Georgetown Current

New Design Unveiled for Heating Plant

March 15, 2017

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

Just over a year ago, the project team redeveloping Georgetown’s West Heating Plant property had received generally positive feedback on its plan to raze the hulking industrial building and construct a glassy new one of a similar size and shape.

Then the team went before the Old Georgetown Board last February. And there, developer Richard Levy said, “We ran into a buzz saw.”

Although the 1948 heating plant building — by virtue of its year of construction — is a contributing building to the federal Georgetown Historic District, Levy’s team thought the design panel would be open to a more dramatic departure from the existing structure. It was not. “That required us to slow down and rethink,” said Levy.

Last Thursday, the project team unveiled its updated designs, the third iteration of the 2900 K St. NW project since 2013. The latest proposal retains the building’s west facade and is truer to the rest of its masonry-dominated architecture. While the new building includes windows for the roughly 60 condo units, they pay homage to the narrow vertical “exclamation points” on the current building’s sides, and many windows can be disguised with retractable brick. Previously proposed balconies have been removed except for the rear of the building, facing Rock Creek.

As before, the project calls for luxury condos on the site of the heating plant, and resident parking below an above-grade public park on the former coal yard to its south. The design retains the only exterior wall that the project team deemed salvageable: the front of the building on 29th Street. The rest, according to architect David Adjaye, is “interpretation rather than preservation.”

“We want to come back to the monumentality of the building but also have room for innovation,” he said. “We’re trying to … allow the building to express its sort of noble, sort of strong character without being compromised too much.”

Located at the prominent confluence of Rock Creek and the C&O Canal, the federal industrial property has long inspired gripes from residents in its section of southeastern Georgetown. At last Thursday’s presentation, most attendees expressed support for the latest design, and for redevelopment of the site in general. “My bedroom overlooks this building. I have looked at it for 25 years — so I love this idea; I welcome you,” one woman said to hearty applause.

The new building, shown here from the east, would use retractable brick to hide some of its windows. (Photo by: Rendering courtesy of The Levy Group) The new building, shown here from the east, would use retractable brick to hide some of its windows.
Although the last design iteration also had substantial informal community support, it faced some pushback from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) over the appropriateness of razing a building considered historically significant, and about the proposed size and shape of the planned replacement. Significant turnover on the commission — including the departure of former chair Ron Lewis, a leading proponent for protecting the heating plant — means that several ANC 2E members will be casting their first votes on the project when they review its Old Georgetown Board application on April 3.

The project will then face scrutiny from that board itself on April 6, and approvals by the Zoning Commission and the mayor’s agent for historic preservation will also be necessary. All told, the project is at least four years from completion, developers said Thursday.

Some project details — such as the exact number, layout and costs of the units, as well as the number of parking spaces — haven’t yet been finalized, according to Nnenna Lynch of The Georgetown Co. She said the goal is to build a mix of larger units that would range from 1,500 to 3,000 square feet apiece. While she didn’t share the estimated sale prices, Lynch said the units will be “at the top of the market in D.C.,” a position that she says currently commands $1,400 per square foot.

As far as parking, Lynch said the designers have currently found enough room for an average of 1.5 parking spaces per unit, and “we’d love to get closer to two.” Parking will be part of the project’s future Zoning Commission application, as the Old Georgetown Board only looks at compatibility with the historic district.

The only negativity at last Thursday’s presentation regarded the new building’s impersonal name: Four Seasons Private Residences Washington, which elicited a sigh from the audience. “I think you can call it what you want,” quipped Adjaye.

One attendee said she expected the West Heating Plant name to stick: “I lived in the Residences at The Ritz-Carlton. If you look it up, it’s still called ‘the incinerator plant.’”

This article appears in the March 15 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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Ellington Neighbors Air Construction Complaints

March 9, 2017

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

Construction to renovate the Duke Ellington School of the Arts began in December 2014 and is slated to wrap up this summer. For residential neighbors in the surrounding community of Burleith, the end can’t come soon enough.

Neighbors within a few blocks of the 3500 R St. NW school say their streets have been besieged for the last two years with construction workers illegally parking in residential zones and contributing to traffic backups when they move their vehicles to different spots throughout the day. More recently, residents say, workers have been arriving as early as 5:30 a.m. and making noise before their legally permitted 7 a.m. start time. Other complaints have cited construction workers urinating and changing their clothes in public, using profane language and littering.

Regarding the parking issues, the Department of General Services — which hired contractor Sigal Construction — arranged at the start of construction for workers to park off-site at RFK Memorial Stadium, spokesperson Jackie Stanley told The Current. But some residents say that arrangement doesn’t seem to have taken hold.

Stanley also said that the agency expedited construction of the school’s parking lot to allow contractors to park there, and in the meantime has encouraged workers to “vanpool” to the site. Attempts to reach Sigal for comment were unsuccessful.

Sherri Kimbel from the office of Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans and Ed Solomon of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) have served as de facto liaisons between the neighborhood and crews from Sigal. Responding to the noise complaints, Kimbel said in an interview that the crews have a legal right to prepare their trucks before 7 a.m. as long as they don’t start construction until then. And she said some of the noise, disruptive as it is, is unavoidable.

