Georgetown Current

With New Site, Pottery Studio Comes Full Circle

December 15, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

An established Northwest pottery studio hopes to open and host classes at its new Georgetown location next month, more than a year later than owners had planned thanks to utilities challenges and a contentious relationship with the property owner.

Hinckley Pottery has been offering classes, workshops and events, along with a robust collection of handmade artwork, for more than four decades in Northwest D.C. — moving its one studio from Georgetown to Foggy Bottom, and then Adams Morgan. The studio hopes to begin its next chapter just a block away from its original Georgetown home, but the road to opening has been a long one.

In late 2012, owners Jill Hinckley and Susan Weber learned they would have to move the studio from 1707 Kalorama Road NW. They had shared that building with the health care nonprofit Mary’s Center, which wanted to use the space to expand its behavioral health services. Several real estate agents and neighborhood visits later, the owners settled on a new home — bigger than their older one and less expensive than many alternatives — at 3132 Blues Alley NW in Georgetown.

“It was a shell, basically. It didn’t have anything,” Weber said. “It had a roof, it had walls, and that’s it.”

Weber and Hinckley signed a lease there in July 2015, hoping to start construction by September and move in by the end of last year. But September came around, and the landlord hadn’t completed mandatory work on water, gas and electricity. What followed, as Weber describes it, was a slow and at times painful process of urging the landlord and property manager to move forward on matters like hiring a contractor and replacing a key part of the sprinkler system.

Part of the issue, Weber says, is that she has never met or been in contact with the property owner — only the property manager, Frank Gittleson of Empire Leasing, who has been communicative, she said. While Weber says Gittleson has insisted that he wants the studio in the building as much as the owners do, she says the owners have reneged on their promises at times. Gittleson declined to comment for this story.

Weber and Hinckley faced an additional challenge a few months ago when the landlord threatened to sue for the cost of the utilities work that Weber believes the landlord had a responsibility to handle. That news, plus the mounting costs caused by the delays, led Weber to solicit donations through an online GoFundMe campaign. Both she and Hinckley had already refinanced their homes and tapped into their retirement funds, but the money wasn’t enough.

“All we want is to open our pottery studio, start teaching again and get our hands back into the clay — but to do this we need your help!” Weber wrote on the campaign page.

Since the campaign was posted on Oct. 10, 191 donations totaling more than $42,000 have poured in. Some donors wrote notes, including Jane McAllister, who contributed $1,000.  

“I hope you and all your weirdos, including me, are back in studio soon!” McAllister wrote. “You give so much to all who pass through your door — we’ve got to keep that door open.”

The Hinckley owners and the landlord have since settled out of court on their dispute over rent and the sprinkler expenditure, Weber said. GoFundMe donations will help cover legal fees and the costs incurred in the compromise, as well as future expenditures.

Weber says the influx of support has been encouraging. “The stuff with the community has been strong and very sustaining,” she said. “It’s been otherwise a very depressing situation.”

Despite the difficulties, the Georgetown location remains ideal for them, Weber said. Taxes are lower because the building isn’t located on one of the main commercial corridors, and the building is just a block away from Jill Hinckley’s first studio. The space is also much bigger than the Kalorama location, with higher ceilings, larger windows and more room for classroom space. Locations they looked at in Shaw, U Street and the old Hecht’s Warehouse in Ivy City weren’t as enticing as this Georgetown spot, according to Weber.

Weber said she’s all the more eager to reopen after seeing the success of the GoFundMe campaign and hearing community demand for Hinckley Studio’s offerings.

“We love the pottery, love doing it. We couldn’t imagine just sitting at home and not doing that,” she said. “We decided there were too many people that counted on us, and we wanted to have a community for them.”

Meanwhile, Mary’s Center plans to begin construction on the renovation of 1707 Kalorama Road NW this month and finish in March or April, according to spokesperson Lyda Vanegas. The new space will have room for three more therapists than before.

Construction was originally planned to begin shortly after Hinckley Pottery left, Vanegas said, but several other projects in Fort Totten, Petworth and Silver Spring got in the way. “We had too many projects at the time,” Vanegas told The Current.

