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.
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.
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.