Print Columns   |   Web Chats   |   Blog Archives   |  

Preservation Update: Lucas Family Prevails Over D.C.

Eighteen months after he started out to help his infirm parents get through the front of the house they've lived in for nearly half a century, Richard Lucas is finally on the cusp of victory over the District's historic preservation police.

A team of lawyers who jumped to Lucas's defense after I wrote about his battle to build a ramp onto his parents' house in the Mount Pleasant section of Northwest Washington finally reached a settlement agreement with lawyers for the D.C. government this week. If the city approves a new set of plans now being drawn up, Lucas will get to build his ramp and will get a $25,000 payment from the District's taxpayers--compensation for the lost time and the frustration caused by the city's insistence on putting historic preservation ahead of either property rights or human dignity.

"After all of the stupidity of the city, this is a great breakthrough," says Lucas, who wants his father, Cornelius, 90, and his mother, Merry, 87, to be able to reach their basement apartment through the front of their house, rather than have to use the narrow, broken rear alleyway that is now their only access to the outside.

The city still faces a complaint and probe by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is looking into why the District would place preservation concerns ahead of fair housing law.

A joint statement issued by Lucas's lawyers and the D.C. attorney general's office says virtually nothing about the settlement: "The government of the District of Columbia and Cornelius, Merry, and Richard Lucas wish to inform the public that they have determined that it is in each party's best interests to settle their dispute involving renovations to the Lucases' Mount Pleasant home. They have resolved this dispute in a mutual fashion to avoid further litigation and to finally resolve any and all pending claims and issues."

But the settlement is a complete victory for Lucas, who agreed to switch from the kind of lift that the District preservation office originally recommended to a different style that they've now decided would better preserve the clean look of the front porches that the preservationists are so keen to hold onto. "Nothing in our plans has changed except the type of lift," Lucas says.

Lucas says the battle was worth all the time and aggravation because "we have to let people know that bricks and mortar are there for the convenience of people and not the other way around."

The city's lawyer on the case, Leah Taylor, refused to release the text of the settlement agreement, saying that only portions of it are public record, and even those will not be made available until after the Lucas plans win final approval.

Lucas says there's no need for secrecy. Rather, he cites a few lines of Martin Luther King, from "The Trumpet of Conscience:" "I am aware that there are many who wince at a distinction between property and persons--who hold both sacrosanct. My views are not so rigid. A life is sacred. Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. It is part of the earth man walks on; it is not man."

By Marc Fisher |  January 24, 2008; 1:14 PM ET
Previous: Snow Boundaries: The Fairfax Schools YouTube Story | Next: Metro to Dulles: What Next?

Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



That's great news!

And I'm 1st!

Whoo Hoo!!!

Posted by: Dig Bick | January 24, 2008 1:22 PM

Great for the family. Awful, once again, for DC residents and taxpayers. The city devotes so many resources to fighting these reasonable requests, but can't get normal building permits approved in a timely manner. Now the taxpayers have to foot the bill for the city's stupidity. At least this time is wasn't $1 million, as it was for the house teh city allowed to be built in parkland.

Posted by: ah | January 24, 2008 2:07 PM

Maybe Dave Kori will call Leah Taylor at home tonight to get the full scoop.

Posted by: Paul | January 24, 2008 4:41 PM

I want to find out who the NIMBY bama was that called the city on the Lucas family and punch him in the gonads.

Posted by: hlurg | January 24, 2008 6:33 PM

The preservation police should have to pay the $25,000.00 out of their own pockets, or at the very least take the money out of the office's budget next fiscal year. $25,000 is not enough to compensate the Lucas family for robbing them of 18 months of the short time they have left on this planet. This whole ordeal has probably shortened their lives due to the stress and humiliation they have suffered. For shame, D.C.!

Posted by: bob h. | January 24, 2008 8:25 PM

It's interesting how a situation can be made to appear very different from what it really is just by leaving out a few choice details. This case has been discussed on various list servs around the city and a key fact presented in those list servs (but not here) is that the Lucases have been moved to the basement of their home so that the top levels could be turned into rentals ... Effectively transforming this quiet neighborhood house into an apartment building.

The Lucases may have valid reasons for turning their house into an apartment building (source of income?), but don't we all have such reasons? It's the immediate neighbors ... and the rest of us who will suffer for having allowed a house in what is otherwise a single family residence neighborhood be turned into an apartment building.

Historic preservation isn't really about preserving bricks and mortar houses ... it's about preserving communities. In this case a community of single family houses. The area the Lucases are in is an area that without historic preservation intervention could (and still might be - as evidenced by today's wrong decision) become prime real estate for developers - large and small - wishing to capitalize on its central location by converting more of like single family residences into apartment buildings.

