We Need More Transit-Accessible Development, Not Less

At the corner of 7th Street and H Street NW, you’ll find an entrance to the Gallery Place / Chinatown Metro station serving three of the city’s five Metro lines. You’re also an eight minute walk from the Metro Center station where the other two can be found. At this corner you can find the X2/X9 buslines and the 70 buses, two of the city’s four highest frequency bus routes. In other words, it’s essentially the most transit accessible spot in town. So it’s long been upsetting that some financing and legal issues have left one corner of the intersection with a vacant building.

The good news is that some construction should be underway soon. The bad news is that the Historic Preservation Review Board has just decreed that the developer needs to scale back his already scaled-back plans. The issue here, to be clear, is not the proposed demolition of a historic structure. That the historic building will be preserved is not at issue. The concern, rather, is that the developer wants to build an addition on vacant land behind the existing structure and the HPRB wants to make sure that the addition is small enough that you won’t be able to notice it from the street.

People sometimes accuse me of arguing against a straw man when I talk about this, but you see this all the time at least in DC. Historic preservation limiting development not by preserving existing historic structures but by mandating that new structures that happen to be near old structures need to be similar to the old ones. But what kind of aesthetic principle is this supposed to be? And what’s the point of building good transit systems if we don’t then allow buildings to be built near the stations so people can use them?