Case 54

Don't Tear it Down, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, 642 F.2d 527 (D.C. Cir. 1980).

The Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC), a Federal agency, was created in 1972 by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation Act to orchestrate the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Under the act, PADC prepared a development plan for the avenue that was approved by Congress. The act declared that PADC must carry out activities on Pennsylvania Avenue in accordance with the development plan but must also comply with District of Columbia laws in constructing any project.

As envisioned by the development plan, PADC acquired the Munsey Building and applied to the District of Columbia for a permit to demolish the building. Because the structure stood in an area designated as historic under District law, the District required PADC to comply with the District's Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act before PADC could obtain the demolition permit. Because PADC had not complied with this law at the time it submitted its application for a demolition permit, the application was "referred for a ruling." Meanwhile, PADC, the District Historic Preservation Officer, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation had entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) under the Council's regulations implementing Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act on the development project. Just as the District government was preparing to issue the permit, plaintiff, a preservation group, instituted this action seeking to prevent demolition of the building. Plaintiff claimed that the MOA had been violated and that PADC was required to comply with the local preservation law.

The D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court's refusal to grant the requested relief with respect to the MOA. 642 F.2d at 531. Treating the MOA as a contract, the court deferred to the interpretation placed on the MOA by the parties to the agreement that some of the provisions of the MOA were inapplicable. Moreover, the court found that other provisions of the MOA had been satisfied or substantially satisfied, thus mooting any necessity for an injunction. Id. at 531 n. 49.

Second, the court examined the PADC act and the development plan and concluded that Congress did not intend that PADC should be required to comply with the District's historic preservation law. Because the local preservation law would have allowed the District government to obstruct, by denying permits, achievement of an explicit congressional objective‹the development plan‹the court found the local law to be incompatible with the act. When Federal and local laws conflict, the Federal law prevails unless Congress has expressed a clear intent that the local law should take precedence. Id. at 530-38.

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