ANC Roundup: Tudor Place Preview

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.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “ANC Roundup: Tudor Place Preview

  1. GM – Thanks for your post! A few corrections – The plan you posted is actually the original draft plan, not the one revised after the 7 meetings with neighbors. You can get the revised plan from our website, in the neighbors section. Behind the 1670 31st St. property we want to build an education building, not a visitor center; Whiting and Turner gave an estimate of $7 million for an underground structure on the 1670 31st St. property; 11 of the 62 people contributed last year demonstrating that if people valued us as they say, they would help support us; money is not at the center of this, it is the preservation of the historic resources that drives this whole plan.

  2. John

    The statement that “11 of the 62 people contributed last year…” is an attempt to portray the neighbors as unsupportive. First of all, this is one-year of contributions. I suspect contributions have been higher in previous years. Neighbors also contribute by volunteering time, and shopping at the gift shop — a dollar value has not been attached to that, but many neighbors do shop there.
    The neighbors who object to the plan are not unsupportive of Tudor Place. They are unsupportive of the plan — as it currently stands — to increase the size and scope of Tudor Place’s operation substantially.

  3. The statement was meant to show that though the neighbors would like Tudor Place to increase the preservation plan costs by millions of dollars, their giving history does not support such a large fundraising goal. Giving records stretching back to the 1993 are no better.

    For security reasons, we keep close records on who volunteers at Tudor Place. We agree that volunteering time is very valuable, but unfortunately we have very few neighbor volunteers.

    Tudor Place has said repeatedly that there are no plans to increase operations. The new spaces for the education building and the gatehouse remove those functions from historic buildings but are close to being the same size as the space currently used. The plan is only to preserve the vast and important collection and archive, and the Landmark House.

  4. John

    We understand the point of the statement, and we did not originate the plans to which we object, and thereby aby costs of the plans or modifications to the plans.

    We are aware Tudor Place has said repeatedly there are no plans to increase operations. But, as should be apparent by now, we do not believe that will be the case. Increasing the physical plant by 50 percent (we are looking at the proposed increase in terms of proposed new space compared to existing space — not proposed new space as a percentage of land area — that’s how you minimize the increase to 1 percent) means more activity.

    If I were to increase the size of my home by 50 percent, you would wonder whether my family were expanding, whether I were planning on doing more entertaining. People don’t expand space just for the fun of it.

    And, let’s just assume there are no plans for more activity. With 50 percent more space, it is still inevitable.

    You are dealing with neighbors who believe you have not been fully forthcoming.

  5. Charmed

    Good lord, the nimbyism and hysteria in this neighborhood are embarrassing. So what if Tudor Place were planning to “increase operations”? That seems like a good thing–it’s a beautiful gem that should be better known by the public. The place is underutilized as it is; I hardly see anyone going in or out of it on weekends.

  6. David

    Agree with the poster above – pretty amazing how the Citizens Against Virtually Everything (CAVE) people come out on these projects. I live a few blocks away, but would love to see some new energy over at Tudor. Glad the ANC passed it.

  7. John

    he ANC did not “pass it.” They essentially took a neutral position, and encouraged the neighborhood and Tudor Place to continue their dialogue. “So what if Tudor Place were planning to increase operations?” More traffic, more noise, perhaps tour buses… those are always the consequences. Georgetown was built long before the automobile existed, and barely accommodates the traffic load it currently has. The neighbors who oppose the plans are not opposed to Tudor Place. hey are opposed to the expansion plans.

  8. Charmed & David – we very much appreciate the support!

    The preservation plan is to preserve the house and collections by removing modern day functions from the Landmark house, and collections from unsafe storage conditions. This means we need to put them someplace else.

    Currently the garage houses our education programs. If that becomes storage and offices, education needs to go someplace else – and so on.

    Unfortunately, after years of open dialogue and relations with neighbors, including semi-annual neighborhood meetings and a neighbor section on our website, if they now do not believe us, there is not much we can do. We have tried to be very forthcoming with information.

    If anyone has any questions or comments about the Tudor Place preservation plan, or if I can clarify anything for you John, please feel free to email me at hbartlow@tudorplace.org or visit the neighbor section of our website http://www.tudorplace.org. Thanks!

  9. John

    Heather,

    I would only stress that the neighbors support Tudor Place, but have proposed a set of alternatives to accomplish Tudor Place’s goals, which alternatives we hope will be accepted.

  10. Pingback: ANC Round Up: The Remains of the Agenda «

  11. Pingback: Tudor Place Sent Back to the Drawing Board «

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