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MONDAY: Protest at 16th & T NW Over Possible Demolition

1841 16th Street NW. (Photo: flickr.)

1841 16th Street NW. (Photo: flickr.)

A group of DC preservationists and Dupont-area residents are holding a protest at 7 p.m. Monday in front of 1841 16th Street NW. They are hoping to stop the city from approving the demolition of the house.

You may remember that in June of last year that the residents of the house had to be evacuated when an interior wall collapsed. In fact, residents of adjoining houses had to temporarily evacuate because it was feared the structure would collapse and take neighboring properties with it.

The protest group is concerned that the owner of the building will be allowed to simply demolish it—after years of neglect—instead of repairing the historic structure. Details are below the fold.

A few thoughts about such properties and how we deal with them:

  1. How many other apartment buildings and group houses in Dupont-Logan are in similarly bad shape and pose a threat to residents and neighboring houses? We live in a condo that is in a converted row house. This makes us very familiar with the problems of adjoining houses that are not up to code and have the potentital to severely damage other properties and put human safety at risk. (Remember that we are talking about roofs and walls touching-adjoining.) Moreover, the DC laws on the books are inadequate to protect the rest of us from these slumlords. We have learned this the hard way over the years.
  2. Why don’t our local Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, ANC 2B and 2F, make this issue a priority? I believe this is an issue that is not well addressed by our local officials—and they ought to be spending more time on this issue as opposed to mirco-managing small businesses. We hear so much about “businesses need to be good neighbors.” True, but the problems we have on our street are related to slumlords and it’s pasttime that the ANCs used some of their time and effort to go after them with the same zeal they pursue small businesses. Collapsing buildings, back yards full of trash and fire hazards are real dangers to our neighborhoods.

For Immediate Release – June 12, 2009
Contact:
Rick Bush, President, Dupont Circle Conservancy, 202-462-0948,
email rbusch1520@aol.com
Rebecca Miller, Executive Director, DC Preservation League, 202-783-5144,
email Rebecca@dcpreservation.org

Activists Rally Against City’s Plan to Reward “Demolition by Neglect” in Dupont
“Worst Case We’ve Seen in Years” says Conservancy President

Preservation activists and neighbors alike are fuming as a city agency appears to be moving to reward what they term the worst case of “demolition by neglect” in years.

Senior city officials have met with nearby residents and Conservancy members and indicated that the former residence may have to be demolished because its deteriorated state makes it a threat to public safety, said Rick Busch, president of the Dupont Circle Conservancy.   “Immediately adjacent neighbors would be forced to relocate at their own expense,” Busch said.

The situation revolves around 1841 16th Street, NW, at the corner of 16th and T, in the heart of a designated historic district.  After what tenants and neighbors alike term severe neglect by owners, the building suffered internal wall collapses in June of 2008.  Tenants fled the property at the urging of the DC Fire Department and city inspectors.

The building is owned by Amy Mazur, a professor at George Washington University,   According to DC Office of Tax & Revenue on-line records, Mazur lives at 3445 Newark Street, NW, in her own $2 million plus home.  City records also reveal that Mazur did not have the proper permit to run the troubled building as an apartment house.

Mazur’s dilapidated building, vacant and fenced since the 2008 collapse, has been the subject of three engineering reports.  All agree that the house can be stabilized and restored, though at considerable expense.

The city has informed Busch and other activists of their preference: to tear down the structure, citing the high cost of repair.

“What the city calls high cost, could have been avoided with regular professional maintenance over the years,” Busch said.  “Divide the cost of repair over the years of the Mazur’s ownership, and you have the regular burdens of maintenance, which she apparently ignored.”

In fact, a report commissioned shortly after the initial collapse in June 2008 found that the deteriorated conditions “occurred over a long period of time” and that the “interiors showed what appeared to be a lack of even the most simple maintenance applications.”  The 10-bedroom, three-story house is currently assessed at over $1 million.

Yet demolition, rather than stabilization, appears to be the favored option by Don Masoero, the DC Chief Building Inspector, and his superior, Linda Argo, Head of DC’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).

