Urban Historic Review Process Needs Some Economic Perspective  

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Dec. 21 2012 4:32 PM

Urban Historic Review Process Needs Some Economic Perspective  

There's a building at the corner of 13th Street and U Street in DC that's certainly not a historic structure. It's a strip mall-style building that houses a Rite Aide and, IIRC, a Pizza Hut. And it's going to be replaced by a newer bigger building. But a structure in that location needs to run the gauntlet of the Historic Preservation Review Board which, as you can read here, has decided the building should be shorter than the developer wants even though the developer's proposal is in line with the zoning.

What's maddening to me about these discussions is that the HPRB conducts its business in a totally free-floating way detached from any economic considerations whatsoever. Shrinking the building means shrinking the developers' profit margins. It also means shrinking the city's tax base. It means fewer customers for neighborhood businesses. Is that a price worth paying for the alleged aesthetic benefits of making the structure slightly shorter? Maybe the HPRB thinks that it is. But they haven't done any account of what they think the costs are. So if they don't have any theory of the costs, how can they have a theory of whether the benefits outweigh the costs?

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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