This article appears in the Dec. 14 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

Click here to share your thoughts.

Georgetown’s Campus Plan Approved Quickly

December 7, 2016

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

When universities seek approval for their campus plans — multi-year outlines of their operations and upcoming development projects — it typically takes days for the Zoning Commission to hear and sort through detailed and conflicting testimony.

But in Thursday’s hearing on Georgetown University’s plans, the only threat to expeditious approval was the number of participants who wanted to thank each other. “We don’t want our ‘Kumbaya’ hearing to go to another night,” commission chair Anthony Hood warned toward the end of the nearly four-hour hearing.

Even that concern was for naught in the unusually amicable proceeding, as zoning commissioners that night unanimously approved Georgetown’s 2017-2036 campus plan. No advisory neighborhood commission, community group or even individual resident spoke in opposition to the plan.

Parties credited the Georgetown Community Partnership — a forum in which residents, university officials and students identified their common goals and reached compromises on conflicting ones. The result was a campus plan that all parties had agreed upon even before it was submitted — a far cry from the rancorous battles that typically plague such zoning cases, including some past Georgetown campus plans.

University officials were in the midst of such a fight back in 2012 but then they backed off and instead formed the community partnership, which developed a short-term compromise. Its success was the foundation for the 20-year plan that the Zoning Commission approved last week.

“It has become a genuine robust partnership where people think about what everyone needs, not just their own perspective,” testified Ron Lewis, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith).

Zoning commissioners praised the progress.    

“I remember vividly what it was like at that first presentation and what the feeling in the room was,” commissioner Peter May said at Thursday’s hearing. “There was so much tension at that moment, and everyone was so ready to strike. To get to this point here and to have everybody at the table is just such a remarkable change.”

The campus plan was first released in June and then modified leading up to the zoning hearing. Key provisions include:
■ the maintenance of existing enrollment caps of 14,106 total students, including 6,675 undergraduates; over the 20-year period, graduate student enrollment could increase by 2,000 from today.
■ up to 1.3 million square feet in approved development, including a large addition to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, an expansion of the Lauinger Library and the redevelopment of deteriorating Yates Field House. Officials said, however, that besides those top priorities, many other possible projects would proceed only if the university raises enough money for them. And some sites for additional student housing would only be developed if other options, preferred by the university, haven’t been achieved by 2030.
■ a requirement that undergraduate students live on campus for at least three of their four years at Georgetown, including both their freshman and sophomore years. The university must maintain its capacity to house 95 percent of its undergraduates on campus, and must renovate some of its existing housing to make it more appealing to students.
■ development of a “student life corridor,” where renovated buildings would flank a pedestrian-friendly connection through the heart of campus, roughly following the existing Tondorf Road.
■ a requirement to continue working through any issue — from the details of new development projects to complaints about student behavior — through the Georgetown Community Partnership.

The campus plan lays out the outlines of future development projects, but many will need “further processing” approval for which architects will present specific designs. Commissioners said that when those projects meet zoning requirements, they will quickly approve them without a hearing unless someone files an objection. The first further processing case, which will require a hearing, is the hospital addition. Little debate is expected, though, as the parties worked through the details while developing the full campus plan.

A couple of small areas of contention did appear at the hearing. The D.C. Department of Transportation wanted to ensure that approved transportation improvements are actually completed within 20 years, and asked the university to build a connection to a Glover Archbold Park bicycle trail if one is constructed.

David Avitabile, attorney for Georgetown, said the university hopes to carry out the transportation improvements — notably, making Healy Circle more pedestrian-friendly — but doesn’t want to commit now because funding isn’t yet available. With the trail, he expressed concern about encouraging cyclists to commute through the campus. Separately, Foxhall Village resident John Bray raised concerns about the impact of increased hospital traffic on Glover Archbold Park.

Zoning commissioners said they were comfortable with the parties’ carefully developed compromise, and trusted that the community partnership could resolve any outstanding issues.

This article appears in the Dec. 7 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

Click here to share your thoughts.

