The Mount Pleasant Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) has voted 3 to 2 to withdraw its controversial application to designate the Northwest community as a historic district.
The ANC, which applied for the historic status in 1982, voted for the withdrawal last week, saying there is no community consensus favoring the district. The ANC said it also was concerned that the new status might result in the displacement of lower-income renters and cause property values and taxes to skyrocket.
At the same time the ANC voted to establish a task force to "devise a strategy using historic designation to preserve and upgrade current housing stock, to prevent displacement of current residents . . . should the neighborhood be designated a historic district."
The city's Historic Preservation Review board, which selects historic neighborhoods and regulates the existing 15, is expected to agree to the withdrawal. The proposed district would have included 34 blocks bounded by 16th Street on the east, Harvard Street on the south, and Rock Creek Park on the west and north.
Proponents of the district argued that Mount Pleasant, a largely residential neighborhood with rows and rows of bay-fronted turn-of-the-century row houses, was historic as the first of the city's streetcar suburbs, and for its eclectic architectural style.
Opponents argued that historic district status usually makes neighborhoods more attractive to young middle-class professionals, resulting in the displacement of lower-income tenants and homeowners.
In Mount Pleasant, one of the early city neighborhoods to draw young urban pioneers, homeowners now outnumber renters 3 to 1, said ANC Chairman Stanley Allen.
Eleven residents attended last week's meeting and most were homeowners favoring the historic designation. A month earlier more than 100 residents attended an ANC-sponsored forum on the pros and cons of historic status.
In a historic district, owners must receive permission from city officials before they can make any structural changes to the exterior of their properties that require a building permit, such as removing or rebuilding a front or back porch, changing railings or building an addition. New buildings also must conform to the historic guidelines.
"I don't believe it, you've just given away the whole store," an angry homeowner, Ralph Smith, said after last week's vote. "People have worked on this historic status for three years . . . ," shouted Smith, as he argued with commissioner Matthew Reiss, who strongly opposed the historic district.
"A few people who just moved here think they can think for the whole community," Smith said.
Reiss said later that he considered Smith a supporter and was surprised by the outburst. The commissioner added, "My perception of the applicants is that they did not want to compromise. They did not want to save the buildings and keep the people."
Reiss, a tenant, is the only Mount Pleasant ANC commissioner carried over from the previous commission. That panel, four homeowners and Reiss, which applied for the historic district, served until January. The new commission consists of three homeowners and two tenants.
Dick O'Connor, a member of the ANC's history committee, which wrote the historic district application, complained after the vote that the ANC had turned the issue into a "political football." O'Connor said last year's ANC commissioners favored historic status 3 to 2.
But Gladys Mitchell, a Mount Pleasant resident since 1957, shook her finger at the commissioners and demanded they "think about not only buildings but about people" when they voted last week.
Others said they worried that historic district status would cause property values and taxes to increase dramatically. In the 1970s the assessments for most Mount Pleasant property doubled. Between 1976 and 1979, median house prices rose 166 percent to $105,050.