Monday, November 26, 2012

Mayor's Agent Rejects Church Request to Demolish Buildings at 1232, 1234, and 1236 New Jersey Avenue, NW

1232-1236 New Jersey Avenue, NW
and adjacent parking lot
The Mayor's Agent for Historic Preservation has rejected the request of the Third Street Church of God to demolish three rowhouses at 1232, 1234, and 1236 New Jersey Avenue, NW.  The church wanted to demolish the buildings, which are located in the Mount Vernon Square Historic District, as part of a project to expand its parking lot.
The church's request was initially brought to the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), which supported partial demolition of the rear of the structures but rejected the church's proposal to demolish the structures entirely.

The church appealed the HPRB decision to the Mayor's Agent, claiming that failure to issue a permit to demolish the entire structures would result in unreasonable economic hardship to the church.  In a decision issued in early November, the Mayor's Agent rejected the church's argument, stating the following:
While the Church surely finds these rowhouses to be a burden, it cannot be said that their preservation imposes on it an unreasonable economic burden within the meaning of the [Historic Preservation] Act. ...  The cost of complying with the compromise to which it agreed in 2011, $77,420, which involves partial demolition and structurally securing the remainder of the buildings, does not seem prohibitive in light of the Church’s revenues and assets. The Church is engaged in an expensive expansion of its facilities, estimated at $1.8 million, but the cost of stabilizing these rowhouses, part of the expansion plan approved by the HPRB in 2011, is small in comparison to the cost of the overall project.
The Church can avoid even this expense ... by selling the rowhouses, which it does not wish to occupy. ... [W]hen an owner can sell protected property at a price that is not confiscatory, no unreasonable economic hardship can be shown....  Here, the Church can sell the buildings for at least four times as much as it paid for them....
The Church has been forthright that it does not want to sell these properties primarily because it wants to demolish the buildings and use the land for parking. ...  Of course, the Church’s desire to make its physical plant serve its mission deserves great respect; parking for urban religious communities is challenging. But like all property owners, the Church must pursue its facility goals within the constraints of the Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act, which benefits both the surrounding neighborhood and entire District of Columbia. The Mayor’s Agent does not have authority to simply prefer the Church’s plan to what the Act requires. That preservation of a contributing building makes carrying out worthwhile plans more inconvenient or more expensive does not constitute an unreasonable economic hardship within the meaning of the Act.
Parking lot adjacent to
1232-1236 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Third Street Church of God
(small portion of existing parking lot visible to right)

The full text of the Mayor's Agent's decision, a history of the raze permit request, and links to prior HPRB documents are after the jump.

The transcript of the Mayor's Agent hearing is available here.

History of the Raze Permit Request
The church, as part of a June 2011 HPRB decision, originally agreed to retain the front portions of the buildings and only raze the rear portions of the buildings. After partial demolition began, however, the church, based on the condition of the structures, revised its request to seek permission to completely raze the structures.In November 2011, the HPRB staff recommended that the proposal to completely raze the structures be rejected, stating that the "rowhouses retain their historic integrity" and indicating that the deterioration of two of the rowhouses was due to the church's neglect of maintenance.  The HPRB approved the staff recommendation at its November 2011 meeting.

The November 2011 HPRB staff report is available here. (The HPRB's approval of the staff report is noted in the HPRB actions report available here.)

The June 2011 HPRB staff report is available here.  (The HPRB's approval of the staff report is described in the HPRB actions report available here.)


  1. placing bets on how soon until the buildings "miraculously" fall over in the middle of the night.

  2. I wish we could petition the church to just move itself to where ever it's worshipers actually are coming from. They aren't local. There are SEVEN or more churches within a few hundred yards of here and they take up all of the parking for actual residents. Churchgoers at some of these facilities jaywalk as belligerently as drunken frat guys at 3am in Adam's Morgan (worst offender: The church at 6th & M). Not to mention the constant singing, ringing of bells, etc., etc. It's one thing to be religious. It's another to have more churches between one's home and the nearest metro stop than there are city blocks. It's not like the corner of M ST & New Jersey Avenue is Mecca. We need more houses, not more parking, not more steeples.