Burleith Split on Historic Designation

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Eric Langenbacher, president of Burleith Citizens Association. Photo by Robert Devaney.

It’s been a hot topic since 2016. Should the Northwest D.C. neighborhood of Burleith —bordered by Reservoir Road, 35th Street, Whitehaven Parkway and 39th Street — be designated a historic area?

There have been panel discussions, community meetings, opinion pieces and surveys arguing the various sides. All the pros, cons and nuances of the argument have been laid out in pamphlets and on the Burleith Citizens Association website. There are historic perspectives, ideological considerations and arguments practical, political and commercial.

The big question that must be answered by residents and homeowners is if historic designation will protect the distinctive look and perimeters of the neighborhood or prevent it from modernizing, growing and prospering. Now it’s all coming down to an online survey open to residents and nonresident owners. The survey opened June 3 and runs through Sept. 3.

The question to be voted on, yes or no: Do you want historic designation for Burleith?

“It’s a complicated issue, and there are good reasons to both favor and oppose the designation,” BCA President Eric Langenbacher told The Georgetowner at the annual Burleith picnic, held on June 16. “We just concluded our series of meetings on managing change in Burleith. On May 3, we held an open forum on the merits of historic designation for Burleith. After summations of the arguments for and against historic designation, provided by me and Walter Hillabrant, a longtime resident, approximately 25 neighbors shared their perspectives.”

Meanwhile, some real estate agents have chimed in. Lenore Rubino, a past BCA president, supports the historic designation.

Real estate agent Nancy Itteilag finds the survey itself “flawed and unreliable” and said:“There is no way in this day and age to audit the credibility of an online survey or stop someone from creating fake emails potentially claiming they represent a property owner. There should only be one response per property. Why should a single person, widow or widower be discriminated against?”

“The only people to respond should be property owners, not renters,” Itteilag said.“Because a property owner chooses to put a property in a family trust or LLC for privacy reasons — such as people going through divorces with stalkers as ex-spouses, high-profile clients for security reasons or other reasons — does not mean nor should it ever be interpreted that these owners be discriminated against.”

Itteilag added: “As a longtime homeowner in both Georgetown and Burleith, I can say with a high degree of knowledge that historic designation is not appropriate for the Burleith neighborhood. We have sent out a petition at the request of a number of longtime homeowners in Burleith who are definitely opposed to this. There is simply no benefit to the neighborhood. More importantly, the homeowners who have renovated and enlarged their homes have improved the value of the entire neighborhood.”

In early July, Itteilag said that her petition has garnered more than 200 signatures and expected more to come.

“If ultimately, from all the surveys, discussions and comments this summer, the community is in favor of pursuing historic designation, the BCA will submit an application to the D.C.Historic Preservation Office,” said Langenbacher, who added that he personally opposes the designation.

If the office determines that the application meets the criteria, Burleith homeowners will have 60 days to comment. There will also be a final hearing at which opinions can be expressed before the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board makes its decision.

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