D.C.’s Historic Preservation Review Board approved a roof deck for a row house near 15th and T last month, but not before a few members lamented ever setting a precedent of allowing them in the first place.
In the Dupont, Logan and U Street historic districts, there are a wide variety of decks on the backs and tops of row houses. The practice for many years has been to deny additions to row houses that are visible from in front of the house but to be much more permissive about changes on the alley side.
Following that precedent, Historic Preservation Office staff reviewer Kim Elliott recommended the board approve the deck.
However, Elliott also noted that unlike on some blocks, all of the two-story row houses here have the same, uninterrupted roof line from the back (as well as the front). The 3-foot high railing for this deck would create a pop-up effect from the rear. Elliott pointed out that the board started allowing roof decks some years ago, setting a precedent.
The Historic Preservation Review Board ultimately agreed with Elliott and approved the deck, though Bob Sonderman suggested making the owner shrink the deck a few more feet by pushing the railing away from the rear of the house.
Members Graham Davidson, an architect at Hartman-Cox, and Nancy Metzger, formerly with the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, both wondered if the board might have made a mistake allowing roof decks in the first place. The pair have been consistently skeptical of buildings and have pushed hardest for changes such as removing floors from new buildings.
At the board’s recent meeting, Davidson noted that many of these decks are fairly “poorly built” and “clunky,” because people are trying to get them done at low cost. He’d like to “improve the quality of alleys” throughout the city. That’s a worthy impulse, but why do many preservationists thus feel that the solution is to reject the decks or shrink them toward invisibility?
David Alpert is founder and editor of Greater Greater Washington. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.