The National Park Service's suspension of the District's Historic Preservation Office has hastened Mayor Marion Barry's naming of a new board to oversee the protection of Washington's landmark buildings and neighborhoods.
Barry's nominees to the nine-member Historic Preservation Review Board may be announced as early as this week--more than three months before the new panel was to replace the Joint Committee on Landmarks (JCL), District officials said.
Carol Thompson, the District government's historic preservation officer, said Barry "is very anxious that the review board be established as quickly as possible." But Thompson said the March 31 suspension of the historic preservation office "doesn't push us any faster than our schedule" for nominating the review board members.
According to other officials, however, the suspension of the historic preservation office--which the Park Service ordered as a result of "longstanding budgetary and staffing problems"--had forced the District to accelerate its timetable for naming members to the new review board.
"Historic preservation in this city is dead in the water after the suspension," said one city official who asked not to be named. The new review board will symbolize the mayor's commitment to historic preservation during negotiations on the suspension, the official added.
Meanwhile, the committee already has lost two of its three cosponsors.
In a letter to committee Chairman J. Ernest E. Harper dated 11 days after the suspension of the preservation office, Barry announced that the city would no longer cosponsor the committee.
And last week, a top official with the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts announced that the board also would withdraw its support for the committee. Commission Secretary Charles H. Atherton said he has asked Barry to name the current committee members to the new review board "to ensure a smooth transition."
The National Capital Planning Commission, the committee's only remaining sponsor, has not yet decided whether to continue to support the committee, a spokesman said.
In some 20 years of deciding on landmark status for buildings in the District, the committee has been able to slow or speed development around the city. With the creation of the new review board, however, it will lose "80 percent of its jurisdiction," Harper said.
The committee's future responsibility will be limited to historic federal buildings, Harper said. Its jurisdiction and that of the new board will probably overlap in cases involving zoning changes, such as the simmering controversy over the Brookings Institution's plan to expand into a historic neighborhood off Dupont Circle, Harper said.
A local preservation organization and a group of urban planning experts have nominated several architects and historians--some of them current committee members--to be on the new preservation panel.
Don't Tear It Down, a group formed in 1971 to save the old Post Office Building, recommended that Barry name Harper, architect Hector J. Alvarez and other current committee members to the new board.
Alvarez, reappointed to the committee by Barry last year, is considered a prime candidate for the review board. But those committee members who live outside the District may not fulfill Barry's requirement that the review board be comprised only of District residents.
Another leading contender for a spot on the board is Harrison M. Ethridge, an architectural historian whom Barry nominated for the committee last year, officials said. Ethridge, a Northwest resident, was also recommended by Don't Tear It Down.
Kim Hoagland, the group's vice president, said preservationsists want Barry to appoint experienced architects and historians--not political allies--to the board.
"We hope it's not weighted with those who have development interests at heart," said Hoagland.
Several preservationist and neighborhood groups plan to attend the City Council confirmation hearings of Barry's nominees, Hoagland said.