Not with the Historic Districting of Columbia

I have faith that the Invisible Hand will ball up into a fist and smite the creators of the ugly.
Yes, I saw the Washington Post article about ugly tops. Pop up roofs are ugly in suburbia when they plopped on top of bungelows, and they are ugly in the city. It’s just ugly all around.
However, I don’t believe, that the hammer of historic districting is the solution. Maybe the screwdriver of zoning, is a better tool. And then there is the chisle of legistlation to allow just banning, if not regulating, the use of the hated vinyl siding, like single beers and go cups?
Really, what inch of the District isn’t historic? Okay, maybe bits of Ward 8 which were developed in the middle of the 20th century, but what isn’t over 50 years old with some sort of from the bottom up people’s history?
Instead, I believe the truly ugly will come at a price to the developer and the seller. For one tack off points for curb appeal. Yes, they get to say that they’ve added a bedroom, more space, what have you, but then they are also competing with other say 3 bedroom, 2,000 sq ft houses that were designed to be those kinds of houses. Secondly, even when the market was hot, I’ve seen ugly houses just sit. But that’s only in my area, maybe ugly sells like hotcakes in Columbia Heights. There are also other things that developers, or others getting a house ready to sell do that are useless, like large decks off bedrooms.
Also, I believe what has been done can, with the will and money, can be undone. True window sizes can be restored, proper turrets returned (unless there is something in the DC building code against them), bricks replaced, siding removed, and better design implemented. We renovate kitchens, transform yards, add things, remove things over the years, as occupants change things. You truly lose something when the thing is completly demolished.
So lets start the petition to ban vinyl siding and regulate extra floor additions to pre-exisiting housing since the goal isn’t to preserve some vague history but rather to prevent that which is an abomination in your eyes.

12 thoughts on “Not with the Historic Districting of Columbia”

  1. Mari, I completely agree with your right to have a opinion. However, there is a thing called property rights. I’m in the U Street Historic District and I find it disgusting that HPO has the right to tell me what I can do to my property depending on what arbitrary view they are having that day when I have to ask permission to do work on my house. I agree some renovations are just ugly, in my opinion, but it is not my right to say to a property owner what they can do with their property just because you have a aversion to their taste. Really if it is that bad for you or anyone else that has a problem with anyone doing something to their property that you find objectionable maybe you should do what my father did. He moved to a remote part of the countryside with plenty of space between houses. There are also plenty of cookie-cutter developments with homeowner associations that strictly regulate everything, maybe that is a better suited environment for those who wish to impose their housing preferences on others. Really, the HPO has gone to far and they are only looking to expand their over-weening egos and their preservation of a big government run agency that just uselessly spends tax payer dollars. Be very careful what you ask for. I know your rant was not specifically with HPO and you say that is too far but that is where this difference of opinions will end up.

  2. Mari, are you arguing that the lower home value caused by ugly additions will prevent them from happening? If so, doesn’t the fact that they happen anyway, as evidenced by the WaPo story, argue against that point?

    My personal take is that the history of cities, including the homes and their architecture, is an important part of who we are as the city’s citizens. Historic buildings ground us in our cities and tie us to our environment. Historic districts can be a pain for homeowners, but they seem like one of the best tools for preserving the city’s heritage.

    I’m not sure zoning could create that sort of impact, and I’m not really sure regulating additions would be any easier for homeowners.

    dave m argues the onus is on the city’s other citizens to move out of the city if they don’t like ugly renovations. But couldn’t you argue that moving into a historic district puts the onus on you to maintain the historic integrity of your home?

  3. Dave M, you may not realize it (as that may require reading a bunch of back posts) but I’m a fan of property rights too. However, I do know that with rights come responsibilities. Just recently on Econtalk (libertarian podcast) there was a segment “Epstein on Property Rights, Zoning, and Kelo” Epstein, if I remember right, says we have to take in the idea of harm, so you can’t do whatever you want.
    I purposely moved in an area that wasn’t a historic district. It comes with its own set of risks, in addition to crime, lack of representation in Congress, etc., besides having an ugly building built near me. But I deal with the risks of a gang war, trash, bamas, and ugly azsed buildings to get an (at the time) an affordable house, near a metro that allows for my car-less lifestyle.
    Do I really want a law outlawing vinyl siding? Well if it addresses the issue and prevents another HD or the expansion of an existing HD, then yes. I pick the lesser of two evils. Do I think a law outlawing vinyl siding is a good idea? In the long run, no, because we don’t know how technology and markets will advance in creating a less offensive and more woodlike siding. And there is a chance the law would not be evenly enforced, if at all.

    No. Not prevent, but rather point out that ugly has a cost, which should be an incentive to choose better options.
    What concerns me is the growth in number and size of HDs in the city and the District. It’s not a super big concern, as at least one DC neighborhood has resisted, but it is a concern of mine. I don’t want to live in an HD, and I believe you can acknowledge the past without having to put this restriction on.

  4. Dave M, what you don’t get is that when you do something to your house, you also affect the community. You aren’t living in rural Pennsylvania. You are living in an urban setting where your house is probably physically attached to two other houses and is part of an overall cityscape.

    Which do you prefer – rows of houses that have styles that fit together, or rows of houses that are all different heights, some have porches torn off, maybe a couple have screened in their front porch, a couple driveways in the front yards, a couple with 8 foot fences around the front yards, to think of a few things I’ve seen in unregulated parts of DC?

