Saturday, January 26, 2013

Historic Preservation Review Board votes to deny raze permit for 1322 9th Street (Naylor Court)

The following provided by Dr. Salter who led the fight.  

Today we won a huge victory for 1322 9th Street in Naylor Court!

Unanimous board support to block the raze permit.
Unanimous support to deem the building as a contributing structure in the alley.
A powerful admonition of the owner for the deplorable state of affairs over 20 plus years.
A compelling argument for the owner to immediately secure the properly before it collapses while awaiting the Mayor's agent decision. (assuming an appeal)
A motion to immediately work with HPO and DCRA to secure the property.

For those of you who are audiovisual learners the proceedings were telecast and archived through the link below.

For those of you who prefer reading, I have attached my prepared remarks, introductory remarks and my own summary of the discussion. 

Thank you all, for your support through this process.

January 24th 2013 HPRB  - HPA #13-091[1]

Spontaneous Introductory Remarks

I introduced myself and pointed out that while Brendan Meyer had correctly pointed out that the building was in an historic district, I pointed out that it had the additional recognition of being on the National Register of Historic Places.

I thanked Mr. George Alexander – the managing principal for the architectural firm of Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, for so elegantly detailing exactly all of the various signs of neglect and abuse to which this building has been exposed over the past 20 or more years. [I do not think they realized how damning their testimony was for their case]

I stated that the tree alone was an excellent indicator of the length of time the property has been abused. None of this happened overnight. [Dr. Ehrlich attempted to place the blame of the destruction on Darryl Carter by saying that the property had been OK until after the year during which construction was undertaken on 1320 9th Street when the lot was leased. The Board, Martin Smith and I jumped all over this false accusation.]

I explained that I also owned a garage that did not have its own walls and was essentially a front with a roof connected by the walls of three other buildings.

I stated that I knew the men who worked and struggled in this building over the years.

I stated that I had no secondary interest in the property and that I was appearing at the hearing on my own.

I brought up the concept of “party wall law” and that there are obligations a property owner has when a party wall requires support (as in the North wall).

Prepared Remarks

Members of the board, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak on behalf of my neighborhood and little building in Naylor Court, which is under threat of being destroyed. Thank you.

As a former cardiac surgeon with a deep interest in architecture, historic preservation, sociology and urban planning, I have come to somewhat anthropomorphize old buildings. Like people, some have had hard lives; some live a life of grace. Some are poorly built, while others are robust. Some develop infections with trees growing out of them or rats living in them. Unlike people, they cannot defend themselves against neglect and abuse.

Restraining or protective custody orders can be obtained through the courts to protect people from harm when the intent to harm has been clearly established. “At risk historic buildings” are afforded similar protective rights through the Historic Preservation Review Board and the National Register of Historic Places. In this instance, while the intent to harm 1322 9th Street NW has been suspected by the community for many years it is now in writing.

The building under discussion is the last of 7 that originally existed on this property according to a 1924 map. Jack Evan’s office has told me that this property’s owner, Dr. Ehrlich, has already been judged to be negligent by the city through the blighted property tax levied against him so any accusation of negligence is not a personal opinion. It has been established. He has simply not maintained this building allowing it to deteriorate badly.

He has tried to create a parking lot on this site without collaborating with the neighborhood – a plan that was quickly shut down by the neighborhood. Brendan Meyer was also involved in this case (1322 9th Street NW, HPA #11-457, permit/paved parking lot in September and October 2011).

Dr. Ehrlich has allowed oil and toxic chemicals to contaminate the soil on this property for years. The unsecured building has become a home for rats, graffiti and criminal activity.

From a physician’s perspective, this situation is like neglecting someone (in this case a building) with an easily treatable, but potentially fatal illness, then watching them slowly become extremely ill and ultimately euthanizing them without their consent, using the fact they were now going to die anyway from lack of care as the justification. Dr. Ehrlich has made the decision to kill or raze the building thereby destroying all evidence of negligence.

I recognize that: -

“It has been a central premise of American law that owners can use their property as they wish, provided only that they do no harm to others.”  [2]

However: -

“The basic idea was that the task of government is not to make us good. The State’s duty was only to protect us from the bad and the proprietor’s duty was only to refrain from doing harm.”[3]

The management of this property has served our neighborhood badly. Dr. Ehrlich has not responded to letters that I have personally sent to him. He was invited to this month’s ANC-2F meeting by one of the commissioners but he did not bother to turn up – which shocked everyone at the meeting. He has had many years in which he to be a good steward of this historically contributing building, yet he chose to neglect his property to the point that the city now considers it to be blighted. The men who worked for many years in this building also suffered, having to live with an unrepaired roof that leaked badly, inadequate ventilation for toxic fumes generated by painting cars and many other health and safety issues.

I am hopeful that the board in appreciating the value of this structure within the context of the historic alley, its unique collection of buildings and the neighborhood at large, will vote to preserve it. While it may be a humble building on the scale of architecture, it is nonetheless a unique part of the fabric of the history of this very special collection of small buildings. Any collection of interconnected entities is of greatest value when it is intact. When even small elements are missing the whole is diminished. When many elements are missing it becomes worthless.