DCRA officials informed neighborhood residents and activists at a June 2 meeting of their opinion: that the building is in danger of collapse, and demolition is now the cheapest, and preferred, option.

“Engineering reports are not unanimous that the building is in imminent danger of collapse,” said Busch, and “The city left this building open to the elements for a year.”

The building was designed by architect Nicholas Haller and constructed in 1890 as part of six row houses in a unified ensemble.  As the prominent corner house, 1841 is the key architectural element in the group.  Its demolition would create a “missing tooth” in the 16th Street Historic District in which it is located.

“If DCRA allows the demolition of this building, the negligent owners will be rewarded by having their obligations wiped clean, while the neighborhood loses an historic building,” said Rebecca Miller, Executive Director of the DC Preservation League.

Petition and Protest Rally

Over 120 concerned neighbors have signed a petition to DCRA urging that the building not be demolished.  In addition to the Conservancy and Preservation League, stabilization and shoring of the building, readying it for rehabilitation or sale, is supported by the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC2B), the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, and the Residential Action Coalition.

Activists also plan a rally in front of the building on Monday, June 15, 2009 at 7:00 p.m.

About the Dupont Circle Conservancy

The Dupont Circle Conservancy is a 501 © (3) all-volunteer organization that works to protect and preserve the historic and architectural character of the Dupont Circle Historic District and nearby areas of the immediately adjacent Greater U Street, Massachusetts Avenue, Sixteenth Street, and Strivers’ Section Historic Districts.  The organization was formed in 1978. www.dupontcircleconservancy.org

About the DC Preservation League

The DC Preservation League(DCPL), Washington’s only citywide, non-profit historic preservation organization, has played a significant role in shaping the character of Washington’s neighborhoods and its historic downtown. Since it’s founding in 1971 (as Don’t Tear It Down), DCPL has helped preserve more than 120 individual properties and countless properties in historic districts across the city including the Old Post Office Building and the Willard Hotel.  www.dcpreservation.org

This post was written by:

- who has written 1898 posts on Borderstan.

Rhoades has lived in the Borderstan area for 17 years. When he’s not writing about the area he loves, he follows politics, tends his garden and spoils Lupe, the world’s cutest and smartest dog. Find him on Twitter @mattyrhoades; email him at matty[AT]borderstan.com.

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3 Responses to “MONDAY: Protest at 16th & T NW Over Possible Demolition”

  1. DC Gov Guy says:

    “Why don’t our local Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, ANC 2B and 2F, make this issue a priority?”

    The sad truth is that everyone in the neighborhood and DC Gov knew of the likely horrid conditions at this location for many, many, years. But the fact is that, unless grave structural defects are visible from the outside, neither DCRA nor HPO has the ability to enter the property to do an inspection without the initiation/consent of the owner or their tenants.
    This inability to gain access holds true not only for this case, but for many cases in which civil or criminal infractions are suspect, but not proven to a standard that allows a warrant to enter. The alleged rooming house near the JCC is in example, as are numerous suspected drug houses in DC. The key is actionable intelligence, and what legal pretext there is to enter the property in question in order to do a more thorough inspection.

    One can easily imagine why the beneficiaries of these civil or criminal infractions (in this case tenants who may be getting cheap rent in a prime location and their landlords who enjoy the benefits of passive income) are not eager to allow city regulators in. Until it all, literally or figuratively, falls apart, that is. The partial collapse was the “imminent public threat” that allowed entry.

  2. Joel Lawson says:

    http://www.intowner.com/2008/06/14/collapsing-inside-walls-of-rundown-16th-street-house-forces-tenants-out/

    “Saturday’s incident is not the first to draw negative attention to 1841 16th Street, owned by George Washington University Professor of Special Education Amy Mazur and her neurologist husband, Joseph Liberman. A news story that appeared in the May 4, 2008 issue of The Washington Post revealed that the building had required $9,000 in repairs by the city’s Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs back in 2005. The article further reported a statement by Dr. Liberman that he and his wife were unaware of complaints about the house’s condition, but were ‘willing to fix the problems themselves.’”

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