ANC Asks for Review of HPRB Ebenezer Decision

Commissioner cites 'contempt and total disregard for our role in this process'

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Commissioners Jennifer Samolyk (6B01), Chander Jayaraman (6B08), Daniel Ridge (6B09) and Nick Burger (6B06, far right) listen to James Loots (6B03, second from right) at the March 13 meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B unanimously supported a letter at their Tuesday meeting, requesting that the Mayor’s agent review, evaluate and conduct an independent hearing into a Feb. 22nd  meeting of the District Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) at which the board supported the Ebenezer Church curb cut and parking application.

The ANC letter asks the agent to focus on notice provided to the ANC, whether the ANC opinion carried great weight and the rational behind the decision on Historic Preservation Application (HPA) 17-488. That application included plans for a curb cut and parking lot to be constructed in the rear of five new townhouses at 400 D Street SE by Ebenezer Methodist Church and development partner Evergreen Urban, plans that had been changed since they were last viewed by the ANC at their Jan. 9th meeting.

The commission voted unanimously to support the letter, arguing that contradictory to statute the ANC was not given notice or great weight in the process and that reasons given on the record by HPRB for supporting the application were unrelated to merits of historic preservation.

Proposed parking layout considered by HPRB Feb. 22, Ebenezer Flats. Design is for a new curb cut from Fifth Street SE to access new at-grade parking located behind proposed rowhouses on D Street SE and adjacent to the Ebenezer Church, as well as a new proposed ADA-accessible elevator. Image Courtesy RMC Architects/Evergreen Urban

‘Contempt and Total Disregard’

The motion for the letter was presented by Commissioner James Loots (6B03). Loots said that despite the required 45-day notice period, he had learned of the HPRB hearing on the application the day before it took place.

Loots said he immediately sent an email to Bruch Yarnell at the Office of Planning, which oversees HPRB, in which he stated, “I strongly urge HPRB and OHP [Office of Historic Planning] to follow proper procedures and to defer any consideration or vote upon whatever the new proposal might be until ANC 6B has the opportunity to review and comment upon same.”

Loots said that under the law his specific request to defer the hearing should have been sufficient to trigger the statutory 45-day notice. He said the HPRB decision not to defer the hearing was conscious, as he had been told by historic preservation staff that the Chair of HPRB was made aware of his request and that ANC 6B had not had a chance to hear the revisions.

“That contempt and total disregard for our role in this process —whether you’re for the project or against it, it doesn’t matter to me —it’s the process,” Loots said.

Loots noted that HPRB had previously declined to approve the project, that the ANC had weighed in against it, and that no less than 100 residents had provided input.

Loots said that the decision to approve had been made on the record by at least by one member of HPRB for reasons unrelated to issues of historic preservation, who cited the racial and religious composition of the applicant.

“I think that’s inexcusable for a public agency to be stating on the record that a racial, ethnic, religious, gender, age—any other basis, other than the merits of the program—swayed their decision, and that’s exactly on the record what a member of HPRB said,” Loots noted. 

Procedure Matters

A resident asked for clarification from the ANC on why they considered HPRB to be in violation of process, noting that Chair Daniel Ridge (6B09) testified at the hearing. Another pointed out that the ANC Chair was able to state that the ANC was not in support of the curb cut element of the application, saying that the HPRB was not in any doubt about the ANC position on that curb cut.

Ridge said that he could not speak as an ANC about the changed application but did note that the creative mechanical parking device included in the plans submitted in January might have actually compelled more commissioners to offer support for a curb cut than the lot in the changed application.

Commissioner Nick Burger (6B06) noted that in dealings with agencies such as the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) a modification in plans would result in a return of the application to the ANC for further review. He said that the ANC argument was that the plans were sufficiently altered such that the ANC should have been offered an additional review period, as Ridge’s testimony could not have reflected a consideration by the full ANC of those specific plans.

The ANC also unanimously supported an additional letter proposed by Commissioner Burger to express broader concern about the Historic Preservation processes, indicating concerns related to ANC and community engagement and outreach and requesting a review and amendment of relevant legislation to approve the HP processes.

A resident spoke in support of the two motions to say that these were an issue of the rule of law, pointing to possible procedural violations. Identifying as an attorney, she said that proper procedure avoided resource-wasting litigation after the fact.

 “Procedure matters,” said the resident, “even if right outcomes come from wrong procedures.”