“We’re aware of it, we’re meeting on it, we’re talking about it, we’re trying to get things resolved,” Kimbel said. “You don’t want to do anything that would seriously slow down the project because then it’s going to drag on longer.”

The massive renovation is expanding Ellington’s arts facilities with a new theater, additional classroom space and other upgrades. The project’s current budget of $177 million has exceeded the original estimate by nearly $100 million.

Neighbors are also frustrated that the Department of Public Works and the Metropolitan Police Department haven’t done more to keep workers in check. The public works agency reported in an email to neighbors last month that it has issued more than 400 citations for illegal visitor parking passes in the neighborhood since October, but residents suspect many more exist.

Neighbors’ original agreement with Sigal said the construction company would bus in its workers from a parking lot at RFK Stadium, rather than having them bring their cars directly to the site. Neighborhood leaders say they’ve had little success in pushing Sigal to adhere to that portion of the agreement. Instead, they say, workers display visitor parking passes that appear to be forged, with longer expiration dates.

The issues go beyond additional cars on tight residential streets. Dan Herlihy, who lives on 35th Street less than a block away from the school, told The Current that his parked car was recently damaged when a Sigal construction worker backed into it while turning around to secure a parking spot. Earlier, he said he saw what appeared to be a domestic dispute between a male worker and a woman at the corner of 35th and R streets NW.

“This has been a problem since construction started and Sigal has given us lip service about working with the community the entire time,” Herlihy wrote in an email.

The issues were mentioned at the Feb. 27 ANC 2E meeting as well. In general, residents are supportive of the renovation and happy that their neighborhood will again boast the flourishing arts school. Still, they’re frustrated with the day-to-day issues.

“I’ve been screaming the entire time. My face is blue,” one neighbor told The Current.

Another, who asked to be identified only by his first name Dave, said he moved to Burleith right around the time construction began. He expected a noisy couple of years, but what’s happened has far exceeded his initial concerns.

“We made a decision knowing there would be construction here,” Dave said in an interview. “What we didn’t bargain for is the potential that a construction company is not abiding by the rules of the road, that they’re not abiding by what’s agreed to by the residential neighborhood, and they may be violating D.C. law.”

This article appears in the March 8 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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Phoenix Rises: Boutique Reopens After Overhaul

March 2, 2017

By Andria Moore
Current Correspondent

The Phoenix has operated as a family-owned boutique in Georgetown for over six decades, but recently co-owner Samantha Hays-Gushner decided it was time for some fresh ideas.

When she proposed a renovation to her father, John Hays, his response was “Why not?”

The store at 1514 Wisconsin Ave. NW recently underwent a six-week renovation, reopening in mid-February with a new look. Hays-Gushner had envisioned redesigning the boutique to make it more spacious and inviting.

“The ideas had been rattling around in my head for about 10 years or so,” she said. “It was only a matter of putting my plan into action.”

(Photo by: Brian Kapur/The Current)
The Phoenix has sold clothing, jewelry, folk art and other accessories since 1955, in a building that is now a century old. Hays-Gushner said the historic building presented some design challenges for the renovation — including rotted floorboards and old pipes — but also some pleasant surprises.

“When we took out the rear wall, we found a fireplace underneath that had been boarded up,” Hays-Gushner said. The fireplace was painted in black and white stencil, and incorporated into the new design.

Previously, the store shared a space with Swiss Watch Works, but when that shop moved to Bethesda, The Phoenix was able to expand its space to include a front sunroom.

“It’s definitely more open and spacious,” said Barbara Waymack, who has been shopping at The Phoenix for as long as she can remember. “I think it’s the difference of it being more of an art store, to now being more display oriented.”

That transformation was one of the goals of the renovation, according to John Hays. “Before when you came into the store, it looked like a jewelry store with folk art,” Hays said. “So one of the reasons we redesigned it is so it would look more like a clothing store.”

But this isn’t the first transformation The Phoenix has undergone. The boutique was owned by Bill and Betty Hays in the 1950s, originally selling Mexican wedding dresses.

“My parents fell in love with Mexico,” Hays said. “The summer before we opened we spent driving around Mexico collecting art and clothing to sell in the store.”

John Hays and his wife, Sharon, ran a halfway house in Boston and a group home in Maine before returning to D.C. in the 1980s to take over for John’s parents. They gave the rest of the Mexican wedding dresses to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and decided to sell a variety of unique clothing brands along with folk art. Throughout the years, the family has maintained a commitment to find clothing designers that are ethical and sustainable.

“We want to maintain the level of quality of goods that we are bringing in to sell,” Hays-Gushner said. “We find designers whose clothes fit our ethos and who are producing in a conscious way.”

The family continues traveling to Mexico once a year, as well as to fashion shows in New York and Boston to search for new partnerships and new items for their store.

While the store’s former magenta ceiling and adjoining wall are gone, the multi-colored wooden animals painted by Luis Pablo of Oaxaca, Mexico, and other trinkets remain.

Hays-Gushner hopes the design will attract new customers while retaining the core aspects of Phoenix’s longtime appeal. “The response from our customers has been incredible so far,” she said.

This article appears in the March 1 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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