Georgetown Current

Heating Plant Proposed for Historic Designation

October 26, 2017

By Grace Bird

Current Staff Writer

Plans to redevelop Georgetown’s vacant West Heating Plant into a luxury condo building may face further delays, with the DC Preservation League launching a second bid to grant landmark status to the 1940s industrial facility.

The Historic Preservation Review Board considered a previous application from the group in April 2015, but voted 4-3 to oppose a landmark designation for the building at 29th and K streets NW. Turnover on the board could change the outcome of the scheduled Nov. 2 decision on the latest application.

Developers are hoping to largely demolish the old heating plant and reconstruct the building as modern residential units with an adjacent public park. The project team has argued that the structure is deteriorated and was never designed to support enough weight for housing.

“I would hope that the board reaffirms the position it took in 2015,” said developer Richard Levy of The Levy Group. “The community is very much behind this project, and the community’s take is that it is an annoyance and an interference. ... We’ll take it one step at a time.”

As a contributing building in the Georgetown Historic District, the heating plant is already protected against demolition or major alteration. However, a property owner can appeal to the Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation to argue that the change would result in a project of “special merit” that would overrule preservation concerns.

Levy was already planning to take this step with the heating plant, but while he said the full implications of individual landmark status for the heating plant aren’t clear, it would — at the very least — delay the project.

Officials with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office declined to comment for this story pending the Nov. 2 hearing.

According to the DC Preservation League’s application, the West Heating Plant is architecturally distinctive, straddling art deco and moderne styles, and also represents an important piece of District history. “Today, the plant possesses a very high level of integrity required by the National Register [of Historic Places], including integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association,” the application states.

Designed by William Dewey Foster, the plant was built between 1946 and 1948. Until it was shuttered half a century later, the building supplied heat to downtown government buildings, supplementing the overworked 1930s Central Heating Plant in Southwest D.C.

While the Historic Preservation Review Board rejected the plant’s landmark designation, its staff at the Historic Preservation Office backed the application in 2015 and is doing so again this year. The preservation office wrote in a recent report that the plant is a “striking, monumental piece of architecture, classically composed, streamlined and powerful, and thoroughly up to date in its expression,” and that it is historically significant as having served a “mundane but fundamental function” in heating public buildings.

Although Georgetown has been a federal historic district for decades, the Historic Preservation Office said designating individual buildings as landmarks is beneficial because it pays homage to specific sites’ history and ensures they’re treated with great care.

The landmark nomination has drawn objections from various neighbors and Georgetown community leaders. Joe Gibbons, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith), told The Current that the neighborhood has enjoyed “a tremendous amount of oversight” on the redevelopment, and that developers had been responsive to questions and concerns.

Victoria Rixey, a director of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, said she has been confounded by efforts to secure the plant as a landmark.

“There doesn’t really seem to be much historic anything in the application that really seems like new information,” Rixey said in an interview. “Hundreds and hundreds of residents have come to public meetings over the years. Now they’re going to throw a big wrench in the works, and for what purpose?”

But ANC 2E’s Jim Wilcox wrote that the Preservation League’s landmark application was “well reasoned” in a statement emailed to The Current on Monday. “I won’t make a final decision … until after ANC 2E’s public meeting on October 30,” Wilcox wrote.

The project — led by Levy and designed by architect David Adjaye and landscape architect Laurie Olin, both renowned nationally — cleared several hurdles this year.

The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts approved in May and again in September a proposal to demolish the plant and build a 10-story, 60-unit Four Seasons Residences building and an adjacent 1-acre public park in its place. The project would retain the heating plant’s dimensions, its 29th Street facade, the structure of its existing windows and a stone wall at the perimeter of the property.

“Members expressed strong support for replacing the West Heating Plant with a new residential project that would evoke qualities of the historic industrial building, and for rehabilitating its site with a new urban park,” commission secretary Thomas Luebke wrote Sept. 29.

ANC 2E also supported the project’s concept design in September, with commissioner Wilcox abstaining from the vote.

Stephen Crimmins, who has lived next door to the plant for 30 years, said the building was a “coal-belching” blight on the neighborhood and should have never been built in Georgetown. Crimmins said he is thrilled by plans to redo the space with new condos and a park.

“It was a bad idea to start with,” Crimmins said of the original decision to build a heating plant in Georgetown. “The notion of preserving that thing is absurd.”

This article appears in the Oct. 25 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Domino’s Plans Glover Park Move

October 19, 2017

By Grace Bird

Current Staff Writer

Domino’s is planning to open a Glover Park location, amid a chorus of opposition from residents and small-business owners concerned that a fast-food restaurant would attract rubbish, rodents and late-night noise to the area.

The pizza chain intends to lease part of the Calvert Center at 2330 Wisconsin Ave. NW to operate a dine-in and carry-out restaurant, with the other half of the space formerly used by the El Salvadoran consulate remaining vacant for now. The new Domino’s would replace a location at 3255 Prospect St. NW in Georgetown, which is slated for redevelopment into an apartment building.

