Ok, so last week GM predicted a relatively short ANC meeting this week. He was woefully wrong. The meeting was a 4 1/2 hour beast. Sadly, that left little time for GM to write up a sizable summary before hitting the sack.
So as not to leave you totally bereft of an ANC summary, GM will briefly discuss the real heart of the meeting: Tudor Place.
Tudor Place has been working on a plan over the past several years to radically overhaul it’s physical plant. As it stands now, the Tudor Place Foundation keeps the property’s vast collection of 17th-20th century artifacts and papers inside the historic home in very unsafe conditions. Since the building is not well designed to prevent fires, floods, pests, and other threats to both the structure and the possessions, the current situation is not sustainable.
On this fact both Tudor Place and the surrounding neighborhood agrees. What exactly to do about that problem is where the problems arise. Tudor Place wants to build an addition to the garage to store the artifacts and documents in a modern climate controlled storage facility. In addition, they would like to build a greenhouse off of the current tool shed, a new gate house, and a new visitorseducation center behind its existing administration building (that’s the creepy empty looking house just up the street from the property’s gates).
The proposed plan looks like this (Correction: this is the original plan, however it still gives a general sense where the proposed changes are, although the recent proposal is more scaled back):
It’s somewhat hard to make out, but the new construction is the orangeish blocks.
Depending on your point of view, this is either a tiny addition or a massive addition. And proving the old adage that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, both sides have compelling numbers. Tudor Place says that currently buildings only cover 3% of the lot’s surface. The proposal only calls for 4% of the land to be covered. Those objecting point out that, hey, that’s a 33% increase!
And who exactly is objecting, you ask? It’s mostly those residents on 32nd st. that currently look up at the garage (although some 60 or so neighbors signed a letter in May objecting to the plans). They don’t want to see 25 feet more of the building, which is what Tudor Place is proposing. The education center, which would be built just feet from the property line, also concerns them.
In fact they are so concerned, they started a website to express this concern.
But so far, this just sounds like a typical zoning fight. What makes this one a little more dramatic is the emotions involved. The neighbors who oppose the plan (and not all do, by the way) stress repeatedly that they really care about the mission of Tudor Place. And unlike many other such arguments made in similar fights, this one sounds genuine to GM. Tudor Place is a wonderful neighborhood resource. GM is often holding it up as an example that Dumbarton Oaks should follow in terms of community events.
And Tudor Place views this as a matter of survival. Speaking at the ANC meeting last night, Tudor Place Executive Director Leslie Buhler was near to tears explaining how much Tudor Place needs this plan approved. It got so heated that she implicitly called-out the depth of the neighbors’ support when she mentioned that of the people who signed the letter opposing the plan, only 1411 donated money to Tudor Place the prior year, and the average donation was $44. And money appears to be near the center of this issue. Tudor Place alleges that the changes recommended by the neighbors would add significantly to the cost of the project. Of course, as some have pointed out, any funding for the project is dependent on a speculative fundraising campaign. Even if approved, this project is 4-5 years away.
This plea led to a rejoinder: if you’re in financial trouble how is embarking on a massive capital improvement plan going to help, particularly when you claim that you don’t want to increase the intensity of the property’s use? Buhler’s response was basically that securing the artifacts and the building creates the need to find a place for the artifacts (and a place for the HVAC etc.) which necessitates making decisions for the other buildings now.
Regardless, it was an ANC meeting and the point of all the talking was to get the ANC to pass a resolution. And it did. But it probably wasn’t what the objecting neighbors were hoping for. Essentially the ANC acknowledged the concern of the neighbors and the needs of Tudor Place and expressed a faith in the process and a hope that the process would ultimately result in an outcome acceptable to all. So in other words, the ANC doesn’t see a significant negative impact on the neighbors in the plans as the currently exist. Whether that ultimately tips the balance to Tudor Place remains to be seen. Either way, bigger parties have yet to weigh in: both the Fine Arts Commission and the National Park Service (they have an easement) will have final say on what actually gets built.
And that’s where it was left. Tune in tomorrow for a proper ANC roundup, now that GM has gotten a little sleep.