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Gondelman v. District of Columbia

January 17, 2002


Before Schwelb, Farrell and Reid, Associate Judges.

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

Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs

Argued January 3, 2002

In this case, the Mayor's Agent for Historic Preservation for the District of Columbia ("the Mayor's Agent") denied "the [a]pplication for a curb cut and the related adjustments that would be made to the front of the real property located at 1924 Belmont Street, N.W., [in the Kalorama Historic District in] Washington, D.C." The application sought a preliminary permit, mainly to construct a garage on residential property and to excavate the berm and pave a portion of the front yard. Petitioners Larry S. Gondelman and Pauline Sobel ("the petitioners") challenge the Mayor's Agent's conclusion that their application does not meet the requirements of the District of Columbia Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act ("the Act"), D.C. Code §§ 5-1001 et seq. (1994), recodified as §§ 6-1101 et seq. (2001). *fn1 We affirm.


The record on review shows that the area of the District known as Kalorama Triangle, and which encompasses the petitioners' residential property, was designated as part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Subsequently, around March 2000, the petitioners sought a permit to make alterations to their residential property, including a curb cut and disturbance of the berm, to allow construction of a garage under the front of their attached row house.

A staff reviewer for the Historic Preservation Review Board ("the HPRB") recommended that the petitioners' application be denied "because the alterations are not consistent with the purposes of the preservation law." Specifically, the staff reviewer stated:

The owner, Larry Gondelman, seeks conceptual approval for a curb cut, front yard driveway, and new garage located beneath the existing front porch of this landlocked contributing rowhouse.

Typical of many houses in the Kalorama Triangle neighborhood, this early-20th-century Mission Style rowhouse is enhanced by the berm in its front yard, some of which is in public space. Historically, the front yards in Kalorama Triangle did not incorporate fences, nor paved areas, as fencing and paving were contrary to uninterrupted lawn aesthetic as defined by the surburban ideal.

The proposals to excavate the berm, pave most of the front yard, and introduce a garage below the front porch are not compatible alterations with the character of this rowhouse nor the historic district in general. Moreover, the paving of public space in historic districts, which was intended for planting is not consistent with the city's comprehensive plan.

Following the staff reviewer's report and recommendation, the HPRB held a public hearing on May 9, 2000, to consider the petitioners' application. In addition to Mr. Gondelman, testimony was given in behalf of the petitioners by Dixon Carroll, an architect, Emily Eig, an architectural historian who directed the survey that resulted in the addition of the Kalorama Triangle on the National Register of Historic Places, and Richard Nettler, then the petitioners' attorney. Mr. Gondelman explained how he intended to alter and enhance his property to meet the needs of the 21st Century in which the private vehicles play a major role; and why his proposed alteration would not lead others in the area to make the same request. He also mentioned other houses located near his property which have "front parking pads." Ms. Eig asserted that the "design [for petitioners' proposed alterations] works with the neighborhood. It is subtle, it is low-key, it is not trying to be something different than what it is, and it is not very dissimilar from houses that were designed with garages in similar neighborhoods." She limited her assessment, in terms of additional parking garages under houses in the area, to the petitioners' residence, indicating that the grade of the ground on which the house sits and the facade of the house are different from others in the block. *fn2

Mr. Charles Dynes, representing the Kalorama Citizens Association at the HPRB's May 2000 public hearing, testified against the petitioners' application. He maintained that, "the berm is terribly important." He pointed out that the historic districts in Cleveland Park and Mt. Pleasant have houses with porches, and that: "In the Kalorama Triangle . . . [the] berm is probably more important than the curb cut, although they're tied together." He added:

[T]he berms are a distinguishing feature, and on Belmont this particular set of berms is very important. If you stand down on on 20th [Street], or if you stand up on 19th [Street], and you look up or down the street, on one side you will see this new development which is really not very good looking. . . . But one thing you will notice is no curb cuts . . . . And on the other side you'll see some curb cuts. You will see an alley in the middle of the street. Below that alley you'll see these half dozen row houses, all of [which] have a wall and a berm, and those berms are stepped up. And it's really kind of nice to stand up on 19th or down on 20th and look at that side of the street and see what this neighborhood has looked like since the beginning of the neighborhood.

Mr. Dynes quoted from the Comprehensive Plan regarding the preservation of landscaped green space:

The landscaped green space on publicly owned, privately maintained front and side yards in historic districts and on historic landmarks should be preserved. Special care should be taken to protect these historic green areas from being paved over for vehicular access and parking.

In addition to his own testimony as a member of the Kalorama Citizens Association's Historic Committee, Mr. Dynes, who was a member of the HPRB when the Kalorama Triangle Historic District was approved for the National Register of Historic Places, read into the record a letter dated April 19, 2000, from the Historic Committee to the ...

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