Intersection of Historic Preservation and Disability Access Laws With Respect to Private Residences: Application of the Laws to the Lucas Case

Sheryl Shapiro, Georgetown University Law Center


This paper explores the legal obligations of city historic preservation review boards when reviewing cases involving private residences that pit the goal of historic preservation against the goal of access for the disabled. To illustrate the obligations of historic preservation review boards in these situations, this paper examines the case of In re 3228 Walbridge Place, N.W. ("Lucas Case"), recently decided by the District of Columbia Historic Preservation Review Board ("HPRB"), through the lenses of the Americans with Disabilities Act, building codes, city historic preservation ordinances, and the Fair Housing Amendments Act. The paper maintains that while historic preservation review boards acting pursuant to generic preservation ordinances have no legal obligation to grant alteration permits to increase barrier-free access at private one- and two-family dwellings, preservation review boards can and should reach compromises that increase access to historic residences with minimal damage to the defining features of historic properties. At the same time, the paper argues that the Lucas Case was correctly decided, but harder cases presenting less pre-alteration access than the Lucas Case may require a greater sacrifice of character defining historic features to accommodate the disabled and to avoid a Fair Housing Amendments Act violation.