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Green Spaces ~ continued from page 1

That’s because the HPO report showing the landmark’s boundaries on its second page could upend Perseus’ subdivision of the property, which they say is necessary to build the apartment building as currently designed. And it is designed, in large measure, to contain as many apartments as possible that will generate as much income as possible in perpetuity for the Masons.

Perseus subdivides the property starting just less than a yard east from the back of the Temple. While neighbors and others opposed to the project might not have liked that, the subdivision nonetheless has always seemed to be on firm legal ground. The apparent assumption was that the developer would be building outside the landmark’s boundaries.

But one look at the true boundaries in the HPO report shows that this is definitely not the case. The landmark’s boundaries extend three-quarters of the way into the back lot in the eastern direction. A huge portion of the building and its proposed garden would be inside the Temple landmark area.

Hanlon says that the new information, considered in the context of historic preservation law, could mean that the developer will have to show that the new building will “retain and enhance” the existing landmark. And they might not be able to build at all within the landmark if the eastern boundary is interpreted as an effort to preserve sightlines from the back of the temple.

When ANC 2B’s zoning committee met on May 1st, it declined to recommend that the full ANC back the DECAA application to HPRB for landmark status of the Mason’s entire property, bounded by 16th Street on the west, S Street on the north, 15th Street on the east, and Riggs Place on the south.  But if Hanlon is correct, that might not matter.

Landmark boundaries aside, however, the argument for preserving green space ought not to be ignored, either. Near the end of the ANC’s zoning committee meeting, Robin Diener, former Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) president, spoke up, cautioning that a new development like the Mason’s apartment building is “by right — until it’s not.” Further, as she told both the commissioners and the crowd in attendance, once a building is built the neighborhood has lost that green space forever; greens pace and sunlight are surely rights, too, she added.

“We need to find a better way to do these things,” Diener continued, and suggesting that the ANC could ask for a delay of the May 23rd HPRB hearing, for example. If the ANC had acted much earlier it could have sought to obtain from the city a land swap for the Masons. In that scenario, Diener said, the Masons could swap their land for city owned property of equal value and build their revenue generator. There would be zero costs for all parties and a small corner of city green space could be preserved.

Diener mentioned how she and others fought for a similar deal for the St. Thomas’ green space at 18th and Church Streets; that brought a hush to the room — not a common occurrence at ANC 2B meetings.

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