Image by the author.

The Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) that includes Bloomingdale in DC has voted against supporting historic status for the neighborhood at a heated meeting this week. The main point of contention was over what the best measure of resident sentiment is: a non-binding postcard survey of homeowners, or the vote of Bloomingdale Civic Association (BCA) members.

Historic designation in DC means a neighborhood’s character will be preserved in its current state, including previous modifications, and future changes will be required to keep with that character. Any changes visible from the street would require approval by the city's Historic Preservation Office, and visible additions like pop-ups, rooftop solar panels, and rooftop decks are often off the table.

The application for historic status in front of DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) was filed by the Bloomingdale Historic Designation Coalition, a group formed by neighbors working with the DC Preservation League, in July 2017. The group, which is unaffiliated with the BCA, moved forward to secure historic status before planned neighborhood meetings, the postcard survey and civic association vote were complete.

Homeowners who participated in the postcard survey, which was went out in December and January, voted 55% against historic designation with 282 in opposition and 234 in favor. However, the BCA followed that up with its own membership vote in March that went the other way, with 79 in favor and 60 opposed.

Historic status lacks broad support

"This ANC commission finds that the more comprehensive postcard survey of property owners... should be given greater weight as a form of direct democracy that does not burden would-be voters based on income or limited voting hours," says the adopted resolution drafted by ANC 5E08 commissioner Horacio Sierra.

A competing resolution, drafted by ANC 5E07 commissioner Bertha Holliday, called for the ANC commissioners to follow the BCA vote, which she said has "more validity" at the meeting on April 17 due to its higher percentage of participants. She argued that only about 18% of Bloomingdale residents participated in the survey, while 80% of civic association members participated in the vote.

Other ANC commissioners at the meeting indicated that the postcard survey was more representative of the community's attitudes than the BCA vote. More people participated in the postcard survey (516 versus 139 people), and a few commissioners pointed out that not everyone has the time or money to join the civic association.

"Reducing the supply doesn't mean new people won't come, it just means the prices will go up faster and higher," said 5E01 commissioner Eddie Garnett, adding that historic designation reduces the supply of housing that negatively impacts affordability.

Residents who spoke at the meeting were also divided. Those who spoke in favor of historic status were concerned about pop-ups and other development pressures on Bloomingdale, while those against worried about how the designation would impact affordability and their ability to modify their homes.

"There is not broad community support," said commissioner Sierra, acknowledging the close nature of both the survey and BCA vote on historic designation.

Commissioner Holliday verbally introduced a substitute motion for the ANC to remain neutral on the question of historic designation. However, it did not receive a second from the other commissioners and was not voted on.

Eight of the 10 commissioners voted for commissioner Sierra's resolution opposing historic status for Bloomingdale with one, commissioner Holliday, voting against it and one absent.

First Street NW in Bloomingdale. Image by the author.

The historic debate is not done yet

The HPRB will have the final say on whether Bloomingdale will become a historic district or not. The ANC's vote is non-binding and the review board could still deem the neighborhood historic.

Technically, the HPRB makes its decisions based on a broad array of historic criteria, and is not legally required to consider neighborhood or ANC support.

Historically, in most situations where there is a divided community, the applicant — in this case the Bloomingdale Historic Designation Coalition — has withdrawn the application when it is clear there is not broad resident support. This occurred in Eckington in 2016, and Chevy Chase a decade ago. So far, the applicant here has not indicated it will withdraw.

A similar issue faces Kingman Park, where the local civic association is pushing forward with an application for historic designation despite some resident outcry. In January, the board delayed voting on the application, but such a move is rare and it could still approve the application.

This post has been updated to reflect that commissioner Holliday put forward a new substitute motion in the meeting that didn't move forward to a vote.