Georgetown Current

City Revises Guy Mason Playground Plan

March 5, 2014

By George Altshuler
Current Correspondent

The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation has revised its plans to overhaul the playground at Guy Mason Recreation Center in response to community feedback.

The agency is preparing to spend $1.5 million on upgrades to the 3600 Calvert St. facility as part of its citywide “Play DC” initiative. Construction is scheduled to begin in early summer after the 25th annual Glover Park Day takes place on June 6.

But some concerns arose at a Dec. 18 presentation on the proposed renovation.

“They came into the first meeting ready to act, but they didn’t know the history of the park,” said David Messineo, president of the Friends of Guy Mason group.

In 2008, more than 100 volunteers built equipment at the playground to honor Lyles Parachini, a local boy who had died of leuke   mia. A memorial tree, a small play house and a sandbox were important parts of the project to honor Parachini, and Messineo said that these features weren’t preserved in the original design, but will be in the final one.

Messineo and Lucie Leblois, president of the Guy Mason Cooperative Play Program, both noted that there isn’t currently a good entrance into the park on Wisconsin Avenue for people with strollers. Leblois said that in response to public comments, the new design will include a ramp that will resolve the issue. She echoed Messineo’s view that the Department of Parks and Recreation responded well to people’s concerns and brought better proposals to the second public meeting, held on Feb. 8.

“We love the playground, and a lot of people went into the first meeting very apprehensive about change,” she said. “Overall we were pleasantly surprised by what happened in the second meeting. They really listened.”

Some residents were also concerned that the original design didn’t use the park’s natural features well enough, according to Messineo. But he said that the parks department team, which attended the last Friends of Guy Mason monthly meeting, also incorporated this critique into the new design by planning to build slides on the park’s hills.

Guy Mason is one of eight playgrounds being renovated in the 2014 fiscal year as part of the Play DC program, after 32 others were done in 2013, according to parks department spokesperson John Stokes. Guy Mason was selected based on a scorecard that includes the age of the park, the park’s proximity to other playgrounds and the needs of the community, Stokes said.

Before renovating a playground, the agency always holds community meetings and works to adapt its designs to the needs of the neighborhood, he said. “If you go around the city, you’ll see that there are unique playgrounds based on what the citizens choose,” said Stokes.

Stokes said a survey the parks agency sent out to the community about the Guy Mason playground drew one of the largest participation totals the department has seen.

“I was pleasantly surprised by how many people were engaged in the process,” Leblois said. “This reinforces what kind of a community Glover Park is generally.”

The agency will unveil a final design for the playground at a public meeting at the Guy Mason Recreation Center at 6:30 p.m. March 12.


This article appears in the March 5 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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EastBanc Debuts New Plans for Condos at Exxon Parcel

February 26, 2014

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

The M Street Exxon station near the Key Bridge is once again being eyed as the potential site of a five-story luxury condominium building, which could break ground in spring 2015.

Developer EastBanc has filed plans with the Old Georgetown Board for a modern new building at 3601-3607 M St., the base of the “Exorcist Steps” that lead up the hill to Prospect Street. The project — dubbed “Hillside” — is slated to include about 26 to 28 condo units and underground parking, according to EastBanc.

But the proposal is facing opposition from Prospect Street residents who fear the building would threaten their views of the Potomac River, according to advisory neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels, whose single-member district includes the property. Such concerns, along with other design issues, helped derail a similar EastBanc proposal for the site in 2011.

The proposed 50-foot roof height would be below the lowest levels of the Prospect Street homes above, but the building would be topped by up to 14 feet of elevator overruns and other mechanical equipment, according to EastBanc’s Mary Mottershead.

This equipment would sit 1 foot lower than that of the 2011 concept, and it would occupy barely half the footprint of the equipment in the previous design — 3.3 percent of the roof area. Part of the change comes from eliminating two top-floor units, thus removing an elevator overrun. Rooftop landscaping would also block views of the equipment “where possible,” Mottershead wrote in an email.

“This project will be all residential in nature, and given its small size should have little impact on any of the surrounding neighbors, especially in comparison to the current very busy and noisy gas station and convenience store on the site today,” Mottershead wrote.

EastBanc’s project would replace the Exxon station on M Street. (Photo by: Brian Kapur/The Current) EastBanc’s project would replace the Exxon station on M Street.
The design has also changed. The proposal is still the same size and shape, and it retains a modern style with large windows, sharp edges, and little of the brickwork that characterizes many Georgetown buildings. “However,” Mottershead wrote, “the new design is very different with the idea of being a quieter, more neutral design which does not compete with all the different very busy townhouse elevations above nor with the wedding cake design of the Arthur Cotton Moore building to the west nor with the massive and heavy design of the Car Barn to the east.”

Starrels said aesthetic concerns remain, especially because the property is in such a prominent spot. “It’s a gateway to Georgetown — it’s going to be one of the first things you see coming into the area from the Key Bridge or the Whitehurst Freeway, and you can see it from Virginia,” he said in an interview.

Another change in the latest proposal shifts the building away from the eastern retaining wall, which also helps create a small open space at the base of the stairway featured in the film “The Exorcist” — instead of “dumping” pedestrians “out into the middle of the road way beside dumpsters and parked cars as happens now,” Mottershead wrote.

