February 6, 2006

IL PROBLEMO AT IL PALLAZO. It's the grand, former Italian embassy on 16th St. NW in Adams Morgan. For years it sat decrepit and waiting. Finally developers took notice and planned to sink $50M into renovations and a dramatic glass and steel addition.

But wait. Once again before DC makes progress (or not), it must show to the world how it's the junior varsity player casting about on the turf of world class cities. In the end, the historic preservation process relied on for decades has proven faulty enough that it crumbles, perhaps justly, as soon as it is challegned.

In this case the monkey wrench was thrown into the mix by David Maloney of the DC planning office, who asked the DC Historic Preservation Review Board to declare the former embassy "an historic landmark." So why did you wait so long Mr. Maloney? The board, says the Washington Post, likely will grant landmark status, which will slow the development process and cost enough to put the kabosh on the deal for now.

The developer claims the city is stepping in at the 11th hour. To address the historic preservation aspect, Bruce F. Bradley, president of Castleton Holdings LLC, relied on a long-standing, but informal process, in which the Preservation Board deferred to the DC Preservation League, which in this case blessed the Il Palazzo project. Why not defer as you have in the past Preservation Board? Hey developer, you invested $50M and relied on very shakey preservation review process?

This minor opera (the Baseball stadium lease saga qualfies as major) kind of reminds me of how business is done in China, except in the Middle Kingdom a last minute "no" means make the bribe bigger. In DC it shows how all decision-making is ad hoc and convoluted and does not stand up in the court of law or public opinion.

Question: Who are the losers here? Answer: The buyers who have already sunk $30M into the project in the form of condos they purchased.


jbmnd93 said...

David Maloney has only been the head of HPO for a month. That could explain the timing. And sounds like DCPL, one of the weakest most dysfunctional HP advocacy groups in any big city, may not have been upholding the public interest standards that HPO must uphold.

If the developers really were going to preserve the building, really were going to rehab under an easement, then historic designation should not have an impact on their plans. In fact, with designation they can now get a 20% rehab tax credit. If they're smart they'll know how to cash in that 20% off coupon worth $10,000,000.

jbmnd93 said...

Well actually less than $10M. More like 20% on rehab expenses on the historic portion of the property. So pare it down to that. Still, a tax credit worth millions.

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