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How Historic Is Chevy Chase D.C.?

Proponents of a Chevy Chase D.C. Historic District seek to protect existing architecture on streets lined with dwellings such as this rambling vintage Tudor-style residence, where lion sculptures guard the entrance to the front porch, below.
Proponents of a Chevy Chase D.C. Historic District seek to protect existing architecture on streets lined with dwellings such as this rambling vintage Tudor-style residence, where lion sculptures guard the entrance to the front porch, below. (Photos By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

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By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 1, 2007

Chevy Chase residents recognize that they live in one of the District's oldest planned suburbs, a place founded a century ago as a bucolic escape from the bustle of downtown.

But whether "old" is synonymous with "historic" is a question that has provoked contentious debate in a neighborhood otherwise known for peaceful streets, charming homes and civil discourse.

Fearful of developers razing houses and replacing them with mansions, preservationists are lobbying the city to designate Chevy Chase D.C. as a historic district, thereby regulating how property owners can alter the exteriors of their homes.

But their campaign has provoked heated opposition among residents who worry that new regulations would create additional bureaucratic review and financial burdens if they seek to replace roofs or windows or build additions.

"In the last five years, it is the most controversial proposal we have faced," said Jerry Levine, chairman of the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission that encompasses most of the area. "On this one, every home is affected."

David Maloney, the District's state historic preservation officer, said that because of the neighborhood's history and reputation, "it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that it has a good chance of meeting the designation criteria."

"The sense I get is that most people are not contesting that," Maloney said. "They agree it's a wonderful suburb. What they are contesting is whether it's something they want to deal with in their daily lives. And that is an issue for us."

The District has designated 26 neighborhoods as historic districts, including Dupont Circle, Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Shaw, Cleveland Park and Anacostia. In many cases, residents have nominated their neighborhoods, a nomination ultimately decided by the District's Historic Preservation Review Board.

When a neighborhood is deemed historic, property owners seeking to demolish buildings or make exterior alterations first must obtain permission from the D.C. Planning Department's Historic Preservation Office, which subjects proposed construction to a design review.

Historic Chevy Chase D.C., a community group, initiated the campaign to designate the neighborhood, an area of more than 900 residential and commercial properties, roughly bounded by Western Avenue to the north, Harrison Street to the south, Reno Road to the west and Chevy Chase Parkway to the east.

In recent years, as real estate values have soared, property owners have built additions or torn down homes and replaced them with mansions that loom over neighboring properties, particularly in the portion of Chevy Chase that is in Montgomery County.

Although preservationists acknowledge that far fewer homes have been razed in Chevy Chase D.C., they say the neighborhood needs legal protections to ensure the future of its eclectic mix of Tudor and Colonial Revival houses homes, many of them built in the early 1900s.


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