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Posted at 1:30 PM ET, 05/28/2010

What should historic preservation really protect?

By Washington Post editors

On Thursday, the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board declined to approve the N Street Follies hotel, proposed for the six boarded-up townhouses on N Street between 17th and 18th streets NW. Numerous Dupont residents, including myself, testified against a specific element of the project: its impact on the adjacent Tabard Inn.

The Historic Preservation Office recommended approval because the plan does a nice job of preserving the front and back of the townhouses, placing most of the development along the alley in the rear with an interior courtyard between it and the townhouses. However, that arrangement also will drastically block out light from the Tabard.

Having one's light preserved isn't an absolute right. My own back yard is fairly shadowed by an adjacent apartment building. But in this case, the zoning rules for the SP-1 zone and the Dupont Circle Overlay specifically do protect light and air. Plus, there's an odd zoning anomaly at work: The property owner could build residences as a matter of right, but there would be a limitation on lot occupancy; to build a hotel, however, requires a special exception, yet that special exception automatically provides an exemption from lot occupancy.

More important, in my opinion, is that the Tabard is a particularly valuable and historic resource, worthy of greater consideration. The Historic Preservation Review Board often navigates difficult cases of whether to pare down development to protect elements of a historic area. With so many historic areas and so many elements one could call "historic," how do people who genuinely support preservation but also support development find an appropriate line between allowing everything and allowing nothing?

I believe finding that line means identifying what is particularly historic and cherished by residents enough to place above the value of growing our city. Just because a wall is old or an alley has always had few structures doesn't make it involate, but an overall architectural style or specific places in a neighborhood can be. Of course, people can disagree about which elements are the less valuable ones or which are prized enough to trump development.

Continue reading this post by David Alpert at Greater Greater Washington here.

David Alpert is founder and editor of Greater Greater Washington . The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Washington Post editors  | May 28, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., HotTopic, Local blog network  
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