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
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