ANC Round Up: Right to a Room With a View?

Photo by BoopBoopBoopBoop.

Last night, ANC 2E met for its spring session. And like last month, a couple of major EastBanc projects dominated the conversation. This time it was just the Exxon and Verizon projects, but two was enough to stimulate some rather interesting conversation.

EastBanc Projects

As described last month, EastBanc is proposing constructing two new condo buildings: one where the Key Bridge Exxon now stands and one on the parking lot next to the Verizon switching building (between the canal and Grace Episcopal). The ANC and the OGB objected to the design of both the buildings, so EastBanc came back with new designs for both.

Dealing with the easier one first: the new design for the Verizon property changed from a stone-clad building to a brick-clad building (stone still clads the base and canal side). Here is what it looks like now (sorry for the bad cell phone camera):

The ANC generally liked the new design and approved the concept. GM asked about the Bikeshare station that is immediately in front of the proposed building. The EastBanc reps said it would have to be moved. The ANC insisted that they be consulted on any change to the station (it would have to go through DDOT anyway, but it’s worth knowing that EastBanc intends on getting it moved, hopefully to a very close new location).

The new building would have a little retail on the first floor. Last month it was proposed to contain 9 units. EastBanc didn’t mention any change to that with the new design.

The far more controversial project was the Exxon project. EastBanc made some cosmetic changes to the project, but it essentially looks the same as last month:

Design-wise, the ANC seemed inclined to approve the building. For one thing, they aren’t even asking for final design approval yet. This is still just the size review. And that’s what was the thrust of the conversation.

EastBanc’s argument can be boiled down to this: Listen, residents on Prospect, we have a right to build this building within a certain envelope. That envelope cuts off a part of your magnificent view. We’ll try to mitigate that to some extent, but in the end, you don’t own this air-space, so tough. The residents, not surprisingly, have a different view (both figurative and literal). They think their views ought to be saved, and that to do that the project should be only four stories, not five.

This question really goes to the heart of a lot of zoning issues: does someone have a right to a view that they’ve grown accustom to? In English law there is a concept called ancient lights, which states that you have a right to a certain level of illumination so long as you’ve enjoyed that illumination for at least 20 years (and thus can prevent your neighbor from building something that would block it). This concept is really designed more for extreme situations like alley dwellings, not cliffside views. And moreover, U.S. courts have definitively rejected the very concept of ancient lights.

And the question gets even more complicated in this case since the very laws designed to provide quasi-ancient lights, i.e. the zoning laws, would in fact permit this building without question. The only reason it’s being reviewed at all is the additional protections provided by the Old Georgetown Board. But the OGB is not tasked with the responsibility to protect private views. In fact, its very jurisdiction is limited to changes viewable from a public street. Yet, nonetheless the ANC and others sometimes try to shoehorn zoning-type concerns into an OGB review.

Either way, the ANC did not adopt another resolution on the matter and relied on the resolution passed in March, which criticized the project’s size and design. Notwithstanding this, GM detected a sense among the commissioners that ultimately something looking like this would be ok. We’ll see.

Other Items

While this meeting wasn’t the marathon some of the others have become, it was long enough to mean that GM had to rush through the rest of the items in order to get to sleep at a reasonable hour. So here it goes:

  • During the reconstruction of O and P streets, the G2 may start turning around at Wisconsin Ave. Also, DDOT may turn some streets in the West Village into Zone 2-only parking streets. Could be a good preview of certain features of performance parking.
  • The French Market is coming back the weekend of April 29-30.
  • Georgetown University needs to completely rehab Nevils. But they need to do it over the summer when the students are gone. They proposed an aggressive construction schedule that calls for work from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm. The ANC was having none of it, and will negotiate a construction plan acceptable to both parties.
  • Speaking of GU, the ANC considered the changes that GU made to the campus plan and decided that it changed nothing. They will go ahead an testify against the plan in April.
  • Lt. Hedgecock said that robberies were down in the first quarter but that property crimes were up. GM will do his own analysis on the quarter’s numbers soon.
  • The African Union is asking for a six foot diameter seal be put on their new building (the old West Georgetown School building). The ANC did not approve.
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15 Comments

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15 responses to “ANC Round Up: Right to a Room With a View?

  1. Interesting how the ANC objects to anything Georgetown University proposes as far as construction (on their campus, away from residents), but approves of anything and everything EastBanc proposes, even if it disturbs the residents of Prospect Street. Maybe Georgetown University should hire Anthony Lanier to make future proposals.