However, the Glover Park site’s land-use designation requires fast-food or food-delivery establishments — of which Domino’s would be both — to secure special exception approval from the Board of Zoning Adjustment. Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3B (Glover Park, Cathedral Heights) is set to vote on the application Nov. 2, and a zoning hearing is slated for Nov. 8.

Jackie Blumenthal, chair of ANC 3B, told The Current that while she wasn’t pleased about “another pizza place” opening in Glover Park, an empty storefront was the alternative.

“The space has been vacant for a long time,” she said. “My goal is to work with Domino’s to attach conditions to the zoning order to try to come to some compromise on conditions that meet the needs of the neighborhood.”

Conditions could include having the Domino’s delivery drivers park on the street in front of the location late at night, rather than the alley and parking lot that would be used at other times. The change would reduce the impact on residents who live across the alley, commissioners say.

In its zoning application, Domino’s notes that the presence of several nearby fast-food establishments — Chipotle, Bruegger’s Bagels and Einstein’s — demonstrate that the proposed use fits squarely within the neighborhood’s existing character. Chipotle, located at 2338 Wisconsin Ave. NW, received a zoning exception in 2010 for its fast-food operation.

Glover Park’s business district already has a series of restaurants with pizza on the menu, including Casolare Ristorante, Arcuri, Cafe Romeo’s, Paisano’s Pizza and Angelico Pizzeria.

Many residents and businesses aren’t surprised that a big chain is moving into Glover Park, saying exorbitant rents squeeze out others.

“Two cents from a local business owner,” Justine Bernard, who has owned Elements Fitness & Wellness Center across the street from the planned Domino’s for 11 years, wrote on the neighborhood listserv, “the rent is outrageous. Makes it difficult for small local businesses. We are priced out of signage and street level retail space, while larger chain-companies with similar services move in.”

Bruce MacClellan, a resident of 37th Street NW, opposed Domino’s application in an Oct. 1 statement, citing concerns about rodents and delivery drivers.

“Within 150 feet there are 5+ children under the age of 9 who are often walking to school and around the neighborhood,” MacClellan wrote.

Operating hours of the Glover Park Domino’s are yet to be confirmed. The Prospect Street location and another nearby Domino’s in Tenleytown are open from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekdays, and until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

ANC 3B is asking residents to share feedback with the commission about the Domino’s proposal before commissioners vote at their Nov. 2 meeting.

This article appears in the Oct. 18 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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City to Study Options for Fletcher’s Cove Sediment

October 12, 2017

By Zoe Morgan
Current Correspondent

Amid concerns that sediment buildup could imperil Potomac River access at Fletcher’s Cove, the D.C. Department of Energy & Environment is taking early steps toward dredging the riverbed at the popular boat launch.

Located near the corner of Reservoir and Canal roads NW, Fletcher’s Cove serves an estimated 100,000 people per year for river access, according to the park’s friends group. Mike Bailey, the organization’s spokesperson, said he estimates that ongoing sediment buildup would consistently prevent watercraft from entering the Potomac via Fletcher’s Cove within three to six years.

“To lose that access would cut off many thousands of people who enjoy the resource,” Bailey told The Current.

Although the city’s environment department hasn’t conducted a study of the sediment’s effects at Fletcher’s Cove, the agency’s Daniel Conner said in an interview that it is already evident that access is becoming increasingly limited.

“I see Fletcher’s Cove as a major access point to the Potomac River, and [it] provides recreation to so many people on a yearly basis,” Conner said.

Sediment has built up because an area of manmade land blocks the natural flow of the river from flushing out the cove, Bailey said. In the 1960s, when a sewer system was being dug nearby, excavated debris was dumped near the cove — which has allowed sediment to build up ever since.

Two prior dredgings have taken place, one in the 1980s, and another in the 1990s. However, according to Conner, information about those projects is sparse. Periodic dredging will continue to be necessary as long as the manmade land remains in place, Bailey said.

The first step is to test the soil and sediment for any contaminants, for which the Department of Energy & Environment has set aside $150,000. The agency is currently reviewing bids and plans to award the contract in early 2018. The actual testing will take a month, Conner said.

“The first step was to say, ‘OK, what’s in the sediment and what’s in the soil?’” Conner said, “which will determine what you can do with the sediment. So, can you take the sediment and compact the parking lot of Fletcher’s Cove? Or does this have to be hauled off to the landfill somewhere? Or can it potentially be used in another project?”

The cost of the dredging itself is dependent on the character of the sediment, although it is estimated to be between $1 million and $3 million, Bailey said. The most expensive part of the process is hauling away the sediment after it is dug out. The city has not set aside funds to cover the dredging, and the friends group is in the process of doing fundraising.

After dredging is complete, the process of getting approval for removing the manmade land could begin, although there isn’t yet any cost estimate for that project, Bailey said.

The cove, located between Chain and Key bridges in the C&O Canal National Historical Park, is a popular spot for fishers, canoers and kayakers, among other recreational uses. The National Park Service installed a floating dock there in 2015, resolving concerns about an unsafe walkway that threatened the site’s spring opening that year.

This article appears in the Oct. 11 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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