Other key facts left out of this discussion on this blog were that the preservation office proposed numerous LESS COSTLY alternatives to removing the front porch. And why were these not jumped on? Possibly because none of these addressed the real issue that only with the removal of the front porch could a 2 story house be effectively (and forever) transformed into a 3 story apartment building.

Posted by: Let's be frank .... | January 24, 2008 9:46 PM

It is sick and sad that the preservation police don't have common sense, but then again they have the funds to set their parents up in the greatest comfort to enjoy their final years. These people are just trying to enjoy the final years in their own home as best they can, give them a break! Their children had to engage the district in an eighteen month struggle simply to get satisfactory ramp built to allow them to enter their home safely and easily given their age and disabilities. I guess the preservation police and the city hoped they would have died by the time this ridiculous dispute was settled. Disgusting and sick and another great waste our the tax dollars paid by city residents. What idiots in the DC government decided to pursue this debacle anyway? Their judgement must be questioned seriously or are they only beholding to the preservation police???

Posted by: hotezzy | January 24, 2008 10:20 PM

"let's be frank":
Is there a DC law against rental apartments that provide proceeds to people wishing to age in place? Do you think there should be?

Answer frankly, please.

Posted by: Downtown Rez | January 25, 2008 12:20 AM

Marc wrote:

"Eighteen months after he started out to help his infirm parents get through the front door of the house they've lived in for nearly half a century, Richard Lucas is finally on the cusp of victory over the District's historic preservation police."

This statement is outright untrue.

The variance requested by Mr. Lucas is to give street level access to the basement level of the house where Mr. Lucas has placed his parents so as to rent out the sunny upper levels. The controversy is that doing so requires removing the porch which characterizes this house and the neighboring houses in this "front porch" neighborhood.

The variance is NOT to give the parents access to the "front door of the house they've lived in for nearly half a century". That door is being used by Mr. Lucas' tenants.

Posted by: Why the slanted news? | January 25, 2008 2:37 AM

Downtown Rez said:

""let's be frank":
Is there a DC law against rental apartments that provide proceeds to people wishing to age in place? Do you think there should be?

Answer frankly, please."


Yes, it's called zoning and historic preservation laws. People who bought into this street and neighborhood of 2-story, single-family, residential, front-porch houses-- with English basement rental apartments --- have a right to expect it to remain essentially as is. Reconfiguring a 2-story single family home with English basement into a 3 story multi-family apartment building shifts the burden of caring for the Lucases from the son to the immediate (and not-so-immediate) neighbors. It's specifically for instances such as this that we have zoning and preservation laws on the books in the first place.

Yes, more total rental income can be derived from a 3 story apartment building than from a 2 story house with English basement. And that can be helpful to helping the Lucases age in place. But let's not think that putting an apartment building in the middle of a row of 2 story row houses doesn't have quality of life and economic consequences for the neighbors of this building. The Lucases' gain is the neighbors' loss.

While it is admirable that you (and others) would advocate helping the Lucases age in place, doing so with your own dollars and direct support would be by far more fair than your advocating pushing this cost off to the Lucases' neighbors as you are doing.

Posted by: let's be Frank | January 25, 2008 3:07 AM

It is ironic that this city agency is being investigated by the Bush Administration for violations of human rights.

No matter which side of this issue we may be on (I support the Lucases), we have to cringe at the very idea of Bush's people saying (as Asst Sec for Fair Housing Kim Kendrick has said) that District officials have said directly (to her) that federal fair housing laws don't apply to them.

The devil in this case may be in the details, but at least the arrogance of the City's Preservation Police saying they are above the law will stop soon. And forever.

Posted by: Eagerly awaiting | January 25, 2008 4:39 AM

Good to see that the Lucases' and the city are going to get this matter resolved, as both sides have had a lot of frustration and lost a lot along the way. Mr. Lucas wanted access to his basement from the street. Unfortunately for all of us he lived in a place where the building codes didn't permit that kind of alteration. All the DC HPRB ever did was enforce the laws and guidelines that have been approved by city council and the mayor.

It is essential, as Mr. Lucas said, that the built environment meet the needs of the people. The city was right too, that "the needs of the people" also include the other owners who have invested in property in a historic neighborhood. The middle ground, between individual rights and collective rights, can be reached with imagination and cooperation.

Posted by: All's well...? | January 25, 2008 11:21 AM

"Why the slanted news?" wrote:

"The variance requested by Mr. Lucas is to give street level access to the basement level of the house where Mr. Lucas has placed his parents so as to rent out the sunny upper levels. The controversy is that doing so requires removing the porch which characterizes this house and the neighboring houses in this "front porch" neighborhood.

