Members of the City’s Preservation Board took some noteworthy steps at a meeting on Monday. Three unanimous votes advanced plans to designate Benton Park as a local Historic District (in addition to its status as a National Register district), moved forward plans to expand the Ville local historic district, and sent a developer back to the drawing board.
Local Historic Districts help protect the unique character of City neighborhoods by requiring adherence to sets of standards for modifying structures within the districts, setting high barriers to prevent unnecessary demolition of structures that contribute to the district’s character, and ensuring that new construction is compatible with the district’s character. The process for designation is thorough: support by local aldermen representing the areas, plenty of public notice, a petition, review by the Preservation Board, a public hearing at City Hall, an ordinance, and my signature. Both Benton Park and the expanded Ville neighborhood deserve these designations — and I will support them when the ordinances reach my desk.
In the third matter, the Preservation Board reviewed complaints from neighborhood residents about an important Lafayette Square residential project and Cultural Resources staff recommendations on the complaints. According to the complaints, the developer failed to build the project according to the plans approved for compliance with the district’s standards in several important respects. According to the developer, several of the departures from standards were required by local utility companies. Other errors were simply the result of careless construction which the developer offered to fix. Whether necessity or carelessness occasioned the problems, the Preservation Board considered — and rejected — unsatisfactory compromises proposed by the developer, the Cultural Resources staff, and some of the neighbors, and voted to approve for now only the strictest adherence to the guidelines. I would expect thoughtful meetings among the affected parties to begin immediately.