By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer
Developers of a long-debated Georgetown condominium project are preparing to break ground in November at the corner of Grace Street and Cecil Place, pending final design and permit approval.
Although the Old Georgetown Board rejected initial proposals as out of character with southern Georgetown’s industrial feel, it ultimately signed off on a concept design last month and OKed further refinements to the design July 5. With that approval, the project by Capital City Real Estate cleared the largest hurdle facing most developments in the federally protected historic neighborhood.
Renderings of the four-level, seven-unit building — which will be built on the site of a small gravel parking lot — show a rectangular shape devoid of the architectural flourishes shown on previous design iterations.
“The concern is to try to come up with a design that was simple and straightforward in the manner of the small-scale industrial buildings in the context of the waterfront, one without occupiable balconies and all the kinds of things that wouldn’t be typical in that historic district,” said Thomas Luebke, secretary to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which includes the Old Georgetown Board.
In approving the concept, said Luebke, the board determined that the latest design met that standard and appropriately blends into the neighborhood.
The latest design was developed by Georgetown architect Dale Overmyer rather than in-house by Capital City; since September 2011, Overmyer and Capital City’s architects have collectively submitted a half-dozen revisions and redesigns of the project.
At the July 2 meeting of the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission, residents and commissioners said they were still disappointed with the size of the building. The commission unanimously recommended against Old Georgetown Board concept approval, saying the plan would dwarf nearby town homes and — with no setback from Cecil Place — create a “tunnel effect” along that narrow roadway.
Developers had said at various meetings that their project would be only one of many larger buildings in that section of Georgetown, which sits just south of the C&O Canal. Neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels said in June that the preponderance of big structures in the area was precisely why a new building shouldn’t be too large: to prevent small row houses from getting overshadowed even more.
“When you walk down there, you’re really getting a taste of what Georgetown was two centuries ago, and it looks like you’re trying to box that in here,” Starrels told developers in June.
But in July, commissioners focused on fine-tuning the approved concept rather than continuing to request large changes.
“Do we want to say anything about the proximity to the street?” asked Starrels.
“I think that’s done,” commissioner Tom Birch replied.
In an email to The Current, Capital City’s Brian Papke wrote that the project will likely require six months of construction following the anticipated late November groundbreaking.
“We are happy to finally be moving forward full-steam ahead with our Cecil/Grace development project,” Papke wrote. “After working numerous rounds with the OGB and neighbors, we have finally settled on a concept design acceptable to the OGB.”
This article appears in the July 25 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer
To Zoning Commission chair Anthony Hood, the Georgetown University campus plan wasn’t perfect. If it were up to him alone, he said at the commission’s meeting Monday, a few things would be different.
In a normal zoning case, commissioners are typically inclined to send applicants back to make tweaks, especially when the case lays out everything a university will do or change on its campus — including enrollment, student conduct policies and development projects — over a number of years.
But in this instance, said Hood, the campus plan that came before the commission was the result of meaningful compromise among the university, its neighbors and city agencies — the sort of dialogue the zoning panel regularly requests in contentious cases, to little avail. “I really don’t even want to touch it,” Hood said, “because this normally doesn’t happen.”
Hood and his colleagues took just 45 minutes to approve the campus plan, which retains the existing undergraduate enrollment cap of 6,675 while promising to house at least 450 more of those students on campus through 2017. The university and community will use the next five years to work out a plan that will keep the school from needing further zoning approvals before 2037, except for details of individual building projects.
“We’ve never done a campus plan in less than an hour ever, ever,” said Hood. “I’m going to be talking about this for a long time, the agreement that was made over at Georgetown.”
University officials and residents of Georgetown and Burleith had clashed for months at Zoning Commission hearings while the panel weighed how much the school could be expected to reduce the impact of students renting homes in the communities. Many nearby residents wanted all or nearly all undergraduates to be housed on campus or in satellite locations; the university introduced measures it said would address the noise and litter problems often attributed to students.
Under the compromise plan, developed in hours of meetings over a series of weeks earlier this year, the university will house 90 percent of undergraduates on campus by fall 2025 — fewer than neighbors had requested, but more than school officials had initially offered. The school will also add on-campus activities designed to encourage on-campus rather than off-campus revelry, and work toward developing a satellite campus.
