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Problematic D.C. House Might Be Disassembled

The city erred in letting the back home be built. Some deem disassembly more environmentally friendly than razing it.
The city erred in letting the back home be built. Some deem disassembly more environmentally friendly than razing it. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 1, 2007

The District government, which agreed to buy a $1.5 million house in Northwest Washington after mistakenly allowing it to be built, is considering an unusual way to get rid of it. Instead of demolishing the house, officials said, the city might pay to have it disassembled piece by piece.

Although taking the house apart would cost more than razing it, they said, "deconstruction" would be more environmentally friendly, like recycling.

"We have to look at the environmental impact of demolition versus deconstruction," said Neil O. Albert, deputy mayor for economic development. "It's an opportunity to salvage portions of the house and give it to charitable purposes."

Nearly two years ago, the city issued building permits for the house, in the 1700 block of North Portal Drive NW, without first giving the house plans to a federal commission for review. A review was required because of the lot's proximity to Rock Creek Park. By the time the project was stopped, the house was nearly complete.

A dispute over addressing the mistake was settled last month, when the city agreed to pay the owner $1.5 million for the six-bedroom house and get rid of it. Neighbors agreed to buy the land for $135,000 and maintain it as green space. Under the settlement, the house was supposed to have been demolished by yesterday.

Demolition seemed the likely next step. But officials said bulldozers are on hold while other options are being considered, including deconstruction, which would allow the city to salvage the shingled roof, 46 windows, three sets of French doors, hot tub, five toilets, and many other fixtures and features.

The city has yet to officially advertise for contractors to get rid of the house, said Linda Argo, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

Deconstruction is increasingly favored by environmentalists, who want materials to be recycled and reused.

In Oregon, for example, Mark Pomeroy, manager of deconstruction for the ReBuilding Center, said his organization has been disassembling buildings for a decade and recently completed a project for Portland's housing authority. A nine-unit apartment building was taken down in five weeks for $57,500 -- nearly double the $30,000 it would have cost to raze it.

As to the price, "it's difficult to compete with the bulldozer," Pomeroy said, adding that deconstruction takes longer. "But if you consider the environmental cost of demolition, it's either pay now or pay later."

In the District, deconstruction advocates say the process adheres to the sprit of the city's "green buildings" law, passed last year to force developers to meet higher energy-saving standards. In deconstruction, labor costs are more expensive, but the salvaged goods can be sold or donated to a nonprofit organization.

Jane Solomon, a Ward 3 activist who owns a house partially disassembled two years ago, e-mailed Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) with the idea.

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