  2. asuka

    Why does GU bother trying to appease the unappeasable? I use to support Burleith and its struggle with inconsiderate students, but its proven itself to be just as immature (if not more so) than the kids it hates so much. Because the neighborhood is incapable of compromise, I now support the University in whatever it wishes to do. Bully on Eastbanc as well.

  3. GM

    Asuka, I don’t think you’re interpreting this correctly. GU’s modifications have nothing to do with appeasing the neighbors. It’s about convincing the Office of Planning. They are the only important party here that hasn’t taken an official position. GU probably stopped trying to convince the neighbors a long time ago. Everything that has been done over the last six months or so is about convincing the Zoning Commission, and where the Office of Planning comes down will greatly influence the ZC.

  4. Anonymous, please: "Nemo"

    From the fuzzy (I know it’s not your fault) architect’s drawing, the Exxon project seems to be an enormous building. Simply put, it is too big for the site! Leaving aside the aesthetics of the project, has anyone given the least thought to its negative impact on traffic congestion? It would be built at a crucial and already highly congested choke point — where Canal Road segues onto “M” Street and Whitehurst Freeway. And of course, the well-heeled residents will demand new traffic traffic signals so they can enter or exit their “gated community” without having to wait like the little people. Georgetown teeters perpetually on the edge of fatal gridlock that would make life intolerable for residents nearly 24/7, and would repel shoppers and party-goers alike. This project could push things over the edge — the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Moreover, where’s the Fine Arts Commission? Doesn’t the Commission have the authority to enforce the Old Georgetown Act? Or have both become dead letters?

  5. @”Nemo”

    I think there are probably valid criticism to be made on the size and/or design of the building, but traffic congestion impact shouldn’t be negative. As it is, there’s already a traffic signal for cars coming out of the lot (currently the gas station), and if anything, traffic should be lessened by converting the property from a regularly used commercial gas station into a 9-unit residential building.

    As to the the Fine Arts Commission, my understanding (though GM probably knows the process better) is that this will have to pass their review as well, but that is typically a later step in the process than the ANC recommendations.

  6. asuka

    @GM:

    And who influences Planning?

  7. GM

    Nemo:
    A couple of things: the Old Georgetown Board is a subcommittee of the CFA. Technically they weigh in after the OGB, but at that point it’s normally just a rubber stamp. So for all intents and purposes, the OGB and the CFA are one in the same.

    Also, there already is a traffic light for this building. And I’d be truly surprised if an apartment building with 35 units produces more in and out traffic than a gas station. The gas station probably produces more traffic in an hour than the apartment building would in an entire day.

    Personally, as a resident I don’t think traffic congestion affects me that much. I wish it were less, but I hardly ever drive anywhere in the neighborhood, I walk or bike. Either way, I think it’s more than a bit hysterical to suggest that 35 new condos would make life intolerable 24 hours a day.

  8. DR

    Asuka, thanks for the post. While there have always been many decent, reasonable non-student residents in the area, normally a small group of extremists is able to dominate the conversation, claiming to speak for everyone.
    Those of us who have followed these issues for many years know that neighborhood activists have always been the biggest obstacle to providing more student housing on campus. Even when GU proposed building the Southwest Quadrangle, they faced neighborhood opposition, and two ANC reps voted to oppose it. While it was being constructed, some neighbors denounced it, stating that they didn’t want construction vehicles accessing the campus. Now, GU tries to ensure that Nevils remains livable, and has offered to provide additional student housing, and what happens? Yep, the usual suspects in the neighborhood throw a temper tantrum and oppose the plans.

  9. GM

    Asuka:
    Well, a lot of parties are lobbying OP, but the point I was making is that GU is one of those parties. I believe they are trying to make their case directly to OP and the ZC. They aren’t bothering trying to convince the neighbors since the neighbors made it clear a longtime ago that they aren’t going to budge.

    The reason GU supporters are getting so frustrated with the university is because they think it’s trying to appease the neighbors. But they’re not. They know full well that the neighbors aren’t budging. But they still hope to convince OP and the ZC. The fact they’re changing their proposal suggests to me that they don’t think OP and the ZC would side with them as it originally stood. GU aren’t naifs. They’ve been through this before, and even won last time. I’m not criticizing them for this. I just think people don’t realize the actual dynamics at play because they’re too focused on the school vs. neighbors drama.

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  14. The French Market is April 19 to 20th not the following week:
    http://www.georgetowndc.com/events/french_market/

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