The Cleveland Park Historical Society agreed this week to withdraw its application for historic landmark status for the Park and Shop shopping center in Northwest Washington, after the facility's owner agreed to negotiate with the citizens group about the redevelopment of the site.
The Cafritz Co., which owns the 1930-vintage Park and Shop, also agreed to withdraw its application for a demolition permit. Cafritz is planning to sell the property to a developer, who already has architects working on plans for a 10-story office building that would include four movie theaters.
Cafritz and the society, which previously had been unsuccessful in attempts to negotiate their differences, sat down with Kwasi Holman, director of D.C.'s Office of Business and Economic Development, this week, just prior to a hearing before the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board.
The city's preservation staff had recommended that the review board award the Park and Shop landmark status as the oldest example of a shopping center with off-street parking in Washington, and as one of the earliest commercial strip centers in the country.
Whayne S. Quin, a D.C. zoning attorney representing Cafritz, said it was not the staff recommendation that convinced Cafritz to sit down at the negotiating table, but rather the city's interest in helping the two sides reach an agreement.
"The negotiations will give us an opportunity to work out what we want to do on the site," Quin said. The two sides agreed to work together for the next 30 days. If Cafritz reapplies for a demolition permit after the 30 days, the historical society also will be allowed to reapply for landmark status.
"The day is past when developers can come in and do whatever they want with their property without consulting the neighborhood," said Tersh Boasberg, president of the historical society.
While some residents of Cleveland Park have been working for years, surveying the buildings in the area and preparing an application to have the entire community declared a historic district, the fight over the Park and Shop has galvanized the community's attention, bringing more than 200 new members to the previously tiny historical society.
Some members acknowledge that their application to secure landmark status for the dilapidated shopping center has met with some surprise in Washington, but the society says the true historic nature of the little center is its contribution to the entire Cleveland Park district.
"The Park and Shop is a key element in the commercial strip that is part of Cleveland Park, and contributes to the neighborhood atmosphere of our village within Washington," Boasberg said. "If this goes, we're going to lose the whole commercial strip, and then we'll lose much of what makes Cleveland Park special."
As part of the negotiated agreement between Cafritz and the historical society, the D.C. preservation board agreed to move up a scheduled public hearing on the application for the Cleveland Park Historic District from next June to February.
The society's application for a historic district includes the residential area between Wisconsin and Connecticut avenues and the commercial strip on Connecticut between Porter and Macomb streets. The Park and Shop is located at Connecticut and Porter.
According to Boasberg, the problem created by the delay in the preservation review board's schedule is that developers eager to redevelop parcels along the commercial strip, which sits above a Metrorail stop, were tipped off the minute the society filed its application for the historic district. Because there is no moratorium on demolition permits or redevelopment during the period a historic district application is pending, Boasberg said the area is very vulnerable.