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Boasberg departs as chair of D.C Historic Preservation Review Board

Tersh Boasberg is retiring after a decade as chairman of the District’s panel for identifying and protecting historic properties.

Catherine Buell, an attorney at Patton Boggs LLP who was appointed to the board in 2008 by Mayor Adrian Fenty, was sworn in as the new chair last week.

Tanya Washington, chief of staff for the Office of Planning, which houses the board, said that Boasberg “stepped down voluntarily and actually had recommended Ms. Buell” as his replacement. Boasberg’s term was set to expire in July. He is traveling abroad and could not be reached.

An attorney who specializes in land use, historic preservation and the environment, Boasberg possesses a tremendous knowledge of the city’s historic buildings. He became chairman at a time when the city’s downtown was enjoying a renaissance of development and many preservationists were concerned about the future of its architecturally and historically significant buildings.

One of the board’s most controversial decisions during his tenure was likely its 2007 unanimous vote deeming the Third Church of Christ, Scientist building at 16th and I Streets near the White House an historic landmark, over the objections of the church's congregation. The ruling blocked a redevelopment for the site the church planned with developer ICG Properties.

In 2009, as President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony approached, Boasberg wrote the president-elect to explain the history behind some of the buildings Obama would be passing on the parade route. “While your election clearly evokes the memory of Abraham Lincoln,” Boasberg wrote, “you may not be aware of just how much his presence still lingers along your inauguration route.”

By jonathan O'Connell  |  June 9, 2010; 2:20 PM ET
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Tersh Boasberg's work, both as chair of the Zoning Commission and Chair of the Historic Preservation Review Board, has involved thousands of hours of almost totally uncompensated and exemplary service to the District of Columbia.

With all due respect, the ruling that the Third Church of Christ Scientist was an historic landmark did NOT, as your article stated, block the redevelopment of the site. The DC Preservation Law provides that projects which demolish all or a portion of a landmark can be approved under a number of circumstances, through what is known as the "Mayor's Agent for Historic Preservation". In this case, the Mayor's Agent did indeed rule that the building could be demolished. Such demolitions have been approved in numerous cases -- for example, Carroll Square, the Atlantic Building, the Gallup Building and the Artisan Condominiums, all in the 900 block of F or E Streets, and all of which were permitted to demolish some historic structures in exchange for public benefits. The Landmark Cinemas on E Street, for example, were provided as part of a Mayor's Agent decision in exchange for the full or partial demolition of several historic buildings on that square. Mr. Boasberg, while explaining why the Board had no choice in designating the Church as historic, invited the developers to come in and discuss development alternatives and indicated a wilingness to be extremely flexible.

Posted by: realWashingtonian | June 9, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Tersh Boasberg is an elitist blowhard. He saw his position as yielding divine license to shield whatever old buildings struck his fancy from the slobbering mobs. Writing to Obama about Lincoln? Too funny. Boasberg took pleasure in frustrating democratic will at every turn. Good riddance, but he'll probably pop up someplace else to wreak havoc.

Posted by: member5 | June 10, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

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