HPO Discusses Development in Cleveland Park

Deputy State Preservation Officer, Steve Callcott, discusses the continuing role of preserving historic assets in the District like Cleveland Park, noting that the mission is not being changed, and that his office will continue to enforce the D.C. Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act as they have for the past 40 years.

HPO’s Steve Callcott at CPSG virtual event November 9, 2020

Planning Director Trueblood noted in testimony before the Council last week that it is the District’s preservation law, and not the Comprehensive Plan, that provide the legal protection for the historic district.

Committee of the Whole Hearing, November 13, 2020

These statements from representative of the District administration are important when considering remarks from groups intent on stoking fear in residents that our historic district is under some threat.

This video clip is another exchange between Mendelson and Trueblood discussing how (and the limits to which) the Comp Plan addresses affordable housing. Both Mendelson and Trueblood note that unless it impacts zoning, the Comp Plan is unenforceable guidance. It also includes discussion about the “Red Dotted Lassos” that are the Future Planning Analysis Areas on the Generalized Policy Map. Within these areas, finer grained planning are to occur before any upzoning.

An open letter to Council Chair Phil Mendelson and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh:

Dear Chairman Medelson and Councilmember Cheh,

We write to express concern over the quality of civic engagement happening in Cleveland Park surrounding the proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan.  In any community, competing points of view and robust debate and conversation are to be expected and encouraged.  As we have unfortunately seen at the national level recently, civic engagement breaks down when facts are malleable and debate is replaced with histrionics.

The Cleveland Park Historical Society recently sent out an “action alert” to its members with intent to inflame rather than inform.  We are writing to provide fact-checking, and hopefully steer the conversation back toward reality.

Historic Preservation Protections are being eroded for Cleveland Park.  This is simply not true.  Legal protections that govern the Cleveland Park Historic District are found in the Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978, as amended, and not in the Comprehensive Plan.  As you, Mr. Chairman, have pointed out, outside of the Maps, Land Use and Framework Elements, the rest of the Comprehensive Plan is non-binding guidance.  Director Trueblood made this point to you in his testimony last Friday: historic protection comes from the D.C. Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act, not the Comprehensive Plan, and nothing is changing that.

Cleveland Park is being singled out.  Cleveland Park is not being singled out, either as an historic district, or as a Metro site where adjacent land is being redesignated as High Density.  Every Metro station area in Ward 3 has a FLUM amendment proposing an increase to High Density Residential.  Woodley Park, an historic district like Cleveland Park, is also seeing an upFLUM with High Density Residential being striped over its current Low Density Commercial.  These are part of broader land use changes that allow greater density in our transit zones, and they are overdue.

Building Heights would have a baseline of 90 feet and up to 120 feet.  As Councilmember Cheh can attest, the Historic Preservation Office made a presentation to the Cleveland Park community on November 9th and Deputy State Preservation Officer Steve Callcott made it clear that since the proposed FLUM density increase is wholly contained within the Cleveland Park Historic District, any future infill or new construction must be found to be compatible by the Historic Preservation Review Board.  Building heights and setbacks will be governed by preservation law first, and not exclusively by zoning.  He made clear that each case will be considered in its context.  At no point did he suggest that zoning, and not the HPRB, would control the density of future construction.

Proposals in the Comprehensive Plan would promote and prioritize 4+ story apartment buildings on Cleveland Park side streets which are currently zoned for single-family homes. To accomplish what is being suggested would require a change in zoning, which could happen today and not require any changes to the Maps of the Comprehensive Plan. Again, every contributing building to the Cleveland Park Historic District is and would continue to be protected by current preservation law.

The Single Family Housing Report issued by the Office of Planning, which is NOT a part of the amendment package before the Council, called for consideration of adding low-scale density in single family home areas adjacent to transit.  Again, that could happen today if there was community will.  The Report specifically says, “The Office of Planning does not recommend a citywide change of what is permitted under single-family zoning at this time, as this action would have to be considered in the context of a Comprehensive Plan rewrite.”  It is a debate worth having in the near future.

Mixed-use development in the historic district won’t lead to truly affordable housing.  Any development in Cleveland Park that results in 10 or more units is subject to Inclusionary Zoning.  Under the Expanded Inclusionary Zoning provision approved by the Zoning Commission on Monday, any map amendment that results in a density increase will be subject to a higher requirement of income-restricted housing, up to 18-20%, as compared to the current 8-10%. Even the Expanded IZ plan is not going to solve the affordability crisis in the city, but it is a significant start, coupled with greater allowable density.  Additional policies in the form of District subsidies will also be required to meet the Mayor’s affordable housing goals.

Adding housing to our transit corridor is good policy for a variety of reasons, including commercial vitality, achieving reduced carbon emissions and housing equity, that is the provision of income-restricted housing in high opportunity areas where it is currently woefully underrepresented.  These policies can be advanced in Cleveland Park with greater allowable density, as difficult as they will be to realize under the very real and intact historic preservation restrictions.

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