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The L'Enfant Trust is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization founded in 1978 to promote a public aesthetic in land use planning.The Trust creates and maintains programs to promote the beauty of Washington's urban environment. It was a pioneer in the use of a unique and powerful preservation tool -- the Conservation Easement -- which affords strong and lasting legal protection for the city's historic streetscapes.The Conservation Easement is an enforceable promise, voluntarily made by a property owner and binding on all subsequent owners, that no change in the exterior appearance of a building will be made unless consented to by The L'Enfant Trust.
Shortly after it receives a donation of the conservation easement,The L'Enfant Trust places a handsome, cast bronze plaque on the front of the building.The plaque is a visual and public reminder that the building is a protected property preserved through a voluntary gift to the street.
Whenever you consider an exterior alteration to a property protected by a conservation easement held by The L'Enfant Trust, you must contact the Trust's office before any work is begun.The Trust's staff will gladly work with you to determine whether or not your intended changes are consonant with the purposes and terms of your easement deed.
It is the policy of The L'Enfant Trust to ensure that the changes to easemented properties are in keeping with that property's architectural style and surroundings. The Trust recognizes that over time, as social and environmental circumstances change, buildings may need to be adapted to such change. Tasteful and architecturally appropriate updating of an historical property is often necessary in order for the building to remain a living part of the streetscape.
If you wish to change paint color or make any exterior alteration, you will need to submit to the Trust a written request for approval of the proposed exterior alterations in sufficient detail to permit the Trust to evaluate your request. Sometimes the Trust will ask for additional information, possibly including architectural drawings of the proposed change. If you are proposing a change in paint color, please submit a color chip with your request.
The Trust strives to respond promptly to such requests and prides itself in working cooperatively with owners of protected properties to make the required process as quick and easy as possible.
Permission from the D.C. Office of Historic Preservation may be necessary before you can legally make an alteration, but such permission itself isn't sufficient. Because your property is protected by a conservation easement held by the Trust, you must seek permission for change from both the city and the Trust — and both must approve your plans for change. In recent years, the District of Columbia government has become more effective in using the building permit process to protect the city's historic properties, and The L'Enfant Trust has sought to work in concert with city authorities in an effort to avoid burdening property owner's with unnecessary overlap. Often the same paperwork required to secure a building permit from the city government can be used to secure the Trust's consent.
Preservation laws differ from conservation easements in their ability to provide lasting protection. Unlike statutory protection, the protection provided by the conservation easement is perpetual. It is rooted in a private property right which will persist even when the political climate may no longer favor preservation, even when the potential profits from development may make preservation economically costly. Easement protection will outlast changes in zoning laws and historic district designations.
You should understand the risk of changing the facade of the property without first obtaining the Trust's approval.The Trust takes its enforcement duties seriously and, as you will see in the easement deed, retains the right to require restoration, collect damages and costs, and attorney's fees. When The L'Enfant Trust gives its written consent to change, you will have documentation that protects you and any subsequent owner from the potential cloud on title that could result from failure to get such consent.
When you are repairing or restoring your historic property there is no need to seek permission from the Trust provided you are not changing its exterior. Both to comply with the terms of the conservation easement and to protect your investment in your property, you will ordinarily want to retain and preserve the appearance of the historic structure and, of course, to protect and maintain its integrity.The following web sites may be helpful to you.
DC Office of Planning, Historic Preservation Division
DC Preservation League
The National Trust for Historic Preservation
Secretary of the Interior's Guidelines for Historic Restoration
Land Trust Alliance
When you go to sell the property, please introduce the new owner to The L'Enfant Trust. By all means pass along to them the Trust's contact information and this pamphlet.The Trust may prove to be a valuable resource for the new buyer, perhaps to provide information about the property's history, perhaps to share its experiences with other aspects of owning and preserving historic properties.The Trust, and the owners of its easemented properties, are the stewards of D.C.'s historic neighborhoods, working in harmony to preserve for future generations of Washingtonians the treasures of our great, capital city.