Monday night, the ANC met for its November session. As GM mentioned yesterday, it was a sad meeting due to Charlie Eason’s announced resignation and move from Georgetown, but it was pretty eventful beyond this. GM needed a rest for a night just to build up the energy to tackle it. So here goes:
Georgetown Northeast Triangle Residence Hall
Georgetown University came before the commission to get zoning approval to build a new dorm on the triangular open space near the Reiss Science building. The discussion was notable less for the substance of the request, but more for how much everybody went out of their way to praise each other for getting along. The ANC (particularly the student representatives), GU, the president of the student body, and Georgetown Visitation (the immediate neighbor to the project) all made it clear that the cooperation born from the settled ten year plan was bearing fruit.
The dorm itself will hold 225 beds. GU also request zoning approval to convert the old Jesuit Residence building back to residential use. This will add an additional 160 beds. Combined, this gets GU substantially down the road to satisfying the requirement of the campus plan to create 450 new beds on campus.
New Hyde-Addison Gym
The architects hired by the District General Services to design a new gym for Hyde-Addison presented their plans. Due to the challenges in working with a tight space in an historic neighborhood, the architects made the bold decision to sink the gym below the playground (where the beautiful Curtis school once stood).
As a result, the gym, a new library, and new art spaces would be two stories below the ground. The top of this addition, however, would not be flush with the ground. It would start relatively flush with the ground at P St., and stretch out straight going south as the land falls away, until at the south end it will be 12 feet above P St. The addition would have connections to both the Hyde school and the Addison school, finally making them one continuous building.
The neighbors to the immediate west came to complain, however. Mostly it came down to noise from the children and the potential visual impact. They got the ANC to at least ask the architects to consider if the whole addition couldn’t be moved somewhat to the east. The architects basically said no, but that they’d take a look. Chairman Lewis suggested at one point that if the project couldn’t be made to have less of an impact, maybe it’s too large of a project. GM hopes tweaks can be made to address some of the neighbor’s concerns, but frankly the interests of hundreds of children who attend Hyde without any gym and with an insufficient library outweigh the interests of one or two neighbors who bought houses right next to a public school.
The objections by the ANC do not appear fatal. Whether the Old Georgetown Board agrees is another matter. Time is of the essence for this project in order for it to be complete in time for the 2014-15 school year.
West Heating Plant
This was the big one. Richard Levy brought a team of architects, engineers, and lawyers to present his plans to tear down most of the West Heating Plant and build condos. The bulk of the presentation was taken up by the architect, David Adjaye, presenting his vision for the reconstructed building, and testimony from the structural engineer explaining why tearing down most of the building was necessary.
The main thrust of the argument is that despite the building’s massive hulk, it’s a rather fragile building. It’s a steel skeleton with the brick skin that is not terribly well attached. The bricks have cracked significantly, which was led to water getting in causing massive rusting of the skeleton. The engineer was unequivocal: the building must come down.
There was push back, however. Most of it came from Chairman Ron Lewis, who questioned the engineers report. His strongest argument appears to be that the report was premised on the assumption that dramatic changes would be needed to the exterior–mainly the “punching” of new windows–and the conclusions were skewed by those assumptions. In other words, the building would be fine so long as they just left the skin mostly alone. The procedure hook that the develops need to extract themselves from is that the GSA imposed on them a covenant to preserve the building in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s standards.
Backing up Lewis were several groups, most notable the Trust for Historic Preservation. The unusual appearance of such a prominent group at such a local meeting reflects the group’s alarm at what they perceive to be a cop-out of the historic preservation easement. The DC Preservation League also had a representative speak against the tear down. Finally, CAG presented a statement on the project (full disclosure: GM is on the board of CAG and voted to approve the statement.) CAG’s statement expressed a general objection to the demolition of any historic building and insisted on strict adherence to the Interior Secretary’s standards. However, should the demolition be permitted, CAG expressed particular objection to the potential that at night the building would glow like a giant glass box.
The ANC ultimately voted to object to the demolition and requested an independent structural analysis. Needless to say, you’ll be hearing a lot about this as time goes on.
Georgetown architect Robert Bell is under contract to purchase the historic Georgetown theater. Not only would he like to restore the facade to its pre-formstone appearance, and convert the building to a mix of retail, office, and residential use, he wants to build a house for himself at the back of it. And that is the one thing that may cause him the most trouble.
The property lot is actually quite unusual. It stretches from Wisconsin way back, well into the block and behind houses on Dumbarton and O St. Bell would like to stretch the building back to use more of this space. The neighbors, however, are afraid of what that will mean to them. One neighbor, another architect, presented his own drawings demonstrating how the extension would appear from the back yards of his and his neighbor’s properties. Bell disagreed with his analysis, but almost everyone (except Bell) seemed to think the primary problem is that the plans were sprung on everyone too late to enable an open dialog. The ANC requested that Bell pull the project from the Old Georgetown Board agenda, but he refused citing financial impossibilities.
As for the part of the plans for the existing building, nobody objected and most welcomed the rehabilitation. GM asked Bell if he would consider bringing back the original facade, but Bell laughed and said it would be a “fantasy” and not possible. He does plan to restore the stucco facade that was covered up by the ugly formstone. And he located the original manufacturer of the neon sign and plans to restore that as well.
Bell also explained his hope to convert the alleywa–that goes from O St. down behind the stores on Wisconsin to the back of the theater property–into a Cady’s Alley-like space (he suggested the name “Georgetown Mews”). This wouldn’t be part of the plans he’s presenting this week, and so it didn’t get any official vetting. Some of the neighbors expressed doubts about the viability or desirability of that part of his plans, but we’ll see if and when any official plans are put forward.
The final wrinkle in this project was the appearance of a gentleman holding a receipt from a property tax sale who claimed to own a portion of the property. This came as a surprise to Bell and to Angie Heon Nys, whose family is in the process of selling the property to Bell after owning it for over 50 years. GM has absolutely no idea what impact this last minute claim will have, but it seems likely that it will delay it.
So stay tuned…