what would otherwise be allowed.
The District of Columbia is embarking on a process of reviewing zoning designations throughout the city, as well as reviewing and revising the zoning regulations. The process is expected to take about 18 months, although given its scope and complexity, it could take longer.
CHRS thanks Ebenezer’s Coffee House for generously making its community room available for Preservation Cafés.
by Donna Hanousek
The CHRS April Preservation Café was an introduction to the zoning process in the District. Rick Nero and Sara Bardin, from the DC Office of Zoning, identified the cast of characters and explained how to navigate through the process.
The Office of Zoning (OZ) processes applications for zoning changes, variances, and special exceptions. It is not where one goes for permits. Rather, it is the administrative arm of the Zoning Commission (ZC) and the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA).
The Zoning Commission is a five-member quasi-judicial commission, charged with preparing, adopting, and amending the Zoning Regulations and Map. The ZC also hears Planned Unit Development cases (PUDs) and Air Rights cases. Three of the members are District residents, appointed by the Mayor with confirmation by City Council; one member represents the Architect of the Capitol; and one member represents the National Park Service. The Board of Zoning Adjustment is a five-member quasi-judicial board charged with hearing cases related to variances, special exceptions, non-conforming use, and appeals of administrative decisions.
The OZ notifies all parties – the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) is automatically a party – and property owners living within 200 feet of the applicant’s property, of all matters being heard by the ZC and the BZA. The OZ also requires the applicants to prominently post placards on or near the property. Persons and organizations are able to testify about their support or opposition to a given case at the public hearing.
Additional information about the zoning process came out of questions from the audience.
One member of the audience asserted that the PUD process is flawed in assuming that there are amenities sufficient to off-set the effects of the greater density or bigger building, when in many instances, the community finds no amount of amenities worth allowing the larger development. The OZ explained that the Zoning Regulations will soon be revised, and that the ANCs can propose amendments concerning the PUD process.
There is much useful information available – including agendas, zoning orders and transcripts, and a search engine for the zoning map – on the OZ website: www.dcoz.dc.gov. For questions about ZC cases, contact Sharon Schellin, Secretary to the Zoning Commission, at 202-727-0340. For questions about BZA cases, contact Cliff Moy, Secretary to the Board of Zoning Adjustment, at 202-727-0348. For other questions, contact Rick Nero, Deputy Director of Operations, at 202-727-2806.
was the topic of the March Preservation Café, which was held at
Ebenezer’s Coffee House at Second and F Streets, NE, and drew more than
forty people. Matthew Gilmore, co-editor of H-DC, a listserve devoted
to the History of the District of Columbia (H-DC@H-Net.MSU.EDU),
provided a mini-version of his evening-long course in historic building
and neighborhood research. Mr. Gilmore worked for several years as a
reference and collection development/preservation librarian in the
Washingtoniana Division of the DC Public Library, and has recently
co-authored the book, Historic Photos of Washington DC, which is due
out next month. What follows is a summary of his presentation.
Mr. Gilmore explained that it all begins with knowing your lot and square, which is the key to researching records. The lot and square is part of the legal description of your property. There are two sets of lot numbers. The earliest is the record lot, which is numbered in succession from ‘1’, and is shown as ‘part of 1, etc.” when subdivided (although sometimes subdivided lots were given new, larger numbers). The second set of lot numbers is the tax lot, which is an 800 series that was added at the end of the 19th century to account for multiple buildings on one lot. You can start with your tax lot and work backwards with historic maps to obtain all lot numbers ever associated with your lot.
If your building is early, prior to 1877, then you must do tax record research to date your property. This is complicated, but you can search the tax assessment books for the assessed value on your lot and square, looking for a jump in value to indicate building construction. To narrow down your time frame for the tax research, you can look at historic maps to determine when your building footprint appears on the lot. You can find real estate tax assessment information at the Historical Society, the National Archives, and in the Washingtoniana Room on the third floor of the M. L. King Public Library at 901 G Street, NW. If your building was built in 1877 or later, you can find its building permit, as well as subsequent permits for alterations, at either the National Archives or in the Washingtoniana room.
The Boshke map of 1859 and 1861 is the oldest, and it shows building footprints, but no lot and square. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (1888-1999) show lot and square, building footprint, and building materials. You can compare the information with what you find in the Hopkins Atlas, which has detailed information in its 1887 and 1892 editions, and with the Baist Atlas (1903-1945). These maps can be found in the Library of Congress map room, which is in the Madison Building at 101 Independence Avenue, SE, or in the Washingtoniana Room.
From 1927 to 1985, the Washington Board of Realtors kept records on real estate transactions, which you can find on microfiche at the Washingtoniana Room. You can also research deeds at the Recorder of Deeds. They are arranged by lot and square, and they are indexed from 1900-1923 and from 1937 to the present. For research from 1792 to 1900, you need the name of either the grantee or the grantor (which hopefully you found during your tax research).
To learn about the people who lived in your building, the City Directory listed heads of households living in DC from 1822 to 1973, but the list is by name and not address until 1914. After 1914, the occupants are listed by street as well as name. You can get more detailed information on people by address from census information from 1880-1930 (except 1910).
You can research your address, or people connected to your building (builder, architect, tenants), through the search engines of Washington Post.com. The collections at the Historical Society and Washingtoniana Room are also rich with local history. The Historical Society has several collections of historic photographs, including the Whymer Collection, which contains many photos of neighborhoods throughout Washington, DC, that were taken from 1948-1952.
For more information and training opportunities, contact Matthew Gilmore: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to the December 2004 Washington Post series on conservation or preservation easements, many people in the city know the general outlines of the program—a building’s owner gives up the right to alter a historic building’s facade and air space without permission from a trust-holding organization. (In the case of buildings in historic districts, that permission is in addition to permission from the Historic Preservation Review Board.) In exchange for the preservation donation, the owner receives a charitable donation for tax purposes.
Carol Goldman, president of the L’Enfant Trust, one of the nation’s largest easement-holding organizations in the nation, provided the update on the revised regulations that were passed by Congress in August 2006. Goldman also answered many questions, including costs for easement donation and whether homes that have had renovations such as vinyl windows are eligible (yes).
About 40 people attended the February Preservation Café held in the very comfortable and attractive downstairs room at Ebenezer’s Coffee House at Second and F streets, NE.
Those who couldn’t make the café may contact the L’Enfant Trust at 202-483-4880; email@example.com; 1526 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20036 for more information.
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