    Your decision directly affects the quality of life for your neighbors and the value of their properties as well. You can’t just wave the “my property, I do what I want” cry of the rural dweller when you are part of a close-knit urban community.

    I think that some HDs may take too hard a line on what they do and do not permit. But without ANY regulation a few selfish people (typically developers) will spoil it for everyone, causing neighborhoods to lose value as they become less visually appealing and hence less desirable.

  5. In rural areas city-slickers who move to the country complain about the smell of fertilizer on the farms, so even there your neighbors will complain.
    I’m sure Dave M knows that his actions can improve or take away from the surrounding neighborhood. The question is the degree of harm and what is tolerable. As some churches around here changed from storefront types to steeple types with new buildings, the articheture is modern and blah (but I’m biased), but for me it is tolerable. There are some things that probably aren’t really conforming to code that I can see in the hood that more than likely were responses to drug dealing, loitering, and other crime. Things to keep prostitutes out of the basement doorway, to keep crews from hanging out in front of your house, keeping crews from hangin out on your porch….
    Also, if you paint some row houses all the same color, they will look cookie cutter. And the look of differing heights is okay provided that its style A, style A, style B, style C, style C, not style A, style A, style C, style A, style A. Also corner houses or end units can deviate without looking too odd just on height.
    And you don’t need a permit to look less appealing and take down the hood. You can:
    *Plant plastic flowers in your yard and never move/clean them
    *Let cheap & tackiness be your lawn/fence/door decorating guide
    *Encourage neighborhood toughs to hang out in front of your house
    *Paint your house a color that clashes with your neighbors
    *Paint your house a color that is beyond ugly, the more tones the better
    *When surrounded by iron fences, install chain link
    *Put astroturf on porch and stairs
    *Hang out in front yard in house coat and hair rollers, often
    *Cultivate a huge dirt patch in front of your house
    *Allow weed trees to sprout up between yours and your neighbors fence

  6. Trust me all I get it! I don’t like, what I perceive, ugly just like the next person. HOWEVER, who decides what is ugly? Obviously Mari has a great dislike for vinyl siding but what if I like the look and the maintenance of vinyl siding? What gives her the right to dictate to me what materials I use on my house just because she does not like the cosmetic look of it? Zoning and codes are put in place generally for density and safety reasons. Just because you disagree with the materials being used or the height allowed under the zoning does not give you the right to impose your view onto someone else’s property. I personally hate painted brick, I think it is cheap. I also hate that faux stone that seemed to popular in the early part of the 20th century where they would install it over brick — I think it is just plain ugly. However, that was the choice of the owner at the time. My point is you’re on a very steep slope when you start dictating to others on your own personal taste in a city. If I wanted to avoid those guidelines I’d still be living in VA in my nice sterile townhouse development where everything was controlled . I have personal experience with ugly renovations directly attached and round my house. If you have questions come look at 900-913 T ST NW. You tell me which houses are ugly and which one looks the best — hint the one that looks the best is mine and which is true to it’s original architecture. Also, fr those that want to remain living in the city and still dictate to their neighbors on what they can and can not do to their houses I would recommend buying in one of the many HOA controlled developments in the city. One that comes to mind in the U street corridor is Harrison Square at 13th & W or something. You want that sort of lifestyle, move there. Until then go ahead and comment all you want on my personal taste (ugly or not) on how I maintain my house but respect my rights as I own the house & property and stop trying to dictate to me on what comes down to what you find ugly.

  7. “And Lo: The Invisible Hand came downeth from the heavens and smote those who would build an ugly-ass 3rd floor. For it wasn’t the firstborn, but the thirdborne who was cursed with His displeasure.

    The Hand smote them with a bitchslap most mighty. And those who buildeth with distaste and vynil siding were given the middleth finger anon.

    Those who paveth their homes with astroturf were spared His judgement, for they enjoyeth goofy golf on the front steps, and that is a good thing”

  8. Preach Brother Jimbo, Preach!

    Vinyl siding is tolerable, but since it tends to mentioned oft by those who call upon the HD gods as a reason to be a HD (as opposed to a notable history that has a value outside the hood), I’m willing to throw the siding to the wolves. Regulate it out of the city, anything to manage the unnecessary growth of HDs.

  9. Knowing how small some of these 2-level rowhouses are, I certainly can’t blame anyone for wanted to add another floor.

    As a sop to those concerned about neighborhood aesthetics, it’s probably OK to insist that the pop-up match the underlying house (brick pop-ups for brick houses), but it’s hard for me to get riled up about people creating more living space.

  10. You want to see a really ugly pop-up..? go down Florida Avenue NW around North Capital street. If I can take a picture I will.. but geez that “pop-up:” is really ugly, it is on the South side of Florida Avenue. This also brings me back to when I was a kid growing up. In the next small town over there was a tiff between 2 neighbors… One of the neighbors painted their house a good awful purple color. The adjoining neighbor in retaliation painted their house a bright orange. Now you can only imagine the looks these houses received as people passed by — especially in a small midwest town. But now many years later I kinda like the individuality of those houses.

  11. Right now the latex paint is the thing keeping the mortar in the joints in the rear of my house.
    The NPS page listed in the above comments advises against painting brick that wasn’t intended to be painted.
    From old pictures of my block I can’t tell, stupid B/W photos, if the brick was painted or not. But it was painted when I got the house and now is the subject of disagreements of what color it is… Scott, Matt, shut it.
    Also, as I discovered the brick used in my house was crap brick. I think it is pointless to try to preserve something intent on committing suicide. It is self destructing.

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