Georgetown Current

‘Micro’ Apartments Eyed for Latham Site

April 2, 2014

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

A local developer hopes to convert Georgetown’s Latham Hotel into a vibrant mixed-use building with 150 “micro” apartment units, new retail space and no off-street parking.

The Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission said Monday that it supports SB-Urban’s broader vision for the property at 3000 M St. But commissioners said the developer needs to tone down the modern facades it’s proposing on the street level, including a glassy 32-foot-tall retail structure that would stretch along 140 feet of M Street.

“Red brick is the vocabulary of that building, and I think what goes on M Street should respect that vocabulary,” said commission chair Ron Lewis. “I would expect something like this in Friendship Heights — that’s more or less the storefront vernacular there, with massive masonry and very large windows — but it’s really not the vernacular of M Street.”

As proposed, SB-Urban would tear down the 27-foot-tall retail building that currently sits on the M Street side of the property — a red-brick structure with a pitched roof above two stories. Plans call for replacing this with a taller building with gray brick and large windows. The company would also like to drastically overhaul the 30th Street entrance to include much larger windows and an angular shape that stands out from the staid seven-story hotel.

Project architect Patrick Burkhart said the design reflects the existing diversity of building styles on M Street while upgrading the site’s aesthetics. “The idea is to lighten this block to create something that’s more inviting,” he said.

Neighborhood commissioners disagreed. “I think this would change the feel of that area of M Street dramatically, and it’s not in keeping with the historic nature of that street,” said member Bill Starrels.

“That’s an unusually important view on that corner because of the Old Stone House across the street,” Lewis added. “People go there to see what they think of as Georgetown … and I think the building needs to respect the expectations of that site.”

Commissioners were more receptive to the housing plan, with some reservations. As proposed, the hotel would be converted into small, furnished studio apartments, marketed to professionals who move to D.C. temporarily, SB-Urban officials said. The firm is pursuing a similar project at the Patterson Mansion at 15 Dupont Circle, albeit with a more architecturally subdued design.

“Our view is that the Latham is a perfect example of the kind of situation in which we want to deliver this kind of project,” said SB-Urban’s Michael Balaban. “It’s immediately adjacent and surrounded by urban amenities of all kinds, and it has wonderful access on transit and by bike and on foot to the workplace.”

Accordingly, Balaban said his tenants would be unlikely to own cars. Developers would therefore like to replace the Latham’s 52-car parking garage with plaza space, common amenity rooms for the residents and a storage facility. Though neighborhood commissioners will formally consider zoning issues at a later meeting, some residents and commissioners expressed reservations Monday about supporting the project without parking.

“If this were right at a Metro station, maybe, but the people who live there are going to want to get out in the evening and they’re not going to want to take public transportation,” said Lewis, who suggested providing 25 to 35 spaces. The Citizens Association of Georgetown has recommended 90 spaces.

Balaban said parking would cut into the common space needed by residents of tiny apartments, and offering spaces to attract residents with cars. He added that the plan is to prohibit the tenants from getting on-street parking permits.

This article appears in the April 2 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Agency Eyes Protection for Georgetown Trees

March 26, 2014

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

When thousands of pedestrians crowd onto the narrow sidewalks of Georgetown’s Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, it’s almost inevitable that people’s feet will end up in the corridors’ tree boxes. Passersby trample the dirt and risk tripping over uneven surfaces or protective fences.

The Georgetown Business Improvement District and the city’s Urban Forestry Administration are pitching a new material to solve this problem: Flexi-Pave, a porous rubber made from recycled tires. The new surface would sit even with the brick sidewalks and provide a safe walking surface that also protects the dirt in the tree boxes.

The material is being proposed only for commercial streets with high foot traffic, where pedestrians are often forced to walk in tree box space. In residential areas, tree boxes will continue to sport plain soil.

“There’s a lot of desire to have a proper canopy along M and Wisconsin in the main business corridor there,” John Thomas of the Urban Forestry Administration said in an interview. “We struggle because of foot traffic and space that’s available for the trees currently.”

But because of Georgetown’s status as a federally protected historic district, the new material could face some pushback as incompatible with the neighborhood’s brick sidewalks. According to Thomas, some objections are already circulating that the constant transitions from Flexi-Pave to brick will create a “patchwork” effect.

