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METRO. BAP. CHURCH v. CONSUMER AFFAIRS

September 3, 1998

METROPOLITAN BAPTIST CHURCH, APPELLANT,
V.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF CONSUMER AND REGULATORY AFFAIRS — HISTORIC PRESERVATION REVIEW BOARD AND LOGAN CIRCLE COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION, APPELLEES.



APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT, JOAN ZELDON, J. [718 A2d Page 120]

Before Steadman and Schwelb, Associate Judges, and Pryor, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steadman, Associate Judge:

[718 A2d Page 121]

The District of Columbia Historic Preservation Review Board, after a public hearing in March 1994, established the Greater Fourteenth Street Historic District. That district included five rowhouses owned by appellant Metropolitan Baptist Church, although not the church's house of worship itself. The church challenges this action.

In this appeal, we are asked to address essentially two issues: (1) did the Board abuse its authority in declining the church's request to continue the public hearing to a future date (or at least to hold the record open for an additional sixty rather than thirty days), *fn1 and (2) are the church's claims based on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment ripe for review at this point? We affirm the order of the Superior [718 A2d Page 122]

Court answering both these questions in the negative.

I. BACKGROUND.

In July 1993, the Logan Circle Community Association ("LCCA") submitted an application to the Historic Preservation Review Board for the designation of a new historic district — to be known as the Greater Fourteenth Street Historic District — pursuant to the procedures outlined in 10 DCMR § 2615 (1994). *fn2 According to the application, the area possessed unique historical and architectural characteristics related to the development of 14th Street, N.W., as a transportation corridor. The boundaries of the proposed district were S Street to the north, 11th and 12th Streets to the east, N and O Streets to the south, and the Sixteenth Street Historic District to the west, all in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C.

This area included five rowhouses located between 1701 and 1711 13th Street, N.W., which are owned by appellant Metropolitan Baptist Church. The application described these rowhouses (along with similar properties at two other locations in the proposed historic district) as dating from the late nineteenth century and representing "an undefined, but common, rowhouse form and style. . . . characterized by multi-storied brick buildings with multi-storied polygonal bays, corbelled cornices, stringcourses and other decorative brickwork." The church's actual house of worship is located near the five rowhouses but was not included in the boundaries of the proposed historic district. *fn3

The Board scheduled a public hearing on the matter for March 17, 1994, and published a notice in the District of Columbia Register on January 21 of that year. The notice invited

[i]ndividuals, organizations, public agencies and governmental units, including Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, . . . to present their views concerning the significance of the proposed Historic District. Comments may be made in writing to the Historic Preservation Review Board prior to the public hearing and/or by testifying in person or through experts at the hearing.

See 41 D.C. Reg. 246, 246 (1994). LCCA also published a virtually identical notice in The Washington Times on February 4, 1994, to satisfy a regulatory requirement that the applicant arrange to publish notice in a newspaper of general circulation. See 10 DCMR § 2616.1 (1994). In addition, from late 1993 into early 1994, LCCA publicized its proposal by organizing two public informational meetings and distributing letters and leaflets in the affected neighborhood, including a letter and two leaflets delivered to Metropolitan Baptist Church by late January 1994.

Representatives of the church appeared at the hearing to oppose the inclusion of the five rowhouses but also asked that the hearing be continued. Counsel for the church contended that the official notice in the D.C. Register had not afforded his client adequate time to prepare *fn4 and that he had been retained only the week of the hearing. If the hearing would not be continued, then counsel requested "that the record be held open beyond the normal 30 days so that we would have the opportunity to supplement it." Specifically, the church asked that the record be held open for sixty days after the hearing. The Board proceeded to hold the hearing as scheduled. Besides the proponents of the application, various people spoke both in support of and in opposition to the designation of the historic district.

The Reverend Dr. H. Beecher Hicks, Jr., the pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, [718 A2d Page 123]

was given ten minutes to voice his opposition to the proposal. At his request, the Board doubled his allotted time to twenty minutes. He explained that his church acquired the first of the rowhouses in 1939 and that at the time of the hearing the five properties provided space for a variety of church projects including a pre-school, a Sunday school, food and clothing distribution centers, and self-help classes. Perhaps more importantly, however, he explained the church's future plan for the properties. Leaders of the church had developed a plan known as "Vision 2000" to expand church ministries by building new facilities on the properties. The church had incurred a debt of approximately two million dollars in connection with the five rowhouses, and a bank had secured the properties as collateral. According to Reverend Hicks, members of the church community would not have invested in these properties over the decades if they had anticipated that their plans would be "so unjustly and unreasonably thwarted" by historic designation.

At the close of the hearing, the Board's chairperson raised the church's request for a continuance in light of the allegedly short notice or, in the alternative, for an additional sixty days to submit documents, and invited a motion from the Board. The movant, Board member Charles Robertson, stated:

I think the notice issue has been pretty well examined, both the required legal notice and the above and beyond notices that were given to the various parties. I would think that 30 days would be adequate time to respond to testimony here for the record. I mean, this has been a complete[,] thorough hearing, and I think most of the facts were already in the record. But if they're not, of course, any rebuttal or any supplemental information that is relevant to this hearing would be welcomed in the record within those 30 days within which it will be held open.

So, I would move that the request for a continuance of this hearing, and that the record be held open for 60 days[,] be denied.

The motion, once seconded, was approved by voice vote without a single "nay." '

On April 18, 1994 — the last day of the thirty-day period following the hearing — the church submitted a six-page letter prepared by counsel again "request[ing] a further hearing . . . in order to allow for expanded discussion on the merits of this challenge" to the inclusion of its properties in the proposed historic district. The letter reiterated the church's objections to including the five rowhouses in the district, but the church did not submit any new documentation of its Vision 2000 plans at that time. The Board also received approximately 525 letters which "strongly urge[d] the Board to realign the boundaries of the proposed designation to exclude property belonging to Metropolitan Baptist Church. . . ." *fn5

At its monthly meeting on May 26, 1994, the Board assembled to vote on the proposed Greater Fourteenth Street Historic District. One member, Romaine Thomas, moved to approve the historic district as proposed with the exception of Metropolitan Baptist Church's five rowhouses; as to these properties, Ms. Thomas moved to defer consideration until after further discussion. This motion was defeated by five votes to four. The Board then voted six-to-two, with one abstention, to adopt a staff report recommending designation of the historic district as proposed. On June 16, 1994, the Board officially designated the Greater Fourteenth Street Historic District of a geographic scope that included the church's five rowhouses. Public notice appeared in the D.C. Register on July 22, 1994, with the designation to take effect thirty days later. See 41 D.C. Reg. 4981.

On September 21, 1994, thirty days after the effective date of the historic designation, the church filed an original action in Superior Court challenging the designation. *fn6 The [718 A2d Page 124]

church contended in its complaint that the designation of the entire district and the inclusion of its five rowhouses in particular were not supported by substantial evidence. The church also maintained that the designation of its rowhouses violated its rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"). See U.S. CONST. amend. I; 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000bb to 2000bb-4 (1994). In subsequent pleadings, the church argued that the Board had deprived it of a fair opportunity to be heard by denying its request for a continuance ...


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