In response to GM’s post about the possible sale of the Scheele’s Market building to resident Marc Teren, reader Jim McCarthy wrote:
Anyone relying on Marc Teren’s word as a sign of good news for Scheele’s, shouldn’t get their hopes up. His conduct over the last few years seems like one long, selfish parade of contempt for the historic character and integrity of our neighborhood.
GM can’t verify each of McCarthy’s complaints about Teren, but it does seem fair to say that there are concerns in the neighborhood about Mr. Teren’s promises to keep Scheele’s Market open if he successfully purchases the property. So is there anything the neighborhood can do to hold Teren to his word? There may in fact be. Find out after the jump:
DC activist Richard Layman points us to a possible answer: preservation easements.
Many homes throughout Georgetown have a small sign on them that looks like this:
It’s a sign indicating that the home is subject to a conservation easement held by the L’Enfant Trust or the Foundation for the Preservation of Historic Georgetown. Essentially, in exchange for a tax write-off the owner of the home promises not to make alterations to the home’s facade not acceptable to the trust. There was an expose by the Post back in 2004 which discussed the seamy under-belly of this market. One point made by the Post was that it was a bit tax dodge since homes in Georgetown are already subject to so many historical preservation laws like the Old Georgetown Act that the easements hardly encumber the homes more than they already are.
But notwithstanding these criticisms, the easement concept could be helpful in the Scheele’s situation. Layman writes:
The solution, if a group is willing to buy the building, is to put a “conservation easement” on the building, reserving in perpetuity the ground floor use as commercial retail…Preserving a commercial retail use on a ground floor building, where demand for housing in a prestigious area is great, would trigger a loss in value of the building, justifying a tax credit in return for the easement guaranteeing continuation of the retail use.
Layman suggests that a group would have to buy the building before the easement could be put in place, but GM thinks there may be other options.
Although there’s no way to force the eventual buyer of the Scheele’s Market property to grant or sell an easement to one of the trusts or to a neighborhood organization, the group trying to protect the market may have some leverage to demand it. According to the Current article on the property, the residential tenant has a right of first refusal to purchase the property. With proper organization and funding, the group could be enough of a roadblock to Teren that he might agree to grant the easement in exchange for the group dropping its objections. Since Teren has promised to keep the market, it shouldn’t be objectionable to him to grant the easement (he’d even get a pretty nice tax write off).
GM doesn’t know whether this is feasible or if it would even work. But it’s an avenue worth considering for those interested in ensuring the preservation of a truly historic neighborhood institution.