Georgetown Current

Waterfront Eyed for Bike Upgrades

June 29, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

The roadway and sidewalks adjacent to the Georgetown Waterfront Park are slated for various safety, accessibility and aesthetic upgrades over the next few years, according to plans presented by the Georgetown Business Improvement District at a walkthrough event Saturday.

The business group has been working for the last six months with the D.C. Department of Transportation and Toole Design Group, using a $60,000 grant from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, to develop plans for improved infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists along K and Water streets NW. The project aims to connect the Capital Crescent Trail west of the park with the Rock Creek Trail to the east, resolving what the BID’s Joe Sternlieb calls a “very awkward interface” between the two.

The first of two phases will add a dedicated bike lane from the end of the Capital Crescent Trail down Water Street, improve crosswalks along Water and K streets, and establish an aesthetically appealing trailhead at the western end of Water within the next year. (Water Street is an alternate name for the section of K Street west of 33rd Street NW.) Plans for this “interim” phase also call for a traffic circle turnaround at the intersection of Water and 34th streets NW, in order to indicate to motorists traveling west on Water Street that there’s no outlet farther down that stretch.

Sternlieb estimates that costs for the interim stage could exceed $100,000, but he declined to provide a specific figure until the designs are closer to completion.

The second, “optimum” phase will launch sometime after the District extends a planned streetcar line to Georgetown — which won’t happen for several more years at least. Much of the roadway on K and Water streets NW will be taken up by the streetcar, forcing the bike trail’s move to an expanded pathway in the waterfront park. This phase also enhances the turnaround.

Street parking on Water near the Capital Crescent Trail is most likely to be affected by the plans, but the exact number of spots that will be removed is still in flux, Georgetown BID transportation director Will Handsfield said. Options such as garage parking to replace the affected street parking are being explored, he said.

The existing bike path from the Capital Crescent Trail sends cyclists onto the narrow sidewalk that runs between the park and the roadway. Handsfield said most cyclists avoid that sidewalk altogether, and a dedicated lane on the road will streamline the confusion that riders often face when they exit the trail and arrive in Georgetown.

On the Rock Creek side of the park, the interim phase includes expanded sidewalks at the trail entrance, and the optimum phase includes a pedestrian and bicycle bridge that would hang from the eastbound Whitehurst Freeway off-ramp to southbound I-66 and connect users coming from K Street to the Rock Creek Trail.

Handsfield said motorists traveling on K and Water streets are not required to stop at any point west of Wisconsin Avenue. Bulb-out additions to the sidewalks at intersections will reduce the amount of time pedestrians spend in the street and make them more visible to drivers, he said.

Meanwhile, the turnaround will prevent drivers from clogging the area near the Capital Crescent trailhead, he said. And the handful of attendees at Saturday’s walkthrough saw firsthand that the sidewalks on the southern side of K Street, with periodic poles blocking parts of the way, can be cumbersome to navigate.

Most stakeholders at Saturday’s event agreed that the street under the Whitehurst Freeway needs improvement. “It does seem like this area’s been kind of forgotten,” a resident said during the tour.

But not everyone agrees on the best approach for the area, which involves balancing competing interests among motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. One nearby resident said Saturday that she thinks sidewalks should be a higher priority than parking spaces. Yet all of the current available parking spaces along Water Street were taken during Saturday’s walkthrough, indicating that they’re in high demand.

Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels attended Saturday’s walkthrough and said he liked the plans. But he thinks the funding might be better utilized addressing immediate issues rather than scheduling a project that could be delayed for years if the streetcar takes longer than expected.

In particular, he suggests widening the westbound lanes of K Street between 27th and 29th streets NW and adding more “dramatic lighting” to reduce safety concerns below the Whitehurst. He also thinks reducing available street parking could cause negative impacts.

“We have to, at least, get DDOT to take a step back and make sure that all interests are being weighed more or less evenly when they’re looking at these larger ideas,” Starrels said.

