Preservation and Density

The local development blog DCMud discusses efforts to get the Capitol Hill Historic District extended further east:

The Historic recognition would mean more headaches for the owners of the 189 homes. The Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) quickly points out on its website that being in an historic district means that “if you want to install a fence, make any changes to the porch, garage, or exterior of your building, or even install sculpture in your front yard, you must get a building permit.” Though the ANC voted unanimously to approve the nomination, neighbors will take their time to debate the merits of the recognition; HPRB was prepared to approve it last week but has left the door open for a larger area to be included, should the community request it.

One thing that I think goes missing too often in these conversation is the impact of this kind of designation on the prospects for density. After all, if you look at the area in question you’ll quickly see that all of it is within the quarter-mile uptake range of the Potomac Avenue Metro Station:


Whether you’re someone who’s generally supportive of investing in rail transit or someone who’s generally skeptical, there’s no getting around the fact that rail transit is expensive. And the kind of underground heavy rail that we have in DC’s Metro is especially expensive. To throw down another line someplace else would cost billions and billions of dollars. Consequently, it seems to me that there’s an obligation to put a thumb or two on the scales in favor of maximizing allowable density in vicinity of those stations that we’ve already chosen to built. That’s not a consideration that should run absolutely roughshod over everything else, but it’s something that ought to be taken seriously—there are systematic costs to everyone else in the metro area, and to the environment, of density limits in the vicinity of our precious Metro stations.

Now residents of the Hill East area seeking historic preservation can reasonably counter that these same considerations apply equally to the tonier areas to their west in the vicinity of the Capitol South and Eastern Market stations. To which I reply yes indeed those same considerations do apply. This is precisely why I find the surface parking lot immediately adjacent to the Capitol South station so egregious.