The variance is NOT to give the parents access to the "front door of the house they've lived in for nearly half a century". That door is being used by Mr. Lucas' tenants."

You! Identify yourself now or I will find you myself. I have the Internet tools to trace you. Beware of where you tread when it comes to Mr. Lucas.

Posted by: hlurg | January 25, 2008 12:49 PM

Why is the son forcing his elderly and infirm parents to go the extra mile and live in the dark, dank basement. Shame on him.

Posted by: rynecki | January 25, 2008 3:36 PM

"Why the slanted news?" wrote:
"The variance requested by Mr. Lucas is to give street level access to the basement level of the house where Mr. Lucas has placed his parents so as to rent out the sunny upper levels. The controversy is that doing so requires removing the porch which characterizes this house and the neighboring houses in this "front porch" neighborhood.
The variance is NOT to give the parents access to the "front door of the house they've lived in for nearly half a century". That door is being used by Mr. Lucas' tenants."

You! Identify yourself now or I will find you myself. I have the Internet tools to trace you. Beware of where you tread when it comes to Mr. Lucas.
Posted by: hlurg | January 25, 2008 12:49 PM

Why hasn't this post been removed? The threatening language couldn't be more obvious.

Posted by: TomatoQueen | January 27, 2008 7:14 AM

"Yes, it's called zoning and historic preservation laws. People who bought into this street and neighborhood of 2-story, single-family, residential, front-porch houses-- with English basement rental apartments --- have a right to expect it to remain essentially as is"

I suppose so. If you're willing to accept the implicit (and I think amazingly misplaced) assertion that the aesthetic sense of people who "expect [the street] to remain essentially as it is", and also accept the (also amazingly misplaced) implicit assertion that those people's expectations should trump the basic quality of life for elderly and disabled DC residents who, by the way, purchased their home before any of those historic regulations regarding the appearance of their home were in place.

Good luck getting anyone with a heart drawn to people rather than things to agree with you.

Posted by: Downtown Rez | January 27, 2008 1:34 PM

And by the way, Frankly, you should be frank in admitting that the Lucas's broke no zoning law by converting their SFH to a multi-unit.
I'm curious, why the conflation?

Posted by: Downtown Rez | January 27, 2008 1:38 PM

Saturday's Washington Post Real Estate section had a nice article about Mt. Pleasant, noting in particular the rowhouses.

It is too bad that mis-informed media coverage such as provided by Mr. Fisher will undermine the character defining aesthetic of this particular neighborhood.

Posted by: Ironic Article | January 27, 2008 3:20 PM

Yawn
Sunday's Washington Post also has a great article on how "Localities Tailor Services to Help The Elderly Stay in Their Homes".

It's too bad that mis-informed commentary on the media coverage provided by people like Mr. Fisher threatens to undermine the ability of the elderly to stay in their homes.
See:
www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/26/AR2008012601980.html?hpid=topnews

Posted by: Downtown Rez | January 27, 2008 5:06 PM

Rez said:

"Yawn
Sunday's Washington Post also has a great article on how "Localities Tailor Services to Help The Elderly Stay in Their Homes"."

Reconstructing a 2 story house into a 3 story apartment building has nothing to do with tailoring SERVICES to help the elderly. It has everything to do with abusing peoples' sympathies for the elderly to circumvent the protections in place for the neighbors and our city.

From what I've read about this case, numerous LESS COSTLY alternatives were put forth which would have allowed the parents and their helpers front street access to the basement level. However, these alternatives didn't result in converting a 2 story house into a 3 story apartment building.

Now that the groundwork has been laid, I won't be surprised to see requests for demolishing front porches in order to give people front street access to new carports and garages. Afterall, all the applicant needs to do is evoke sympathy and he gets to free ride his changes on the neighbors.

Posted by: let's be Frank | January 27, 2008 8:29 PM

"Reconstructing... (we'll get to that)...has nothing to do with tailoring SERVICES to help the elderly."

Define "services", please.

"From what I've read about this case, numerous LESS COSTLY alternatives were put forth which would have allowed the parents and their helpers front street access to the basement level..."

I suppose this is why DC settled, and paid the family 25K not to sue. Odd, that.

"...However, these alternatives didn't result in converting a 2 story house into a 3 story apartment building."

(getting back to it) Remind me: Did the family construct another floor?