The plan was jointly submitted last month by the university, the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission, the Citizens Association of Georgetown and the Burleith Citizens Association.
“I will say that I was not expecting this substantial, successful result,” said zoning commissioner Peter May.
“To see the neighborhoods come together like this is just wonderful,” added commissioner Michael Turnbull.
In their own effort to expedite the process, zoning commissioners approved a “further processing” application for an expansion to the Leavey Center that would add 135 beds of housing on top of the new 250 beds that can be accommodated in the existing building.
The university had believed that because of its relatively small scale, the addition wouldn’t need that further processing step. But although zoning commissioners disagreed, they crowded around a single copy of a document the school produced during Monday’s meeting, rather than requesting that the school return to a later meeting.
Zoning commissioners also quickly rejected requests from the Palisades/Foxhall advisory neighborhood commission that the school be prohibited from purchasing property on MacArthur Boulevard and that university traffic not be allowed to turn left onto Canal Road during rush hour.
“We were certainly pleased that the Zoning Commission formally approved the agreement that we worked very hard with our neighbors and the city to develop,” university spokesperson Stacy Kerr said in an interview after the decision, “and we look forward to immediately implementing it.”
This article appears in the July 18 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer
Eleven D.C. neighborhoods may see changes to their parking meter rates within the next nine months as the D.C. Department of Transportation expands its “performance parking” program, which charges varying costs during different parts of the day.
For several years, the city has used performance parking strategies in Columbia Heights in Ward 1 and near Nationals Park in Ward 6. The program is soon set to expand to H Street NE, and, pending support from D.C. Council members and the community, it could expand next year to 10 more neighborhoods, including Dupont Circle, Georgetown and Van Ness.
In an interview, the Transportation Department’s Damon Harvey declined to share the full list of the 10 neighborhoods, which he said is currently being vetted by D.C. Council staff and will likely be publicly available later this month. Officials had identified Dupont, Georgetown and Van Ness as areas under consideration at last month’s council hearing on parking issues; Harvey confirmed that they are among those targeted for performance parking by next spring.
By charging more for on-street parking during a particular neighborhood’s peak demand times, the city can encourage faster turnover for desirable parking spaces and incentivize people to find other ways to get to that neighborhood than driving, said Harvey. The rates and times depend on a particular neighborhood’s “special traffic generator” — for instance, an entertainment district that attracts late-night crowds, or a university that’s busiest during the day.
In addition to raising rates, the agency can charge more per hour the longer a car stays in a particular spot. “We don’t want that curbside taken up by a single vehicle for an extended period of time,” said Harvey. “The price induces turnover.”
Different rates and methods would be used in different neighborhoods, but Harvey said it was too early to talk about the agency’s specific plans anywhere but H Street NE, which is nearing implementation. There, the agency will begin with 75-cent hourly rates before 6:30 p.m. and $2 rates after 6:30 p.m., and later evaluate whether it can make the rates more flexible.
Separately, the agency is also considering changes to the program that restricts parking in front of embassies to diplomatic vehicles during the day, officials said at the June 27 hearing. This review is still in its most preliminary stage, officials said, but the department will consider ways to possibly reduce the number of restricted parking spaces and to charge foreign governments to reserve parts of the street.
The city will work with the U.S. State Department to determine what parking changes might be appropriate, but the agency is “still assessing the entire concept” of making the changes, said spokesperson Monica Hernandez.
The plans to expand performance parking are further along, though officials emphasized that nothing has been finalized. The agency will hold community meetings in the coming months, and input from council members’ ongoing review could also impact the plans.
The agency selected neighborhoods that had “special traffic generators” that presently overload parking capacity, Harvey said. The new parking rates will target major corridors and immediately adjacent side streets to discourage drivers from seeking a cheaper spot in residential areas.
But by and large, Harvey said there have been few complaints about performance parking in Columbia Heights or near the ballpark; it’s worked as intended to boost availability for people who really want to park, while encouraging others to find another way to get to the neighborhood if possible.
“They’re less likely to park on the curbside on those hours [of higher meter rates], but we still provide them with the flexibility to do so,” said Harvey.
The H Street NE performance parking was scheduled to go into place this spring but was delayed because of construction of the streetcar line there, Harvey said. Other construction could also delay other planned implementation beyond the projected nine-month timeframe, he said.
This article appears in the July 11 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.