“We understand that, but we’ve reached a point where [plain soil] doesn’t work, and there isn’t really any other option right now,” he said. “This is the only thing we can do to ensure there can be trees on Georgetown’s commercial corridor.”

Flexi-Pave is already in use on 14th Street and in several pilot locations throughout Georgetown.

Betsy Emes of the Trees for Georgetown group, part of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, said anything is better than the empty patches of mud found in numerous spots. She also defended Flexi-Pave’s appearance.

“If you’re looking down the street and not looking [straight] down, you don’t see anything,” she said, adding, “Whatever you put down is going to be a patchwork — if it’s just dirt, you’ve got dirt and brick.”

It’s not immediately clear where the objections are coming from. David Maloney of the Historic Preservation Office said in an interview that he has put forward various suggestions to refine the color and material of the Flexi-Pave — which Thomas said the manufacturer has been working to address — but that he doesn’t oppose its installation.

“We understand what they’re trying to accomplish, and we like trees as much as the next person,” said Maloney.

The material will also be reviewed by the local advisory neighborhood commission on Monday and the Old Georgetown Board  the following Thursday.

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

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Georgetown Robbery Rise Sparks Concern

March 19, 2014

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

The Metropolitan Police Department has stepped up activities in Georgetown in response to an increase in robberies this year, Lt. John Hedgecock said in an interview.

The neighborhood has seen six robberies so far this year compared to two during the same time in 2013, according to police data. Suspects had guns in half of the recent incidents, and there was also an assault involving a gun at 10:30 a.m. Friday in the 1400 block of 29th Street.

“There is definitely an uptick in the number of robberies involving a gun, and that was something of concern. … We have deployed the additional resources to address this,” Hedgecock said.

Hedgecock said he couldn’t discuss the specific measures police were putting into place, but added that “some resources you’ll see, some you won’t.”

Residents have expressed the most concern about street robberies, which account for four of the six incidents, Hedgecock said. The others targeted Domino’s Pizza on Prospect Street (where the assailant had a gun) and TD Bank on Wisconsin Avenue (where the suspect did not).

Hedgecock described this year’s street robberies:
■ 1200 block of 27th Street: A lone female pedestrian was attacked by two unarmed female suspects at 6:31 p.m. Jan. 16.
■ 3400 block of N Street: A pedestrian was held up by three suspects, one of whom had a gun, at 2:05 a.m. Jan. 21.
■ 1600 block of 28th Street: A lone female pedestrian was robbed by a gunman at 2 a.m. Feb. 4.
■ 1500 block of 32nd Street: A female pedestrian was robbed by a suspect who jumped out of a car and took her purse at 9:59 a.m. Feb. 16.

(There was also a seventh reported robbery, involving a gun, in the 3400 block of Reservoir Road, but Hedgecock said investigators concluded it was “unfounded.” It continues to appear in official crime stats, however.)

Hedgecock said no one has been charged in any of the Georgetown robberies this year, but he declined to say whether investigators have made progress or linked any of the incidents.

Ed Solomon, chair of the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission’s public safety committee, said in an interview that the police department has traditionally worked well with the community. He added that the neighborhood has a robust array of safety programs from the Georgetown Business Improvement District, Georgetown University and community volunteers, which inspires confidence in area safety.

“One crime is too many, so we are going to be addressing this in the coming weeks and hopefully we’ll see some of those numbers that we’re experiencing now come down,” said Solomon.

To help combat crime, Hedgecock encouraged residents to call 911 to report any suspicious activity, and urged pedestrians to maintain situational awareness. “Everybody’s putting earbuds in their ears and not paying attention to their surroundings,” he said. “The robbers are definitely going to target somebody who’s distracted.”

The lieutenant added that pedestrians need to look out for more than just robberies if they’re using their cellphone or listening to music.

“We’ve had some pretty serious near-misses with people walking across the street with those things and not noticing whether the light is green or red,” he said.

Pamla Moore, president of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, said in an interview that she’s confident in the police department, but called the incidents involving guns “very scary for a neighborhood.” She added that she’s always been careful to stick to well-traveled streets at night, but said she now pays more attention to her fellow pedestrians.

Asked whether the crimes make her think differently of Georgetown, Moore responded: “No, it doesn’t — but I don’t like it.”


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

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