The District needs more specific guidelines for designating historic buildings and districts but, overall, Washington's laws aimed at protecting old buildings from destruction or alteration are effective, according to a draft report released last week by D.C. and federal planners.
The draft, more than 100 pages on historic preservation, is the latest segment to be unveiled of the District's proposed comprehensive plan, which will chart land use as well as other growth and development policies in the city for the next 20 years.
The entire comprehensive plan is scheduled to be submitted to the City Council for approval in September.
The land-use plan, released last fall, has been the focus of controversy between city planners and citizens groups that have complained that, among other things, it does not provide adequate protections against further commercial encroachments into residential neighborhoods.
But spokesmen for citizen groups said that, based on a preliminary review of the historic segment, it appears to satisfy their concerns.
"It reaffirms a number of the goals and policies that the preservation community believes in," said Karen Gordon, a former president of the preservation group Don't Tear It Down. But, Gordon said, the true test will be whether city officials follow the preservation polices in the draft.
John H. McKoy, director of the city's Office of Planning, which helped prepare the draft along with the National Capital Planning Commission, said it generally calls for no major changes in city procedures.
He said the recommendation for improved designation guidelines is an attempt to strengthen preservation efforts.
The document also calls for more comprehensive surveys of possible historic buildings and sites, particularly by the District government and federal agencies, as a precaution against inadvertent destruction of historic properties. "It suggests that we the city and federal governments provide a good example for others to follow," McKoy said.
The framework for the District's preservation program was set up by the City Council's enactment in 1978 of a preservation act, which imposes severe restrictions on efforts to demolish or alter historic buildings and is regarded as one of the most pro-preservation laws in the country. The draft praised the law for protecting the 15,000 historic properties in the district.
However, Whayne S. Quin, a development attorney, said the law needs to be changed to make the process of seeking demolition and alteration permits of historic sites less cumbersome and time-consuming for developers.