November 23, 2020
Contact Nick DelleDonne
Who‘s the Man behind the Curtain?
‘Mayor’s Agent’ OKs Masonic Temple Lot Division
Role of Planning Dir. Trueblood Questioned
The city’s conflicted process of approving development projects came more sharply into focus on November 6 when the Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation approved the subdivision of the lot at the Masonic Temple at 16th and S Streets NW. The decision ostensibly will allow the tax-exempt organization to build its revenue producing luxury project – a project the Dupont East Civic Action Association (DECAA) continues to oppose.
Prior to this decision, on the recommendation of the Historic Preservation Office (HPO), the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), a board of nine Mayor-appointed examiners, had reached the same determination – three times, in November 2018, in May 2019, and again in September 2019. Nonetheless, the issue was appealed to the Mayor’s Agent by the Masons themselves and their developer, Perseus, for yet one more affirmation. As if to underscore a circular process, the Mayor’s Agent concludes, he “has no authority” to revisit the boundary determination of the HPRB. This process of dissembling comes full circle when we see who the Mayor’s Agent really is.
The hearing was run by Peter Byrne, a Georgetown University law professor, thought by many to be the Mayor’s Agent. But no, Byrne signs the decision as the hearing officer, not the Mayor’s Agent.
So who is the Mayor’s Agent? The decision pulls the curtain aside. The Mayor’s Agent, who signed the decision, is Andrew Trueblood, the head of the Office of Planning, the man who sits on the organizational chart above the Office of Historic Preservation which advises the HPRB which decided the case already three times. Welcome to the land of Oz!
In its brief before the Mayor’s Agent, DECAA rightly called into question this circular process, challenging Trueblood’s role as conflicted, but the decision, signed by Mayor’s Agent Trueblood, dismisses the allegation.
This decision, HPA No. 19-497, from the Mayor’s Agent is the latest in a long line of pro-development, pro-administration, anti-preservation decisions, including the Georgetown Heating Plant and McMillan Park.
For those following the administration of historic preservation in the city, it raises the question: Is the Mayor’s Agent impartial or merely an agent of the Mayor? If there is merely a curtain of pretense of a fair hearing, what is the point of having a Mayor’s Agent?
“Considering its record, this latest decision comes as no surprise to DECAA and we have since filed an appeal with the DC Court of Appeals,” said DECAA Vice President Iris McCollum Green.
DECAA has separately sued the city to stop the Masonic Temple development as oversized and inappropriate in an historic district. The suit is currently on appeal at the DC Court of Appeals led by attorney Barry Coburn and a capable legal team.
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