Two new projects have appeared on the 3200 block of M St. over the past month: All Saints, and Calvin Klein Underwear. In both cases, the design choices seem potentially troublesome. Did the OGB drop the ball by approving these projects?
All Saints is actually a pretty nice renovation. Between the old billboard-style type in the name across the top of the building and the repeating rows of sewing machines in the window, the building has a vaguely steam punk feel.
And that’s all great and definitely a step up from the generic look it had before. But doesn’t that black building paint give this tall building a rather looming feeling over the block. It has the potential to be a giant black hole in the middle of the streetscape.
The Calvin Klein Underwear store is troubling for a different reason. While Carol Joynt has complained about the anatomy lesson in the window, GM is concerned about the architectural features. The bay window was built to replace the faux-historic bay window that served the Body Shop. Continue reading
As reported by the Post (which has turned the issue into quite a hobby-horse) the IRS is cracking down on a tax shelter that many Georgetowners may themselves have used.
The basic idea is this: property owners can give conservation easements to historical preservation groups which gives the non-profit the right to object to any changes made to the facade of the house. The donor of the easement can then theoretically write-off from his or her taxes the estimated reduction of the value of the house.
The problem, as first identified by the Post several years ago, is that homeowners grossly overestimate the value of the reduction in home value. The IRS argues that when a homeowner in a neighborhood like Georgetown encumbers his home with a facade easement, he’s not really encumbering his home with any more restrictions than already exist due to the aggressive preservation laws already in place.
One company that was pitching this shelter apparently was telling homeowners that they could write off 15% of the value of their home after giving the easement. The IRS thinks that’s a huge over-estimate. And now a federal judge agrees.
According to the government complaint, the defendants falsely told prospective customers that, in exchange for donating easements on their historic properties preventing façade alteration, the customers could claim charitable deductions equal to 10 to 15 percent of the property value, and that this range reflected official IRS policy. In fact, the complaint alleges, the IRS never had any such policy, and the actual value of façade easements, if any, must be determined on a case-by-case basis. The complaint also alleges that the defendants manipulated the easement appraisal process by steering donors to appraisers who the defendants knew would employ the 10-to-15-percent valuation method, leading to improper appraisals that yielded large tax deductions regardless of the easements’ actual effect on property value.
The IRS seems to be basing most of its case on the false statements. But it also appears to be assuming that easements on houses in places like Georgetown are kind of worthless given the presence of entities like the Old Georgetown Board, which already restrict what a homeowner can do. GM doesn’t think that’s quite right. Continue reading
Last night the ANC met for its May session. And to the extent it had an overriding theme, it would be one of a disconnect between neighbors.
The first case that had this disconnect was the EastBanc project at the Exxon station. This has been discussed here before. Essentially, EastBanc wants to build a five story building where the Key Bridge Exxon now stands.
This would cut off a part of the currently magnificent view enjoyed by the homes on Prospect St. When the ANC first reviewed this project, it took the neighbors’ side, but not aggressively so. It asked that OGB to seriously consider the effect on the Prospect St. neighbors’ views, but they didn’t really come that hard against it, at least not in the resolution.
So last night, EastBanc was back with some modest tweaks to the design. Primarily it reconfigured the facade to be less modern and to “read more” (i.e. kinda look) like a set of rowhouses. Apparently they made a few modest changes to the building’s positioning, but they were all pretty minor.
The neighbors were back again. The criticisms seem to fall into two buckets: the effect the building’s height has on the views of the Prospect St. neighbors and the impact the building would have on the “gateway” of Georgetown.
In GM’s opinion, the “gateway” argument is really just a tarted up way to complain about the height. Right now there’s a gas station, and GM suspects a lot of the people complaining about the height would be perfectly fine if the gas station stayed. Besides, as EastBanc argued last night, the building would be on your periphery as you come across the Key Bridge. Your eyes are directed straight at Dixie Liquors, not the Exxon: Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Last week, Wendy Gordon of the Georgetown Dish wrote a screed against the ANC and the Old Georgetown Board that was factually inaccurate and misguided to boot. GM wasn’t going to comment on it, but now the false information is spreading so it’s time to clear the record.
Gordon’s original article complained about the OGB rejecting awnings proposed by Serendipity 3 for their windows. In the article, Gordon states:
matching awnings would be installed on the two (count ‘em) windows on the M Street side of the building, two doors on the Wisconsin Avenue side of the structure, and the recovering of the already existing awning over the main entrance to the building…The plan was presented and the votes counted. No pushback from residents, and a unanimous vote to pass by the ANC 2E. Resolution passed. One more hurdle to go…the OGB.
That’s simply not what happened. In fact the ANC did express reservations about the window awnings and passed a resolution stating as much. Here’s the text of the resolution: “ANC 2E appreciates the concept of the awnings. ANC 2E does want OGB to take a look at the awnings on the smaller windows to ensure that it does not mask historic fabric. ANC 2E has no objection to the awnings over the doors.” Continue reading