Getting a Green Light

They Brake for Preservation

Drew Mitchell and Bill Fischer consulted the D.C. Historic Preservation Office before commencing work on their historic Washington row house. "We went prepared with plans and elevations," Mitchell says, "because we wanted this to be as smooth a process as possible."

 Deputy Director Steve Callcott says their project required careful review for two reasons: The property stands in the 14th Street Historic District, which triggers historic preservation review for any exterior work; and they were turning a commercial property into a mixed-use office and residence. Such conversions can require enhancements such as fire-rated walls and ceilings if stipulated by the city code. "Getting a certificate of occupancy can be more difficult for a mixed-use building," Callcott explains.

"For this project our office focused on two components: how the applicants planned to treat the front elevation and how they had designed a proposed roof deck," he says. "The historic building had already been altered on the first floor [for the brake shop], and the roof deck was not prominently visible from the street, so the project received our approval. Had the historic fabric of the original storefront remained intact, or had the roof alterations changed the overall massing of the building, it might have been another story."

Regulations vary from city to city, but in the nation's capital, the D.C. Historic Preservation Office provides guidance on how property owners can meet preservation standards. Staff can approve certain types of alterations consistent with those standards. When projects are inconsistent—or beyond the office's authority—owners can present cases directly to the Historic Preservation Review Board and explain their qualifications for a special exception.

"Early consultation really is the most important key," Callcott says. "It allows us to help  owners determine what they need to do next. It's the launching pad for determining next steps."

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