Mayor Reverses Fillmore Closure Plan

December 1, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

Reversing an earlier decision, the mayor and D.C. Public Schools have opted to continue the Fillmore Arts Center program through the 2017-18 school year — but only three of the five participating schools will receive arts instruction there, officials told parents in a letter Tuesday.

Two months ago, the school system’s interim chancellor announced that the Fillmore program, which provides centralized arts and music instruction at Hardy Middle School in upper Georgetown to students from five Northwest elementary schools, would be shuttered at the end of the current school year. Community advocates at several schools protested the decision.

Now Mayor Muriel Bowser and the school system have kicked in funding for another year of Fillmore for three of the participating schools: Key, Ross and Stoddert elementaries. Meanwhile, students from Hyde-Addison and Marie Reed Elementary will “transition to on-site arts instruction,” according to the letter from Brian Pick of D.C. Public Schools.

Hyde-Addison in Georgetown and Marie Reed in Adams Morgan are both currently undergoing renovations that will add more space for arts programming. Hyde students in particular would have a hard time getting to Fillmore next year, as students are slated to relocate into swing space at the Meyer Elementary campus near Howard University during the two-year construction project.

Pick’s letter to parents also announced that all of the District’s elementary schools will have access to Fillmore through workshops and other periodic events. Education officials did not respond to requests for further comment on the decisions by The Current’s deadline Tuesday night.

In an interview, Bowser said she decided to continue the program because of the several schools that “did not have an option, space-wise or programming-wise.” However, Hyde and Marie Reed will be able to accommodate arts instruction at their temporary swing space and permanent locations, she said.

In a separate statement, the mayor cited strong community feedback about Fillmore and praised D.C. Council members from wards 2 and 3 for their advocacy on behalf of the program’s proponents. Ward 3 member Mary Cheh, in a statement of her own, said she’s “delighted” that Fillmore will continue, and not perturbed that two of the five participants will no longer have regular instruction there.

“Continuing Fillmore for a select number of schools is not unfair to other schools in the sense that the schools who benefit are overcrowded and don’t have the capacity to have regular art classes,” Cheh said. “It has been, as many parents have said, ‘art on a cart’ — which is not satisfactory.”

John Claud, a Stoddert parent and president of the Friends for Fillmore Arts group, said he thinks the news could portend a longer stay for the Fillmore program, given that Key, Ross and Stoddert don’t have any arts space of their own in the works for the near future.

“I’m sad that the kids at Marie Reed and Hyde-Addison are losing out on such a good program,” Claud said. “I’m sorry that DCPS doesn’t share all of my enthusiasm for it, but I’m glad to see there’s some continuation anyway.”

For some, though, Fillmore represents a stopgap solution in a longer journey toward in-house arts education for all. John Lever, a Hyde-Addison parent and Citizens Association of Georgetown member, told The Current he likes the program but thinks all elementary students should experience the arts in their own schools, without having to take two bus rides.

“Fillmore is the best Band-Aid money can buy,” Lever said. “The Fillmore Arts Center is a great short-term to mid-term solution, but it’s not the right long-term solution for any school.”

Meanwhile, Stoddert parent and Glover Park advisory neighborhood commissioner Brian Turmail said he’s encouraged by the Fillmore news and pleased that a rumored trailer in the Hardy parking lot to replace the existing Fillmore space did not come to fruition. But he remains concerned that Fillmore faculty members will have doubts about working somewhere that’s so often threatened for closure.

Under the current arrangement, Fillmore gets a flat $600,000, plus the arts instruction budget of each of the five schools it serves, for a total of roughly $1.6 million. Last spring, D.C. Public Schools wrote to the community that the city spends $1,149 per student to operate Fillmore, in comparison to spending $458 per student across all other elementary schools for art and music instruction.

Bowser said Fillmore might not be a permanent solution, but space concerns make Fillmore suitable for the short term. “We want to be able to address the arts education needs of all of our students … and Fillmore is working for them,” she said.

Current correspondent Cuneyt Dil contributed to this report.

This article appears in the Nov. 30 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

Click here to share your thoughts.