Posted by: DTR | January 27, 2008 10:44 PM

It was interesting to hear from members of the neighborhood who presented other facts about the case. I wonder if it's possible, in the time and space Fisher has available, to create a nuanced view of a complex situation. Yes, it's nice for people to age in place, but at what cost to the people who live around that place?
Fisher's take on the First Baptist Church of Clarendon's proposal to build a high-rise with some affordable housing was similarly oversimplified: The neighbors must hate people with moderate incomes and people of color. Nothing about having ten stories go up across the street from single family houses or about using county money to prop up a failing church. Just Behold the NIMBYs.
The thing is, Fisher's not stupid, so he's not doing this out of an inablity to appreciate other perspectives, and I assume he's aware of them. He just doesn't seem to have the time or space to cover them in his column.

Posted by: Nature of the beast? | January 28, 2008 10:47 AM

Originally, we were all led to believe that D.C.'s historic board just turned down flat an elderly couple, rendering them incapable of exiting their basement apartment, in order to keep a porch--or out of just plain cussedness. Over time, the truth trickles out.

I remember well the revelation that Mr. Fisher failed to contact the historic preservation division for his first story on this property. And so we eventually find out--not through any effort of his--that it was not possible to build a ramp in front of this house in the first place, because there's not enough room in the front yard to build one that would nearly comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. And we find out that the historic board, recognizing this, recommended from the beginning a wheelchair lift in the front of the house (Mr. Fisher has now conveniently forgotten all about the ramp). About a week ago, it came out that the couple has been in the basement for at least three years and that the space was not properly prepared for them prior to that move, with a bedroom with no window, for instance (see yesterday's Mary Ellen Slayter article, "What You Call a Bedroom Might Not Be One"). Finally, Fisher blames a delay in getting permits on the government (and takes credit for a resolution), but it now appears that it was attributable to the owner's failure to consider all available options or present blueprints that met building codes! You may share my opinion that the taxpayers should not be paying for that (but with the backing of a large newspaper, one can hardly be surprised that the son goes after the deep pockets).

This is indicative of a larger problem. Too many "journalists" today choose not to let the facts get in the way of a good story. The standards for research and corroboration are, in practice, amazingly low, the usual excuse being the pressure of deadlines. Writers less talented and less ethical simply cannot resist the temptation of writing the story that they imagine in place of the one as it truly is. One can look at the evidence provided by the proliferating critiques and exposes of print stories, mostly available online. Or one can simply compare some event with which one is familiar to the press accounts of it. It can be really sobering how sloppily and tendentiously the "facts" and conclusions can be presented. It's no wonder that readers are sniping at each other here, given the obfuscation of the truth. In the confusion, readers often cleave to their own prejudices. Such stories thrive on conflict--other people's conflict--real or ginned up. Thus, the false choice presented between preservation and the needs of the elderly, or anyone else. These stories need victims and they need bad guys (and, let's be honest, don't we all like to go after "bureaucrats"?). The methods and aims are ultimately manipulative.

In this instance, the Post can presumably hide behind the idea that Fisher is an opinion columnist and need not be held to a high standard, despite the conspicuous play many of his pieces have received--sometimes without clear identification as opinion (the editors would do well to turn the scrutiny of its "Fact Checker" column on some of its staff). But such a columnist exemption would not apply to all the Post's employees, and its readers do not need journalists to obscure the facts of stories in order to juice their impact or, in retrospect, to protect their own "credibility." Perhaps Mr. Fisher, for one, should stick to series about (and with all the complexity and drama of) trouser-related litigation.

We are witnessing the slow death of a medium and of this particular outlet. The kind of budget and staff cuts evident at papers elsewhere are at play here. In the last few years, the Post bought out a lot of its longtime, highly paid columnists and replaced them with the likes of Fisher--the Post apparently feeling that the suburban-white-guy perspective was underrepresented on the paper. But he's really no better or more valuable than any other guy sitting on his sofa yelling at the television--except that the Post presumably and remarkably pays him money for this. In a place like Washington, you could hardly chuck a rock without hitting someone who would do a better job. Heck, there are dozens of bloggers who do so on a daily basis, free. So, in the same spirit of free, online contributions, I offer the Post the following motto: "'Raw Fisher': Not even half baked." For you, fellow readers, I offer: "Don't believe everything you read in the papers."

Posted by: Briggs | January 28, 2008 11:54 AM

PWNED!!!!

Posted by: Anonymous | January 28, 2008 2:23 PM

DTR asked:
"Did the family construct another floor?"

Yes. When you dig out your front yard to bring your basement to the same level as the (lower) street in front of it, you've constructed another floor of living space. Without the removal of the front yard (and the front porch in this case), the windows necessary to make this "another floor" aren't possible.

Incidentally, Briggs your comments are right on the mark. Fisher can't really be so stupid to not know he's muckraking with his oversimplified "commentary".

Posted by: let's be Frank | January 28, 2008 5:34 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2010 The Washington Post Company