Starrels said comparisons to the 2011 concept for the site mean little. “There is very little if anything good about the last proposal, and that should not be the benchmark about anything,” he said. “That’s history, and we’re starting from a clean slate.”

He wouldn’t say whether any other possible redevelopment concepts for the Exxon site would better suit the community, but said he looks forward to discussing the project more with EastBanc. “I have a lot of unhappy constituents right now with the way it’s being presented, so hopefully there’s a solution somewhere,” said Starrels.

Mottershead wrote that the project offers many benefits to southwest Georgetown. In addition to offering a better alternative to the existing gas station and convenience store, “we think that adding residential units to this end of M St will fit well with the neighboring residential building to the west as well as with the townhouse units above,” she wrote.

EastBanc expects that construction of the Hillside project would last 20 to 22 months, according to Mottershead. Costs on the 26 to 28 units haven’t yet been set, but Mottershead said Georgetown condo rates are typically $800 to $1,200 or more per square foot. The building’s units would likely range from 1,200 to more than 4,000 square feet, averaging 2,200 to 2,500 apiece. There will be two parking spaces per unit.

The project must undergo design review by the Old Georgetown Board, which is set to consider the matter at its March 6 meeting. EastBanc will also present its plans on Monday to the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission.

Mottershead wrote that the project is not likely to need any relief from zoning regulations, which allow for a 50-foot-tall building with 18-foot-tall rooftop equipment covering up to 37 percent of the roof area.

But before filing building permits, the team must double-check with the compliance of “the last minute changes to the roof top to lower and clean-up the sight lines for the residents above,” she added.

This article appears in the Feb. 26 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Georgetown Custom Zone at Issue as Some Advocates Elsewhere Seek Same Program

February 19, 2014

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

Throughout the District, about two dozen neighborhoods feature specialized land-use regulations, tailored to provide a particular protection or encourage a particular activity. Examples of provisions in these “overlays” include stricter size requirements for new houses, or exceptions to allow taller heights for certain buildings like hotels.

When the Citizens Association of Georgetown asked for such an overlay about five years ago, the Office of Planning turned the group down. The agency was developing a procedure to replace the overlay as part of a broader zoning regulation rewrite, so planners agreed to let Georgetown serve as a guinea pig for the new “customized zone.”

This decision has sparked complaints from some other neighborhoods, where residents unhappy with proposed zoning changes are clamoring for their own special protections.

“This zoning rewrite process appears to be a tale of two cities. It reeks of divisiveness and disenfranchisement,” Kathy Henderson, chair of the Trinidad advisory neighborhood commission in Northeast, testified at a Jan. 30 Zoning Commission hearing.

Georgetown, Henderson said, had gotten substantial help from the Planning Office in understanding the complex rewrite — and her neighborhood did not. “We have the same rights in this city that everyone else has, and we want to participate in a meaningful way,” she said.

The Office of Planning and the Citizens Association of Georgetown have rebuffed the idea that one affluent neighborhood got special treatment. They have said that Georgetown has specific needs as a federally protected historic district, that residents promised to do the legwork to develop their zone, and that the neighborhood had already requested an overlay.

Accordingly, Georgetown was a logical fit to serve as a “prototype” for the customized zone process, Jennifer Steingasser at the Planning Office said in an interview. It wouldn’t make sense to run a pilot project simultaneously throughout the city, she said.

“We wouldn’t have multiple prototypes,” she said. “We didn’t want to waste other communities’ time as they look at this.”

If the Zoning Commission approves the customized zoning process as proposed, then other neighborhoods can come forward to work with the Office of Planning to develop specialized regulations.

In drafting its customized zone, the Citizens Association of Georgetown sought to preserve the status quo of neighborhood’s historic fabric. To bolster its proposal, the group documented existing conditions, held public meetings to establish consensus, and emphasized the community’s preservation needs.

The customized zone includes shorter height limits, stricter standards for accessory buildings and apartments associated with single-family homes, greater required conformity with neighboring homes’ front setbacks, and more controls before commercial establishments can open in residential areas.

“Historic preservation is the primary goal in Georgetown, as opposed to other neighborhoods where encouraging greater density and the ability to expand houses ... were very much to be desired,” Richard Hines, attorney for the citizens association, said in an interview.

Residents in other parts of the city, though, have called for some of the same protections for some of the same reasons. Steingasser said that once the customized zone procedure is in place, they too can participate.

She cautioned, though, that there must be more basis for a zoning change than popular support — the District’s Comprehensive Plan, which is not currently being revised, is what establishes the vision for different areas.

“Often when people are concerned about zoning, what they really need to look at is the land use and the planning,” Steingasser said. “Zoning just implements that.”

But community consensus would still be necessary for any customized zone, she said, as Georgetown managed to achieve. When you change zoning, “you’re often times granting or modifying property rights, and that has to be done very carefully,” said Steingasser.

In Georgetown, the changes drew unanimous support from the neighborhood commission, which testified at a Nov. 6 Zoning Commission meeting. “The customized zone preserves the best of current zoning while bringing it up to date,” neighborhood commission chair Ron Lewis said in an interview.

The zoning rewrite proposal also reclassifies existing overlays as customized zones — a change Steingasser says makes it easier to identify which rules apply to a particular property without changing any of the rules the overlay put in place. Community leaders in some areas have argued that the overlays work well in their current form and should not be modified as part of the rewrite.

This article appears in the Feb. 19 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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