This building is a heritage resource – reflecting “not only historic properties but natural features and human communities of distinctive culture”[4] - that needs to be shared with future generations as part of a collection of buildings. It has its own story to share of the spirit of another time in the history of Washington D.C.  Many Naylor Court and Blagden Alley structures have already been destroyed through similar neglect, during an era that was less appreciative of this collection of buildings. 
(See maps 1924 and 1989)

Summary Points
HPA #13-091

1.     The ANC-2F commissioners have each voted to oppose the request for a raze permit for 1322 9th Street NW and added their “great weight” to the discussion today. It was the opinion of the ANC, that irresponsible property owners should not be “rewarded” for their property neglect by being allowed to completely destroy a building that they have allowed to partially destroy itself and thereby eradicate the evidence of their negligence.
2.     The ANC recognizes that Naylor Court and its sister alley (Blagden Alley) are in the early phases of a renaissance of reconstruction. Once buildings such as the one under discussion are destroyed it is impossible to reasonably replicate them. To do that is not in the spirit of historic preservation but more in the spirit of Disney Land replication. That is sadly already happening in these two alleys.
3.     The Blagden Alley/Naylor Court Association unanimously passed a motion to oppose the raze permit request.
4.     A petition to block the raze permit has been signed and submitted.
5.     The HPO has deemed this building to be a contributing structure.
6.     The building is part of a collection of buildings in Naylor Court each of which has been recognized by the National Register of Historic Places since 1990.
7.     Precedent for preserving old auto repair shops in Blagden Alley and Naylor Court was established recently by a staff report and recommendation (HPA #12-503 - November 1, 2012).  That report recognized that the Blagden Alley garage and its  construction are consistent with themes established in the Blagden Alley Historic District nomination.”
8.     Precedent for blocking raze permits for small contributing alley buildings was also established by HPO in HPA #11-488 and confirmed by the Mayor’s Agent who stated that “preservation law prohibits unwarranted demolition but seeks constructive solutions” (Byrne and Tregoning)
9.     The 1322 9th Street NW building has been badly damaged by neglect, but it can be restored (despite predictable protestations to the contrary by the owner) and there are individuals who are willing and able to do this.
10.  The stable next to this building (1320 9th Street NW) where Darryl Carter Inc. is now located is an exemplary model of small building salvage, restoration, adaptive reuse and stewardship that should be emulated throughout the alley. Someone should be given the opportunity to do the same for this building.
11.  Failure to materially improve and develop this property over the years of ownership has blocked others who are better prepared to create an appropriate street-to-building relationship on this land, that is in keeping with the spirit of the neighborhood and the Convention Center Area Strategic Plan produced by the Office of Planning (approved June 2006 through Resolution 16-0687).
12.  The neighborhood strongly believes that owner should not be rewarded for his negligence by being allowed to obliterate the problem that he created.


·      There was considerable discussion about the definition of what a building is since in this case it was argued by Dr. Ehrlich’s architect that this building did not have its own North and South walls. It was repeatedly referred to as an infill building.
·      Brendan Meyer did not seem to give much weight to the petition because it was online even though the signatures were validated by e-mail address
·      The HPRB was not aware that Dr. Ehrlich owned both lots since they sought to contact the owner affected by the North wall. It was explained to them that Ehrlich owned both properties.
·      The chair of the HPRB was emphatic in her chastisement of Dr. Ehrlich for having allowed his property to languish so badly. She was rather impassioned about this and angry.
·      Dr. Ehrlich was not able to state what repairs he had done to the building during his ownership of several decades.
·      Dr. Ehrlich was told by a board member that she thought he was not taking this process seriously and was concerned that the building would further deteriorate pending the Mayor’s agent hearing (assuming an appeal).
·      It was clear to everyone that the request for the raze permit came as a result of the blighted property tax assessment and that it was not a move to improve the property.
·      The architectural firm asserted firmly that the property was beyond salvage. [this is only their opinion and can be countered by others]
·      It was clear to the board that there are individuals who are interested in developing and salvaging this property. [The chair must have been contacted independently since she knew of this before I mentioned it]
·      The chair of the board pointed out that the structural report states in the last sentence that the walls of the building “could collapse at any time” and yet even with this acknowledgement of poor condition and safety concerns, the property owner has done nothing at all to secure the building. The interior was an atrocious mess. The photos were damning when Dr. Ehrlich stated that the lot was clean.
·      The HPRB exhorted the owner to immediately secure the walls and the roof and to work with Brendan Meyer on this along with DCRA.


The HPRB voted unanimously with essentially no dissent to:

1.     Deem the building as a contributing building in the alley
2.     Adamantly deny permission to raze the building
3.     Explore the path to restoration

[2] Property Rights and Public Benefits, Joseph L Sax in “Past Meets Future” Saving America’s Environments – National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1992
[3] Ibid
[4] Ibid

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