MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Grocery Store Applies for Historical Designation to Avoid Being Designated as Historical

The anti-development crowd has weaponized D.C.'s historic preservation process. A Safeway wants the city to rule that nothing important happened there.

Kris Tripplaar/Sipa USA/NewscomKris Tripplaar/Sipa USA/NewscomA grocery story in Washington, D.C., has taken the unusual step of asking the city's Historical Preservation Office to rule that the site is not historically significant.

In a 39-page application, owners of a Safeway in the Palisades neighborhood argue that there is no reason to preserve the grocery store building or the lot on which it rests. The store "does not embody design significant to the development of the grocery store or supermarket," the application argues, and "the building's simple rectangular form is undistinguished and devoid of any architectural character or historical significance."

The goal of the application is to leave the apparently insignificant building "in the exact same regulatory state it's in currently," reports Greater Greater Washington, which first noted this unorthodox approach to historical un-preservation. It is effectively a preemptive step to avoid any future effort to designate the store historically significant, which would likely decrease the property's value and make it more difficult for the Safeway's owners to sell the property or tear down the structure to redevelop the site.

It's also a subtle way of undermining anti-development efforts in the nation's capital. Individuals and neighborhood groups opposed to building more housing (in a city where housing is astronomically expensive) have weaponized the city's historic designation process to block development. This hasn't been hard to do—the city's historic preservation statues are written broadly, and the city council has eagerly accepted pretty much every application. As a result, nearly one in five D.C. properties are protected by historic preservation laws, Greater Greater Washington reported last year.

But if everything is historic, is anything historic? Obviously, there are sites in Washington of historical import, but there's no reason to think that a grocery store built in 1941 would be one of them. That the owners of this Safeway feel the need to seek protection from such a designation gives you a pretty good idea of how out of hand things have gotten.

Overly aggressive historic preservation designations don't just harm redevelopment efforts and increase housing costs. They can also harm the very properties they are intended to protect. Just last month, Reason's Joe Seyton wrote about how the owners of famous Strand Bookstore in Manhattan are fighting New York City's effort to declare the building a historic structure, a move which would likely increase renovation and maintenance costs for the business.

"By landmarking the Strand, you can also destroy a piece of New York history," owner Nancy Bass Wyden told The New York Times. "We're operating on very thin margins here, and this would just cost us a lot more, with this landmarking, and be a lot more hassle."

In trying to get the D.C. Historical Preservation Office to declare that it's not special in any way, the Palisades Safeway is trying to avoid those hassles. If they succeed, they'll have beaten the anti-development crowd at their own game by using the historic designation process to clear the way for future development. You might even say they'll have made history.

Photo Credit: Kris Tripplaar/Sipa USA/Newscom

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    You might say this attempt at historical unpreservation is ... historic.

    And you might expect the reaction to be quite hysteric.

  • Dillinger||

    the ical pisses me off ... it's not wrong though which pisses me off more

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    You can't change that Safeway! Why, it's the first place that the historical office deemed to be unhistoric. That makes it historic.

  • Rockabilly||

    Thomas Jefferson shopped at that Safeway

  • Brandybuck||

    George Washington slept in so many inns that one in ten New Englanders today are his descendants!

  • MJBinAL||

    Since historians openly question whether Washington was shooting blanks ....

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    Obviously, there are sites in Washington of historical import

    Obviously? I can't think of any.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    First dock to import French wine?

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    Le Whaaa!

  • BlueStarDragon||

    It is amazing how people can not stop telling other people what to do. Especially if it is some one else's property. After all socialism does not believe in private property and now we can see what they will ultimately do with your property when they take it.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I got my first handjob in the parking lot of that store. No, wait, second.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    *gave

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If you wanted to make a gay joke, it should have been the question: "Was he any good at it?"

  • MJBinAL||

    Really? I thought it would be "did he swallow?"

  • Brandybuck||

    Was Republican Congressman, so was quite skilled at as "handling" of the issue.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    Listen, you just keep putting the ball on the tee for us. Let *us* figure out how best to knock it out of the park.

    Or are sports analogies too masculine for you?

  • Homple||

    The people who live in DC deserve what they support and vote for. Cost of living in an imperial capital has always been high.

  • Zeb||

    That's great, but there's still a minority that doesn't.

    And I don't know about you, but I've never been asked what I think or given an opportunity to vote on whether having historic preservation laws is a good idea.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    I'm sure the rent on Coruscant was too damn high.

  • Dillinger||

    Safeway has better bennies.

  • Brandybuck||

    My dealer has better bennies. They call him the Diet King.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    And the plaque will read: "On this historic site, the owners of a safeway thought they could turn the bureaucracy against itself. They were never seen or heard from again."

  • Ragnarredbeard||

    They're screwed. The HPO will see thru the attempt and designate the place a historical artifact out of spite.

  • Anomalous||

    There is absolutely nothing about the architecture of that Safeway that is interesting.

  • Ray McKigney||

    "Weaponized" is a word that needs to be mothballized for, say, 200 years.

  • Eddy||

    That would make it a historic word!

  • Eddy||

    CONTRACTOR: "Hey, I found this piece of paper buried underground when I was digging for the new extension on the parking lot."

    OWNER: "First Draft of Gettysburg Address, by A. Lincoln. Note to self: Should I get rid of the 'yo mama' jokes?"

    CONTRACTOR: "Yeah, I was wondering where we could send...hey, what are you doing?"

    OWNER: "Sorry, I used to smoke and totally by accident I mistook this paper for a cigarette and lit it on fire. I guess it's just ashes by now."

    CONTRACTOR: "OK, nobody needs to hear about this, but let's talk about adding a few more perks to my contract..."

  • Juice||

    But if everything is historic, is anything historic?

    Um. Yeah. Everything is.

  • GryFalcon||

    I just left France, and there is a country with REAL history. In a country like ours that has almost no history, a building from the 1940's IS historical, and if there are few other buildings from the 1940's in the area, it does represent our history, even if it is very plain.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online