Washington, DC — The top preservation official in the National Park Service faces municipal charges of impropriety in renovating his own townhouse in the Capitol Hill Historic District, according to a citation released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In a hearing scheduled for tomorrow, the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs is seeking to revoke residential building permits issued to the federal official on two counts of “providing false statements and misrepresentations” in connection with their issuance.
John Robbins is the Deputy Director for Cultural Resources and Stewardship and manages the National Park Service’s National Center for Cultural Resources. He is also a preservation architect. Robbins and his wife have been embroiled in controversy concerning renovation of their 19th century rowhouse on Capitol Hill in the nation’s largest historic district. The DC Historic Preservation Review Board filed a complaint about the Robbins renovation in 2002 charging that he violated historic preservation laws by adding a large addition to his home under a request to do roof repair and renovation.
In the ensuing investigation, the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs executed an administrative search warrant, after Robbins refused to let the agency do an inspection, and found that “the actual scope of your [Robbins] project was a full-scale renovation of your entire residence,” a level of work far beyond what was allowed under the building permit he obtained. DCCRA is proposing to revoke the building permits Robbins obtained.
Robbins’ employer, the National Park Service, has taken no action against Robbins and regards the matter as a private affair that does not affect his job or bring disrepute upon the agency. This is the same National Park Service that recently suspended U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers for truthfully answering media and congressional inquiries about budget and staffing needs. “The National Park Service will apparently tolerate lying in matters of resource protection but will not tolerate the truth when it comes to itself,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is part of Chief Chambers’ defense team. “It is difficult to take Park Service cultural preservation efforts seriously when they are under the guidance of someone who flouts rules for protection of historic structures in his own community.”
“If a U.S. Park Police officer was convicted of drunk driving, even if off duty, he or she would face discipline, possibly discharge,” Ruch argued. “How is this different?”