Meanwhile, Erik Meyers of the Potomac Boat Club told The Current at the walkthrough that his group has concerns about losing dedicated parking spaces near the Capital Crescent Trail, as well as the prospect of bringing a high volume of tourists to the improved trailhead. He plans to suggest amendments to the optimum plan as it progresses. “It’s all compromise,” he said.

This article appears in the June 29 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Glover Park Hotel Debuts with Upgrades

June 22, 2016

By Mark Lieberman

Current Staff Writer

The former Savoy Suites in Glover Park reopened as the Kimpton Glover Park Hotel last week, boasting renovated accommodations and a new Italian restaurant, Casolare.

Kimpton Hotel Group took over management of the former Savoy Suites at 2505 Wisconsin Ave. NW in April 2015, with the goal of adding to the group’s D.C. portfolio of 10 hotels by incorporating many of its signature services into the Glover Park location.

Internationally regarded artist Michele Oka Doner had a hand in designing the hotel, including the mural on the side of the building — inspired by the 3,000 acres of parkland donated to the city by Charles Glover, for whom the neighborhood is named.

Hotel manager Jennifer Harris said the feeling of the building is “very light and airy and crisp, just like if you were walking through the park.” The suburban atmosphere of Glover Park makes for a pleasing blend, Harris said.

New amenities include a partnership with City Bikes for guest rentals; telescopes in the rooms to allow views of downtown; a nightly evening wine service with entertainment on Wednesdays; a custom tea blend crafted by local producer Capital Teas; and periodic activities for kids, like a caricature artist or a photo booth. The 2,000-square-foot gym will be open to guests and local residents.

Area residents will get 15 percent off when staying at the hotel by using the discount code “glover,” said Matt Wexler of Foxhall Partners, representing the developer at Thursday’s meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3B (Glover Park, Cathedral Heights). Wexler noted that the hotel’s community room, kitchen and gym have all been improved.

On the Glover Park listserv, ANC 3B chair Jackie Blumenthal said she’s excited by the prospect of a hotel making a concerted effort to fit in with the neighborhood. “We should be pleased to have our community recognized by the hotel’s name and be sure to patronize it,” Blumenthal wrote.

Meanwhile, the 156-seat Southern Italian restaurant Casolare will be open to the public and for room service at the hotel beginning in July. Restaurant owner Michael Schlow previously worked with Kimpton to open The Riggsby in Dupont Circle’s Carlyle Hotel last year. The group reached out to him about collaborating again in Glover Park. Schlow said he eagerly committed, sitting down for meals in the neighborhood and surrounding areas to get a sense of possible voids in the local restaurant scene.

He noticed a significant presence of Italian food, including nearby restaurants like Black Salt and Al Dente — but none of them offered the Southern Italian flavors he often craves. The new restaurant does just that, with an emphasis on seafood, fresh vegetables, citrus and olive oil-based foods.

Schlow said developing that concept proved a challenge in a hotel that doesn’t share the Southern Italian theme. He also wanted to ensure that the restaurant stays away from mere niche appeal, reaching for a customer base as broad as possible, including both hotel guests and neighborhood residents.

The restaurant’s “rustic” interior — with a centrally displayed pizza oven, handmade tiles and woodwork finishing, as well as artwork designed by Schlow’s wife, Adrienne — aims for a balance of refinement and broad appeal, he said.

Inspirations for dishes range from Capri, Sardinia, Positano, Sorrento and Naples, among others, Schlow said. Seasonal changes will accommodate fresh vegetables. “There’d be something for everybody,” Schlow said. “I don’t think anybody would walk in there and say there’s nothing to eat.”

In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, Casolare will offer a robust smoothie and pressed-juice program, a wine menu largely comprised of Italian specialties, and catering for private events.

“I’m a chef by training, but I’ll be the first one to tell you I think service is more important than food,” Schlow said. “I’m just really excited to be in the neighborhood.”

This article appears in the June 22 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Burleith to Consider Historic Designation

June 15, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

The small residential neighborhood of Burleith, just north of Georgetown, is at a crossroads, residents say. Students from the nearby university are moving out, and investors are taking notice. The community is divided on how to move forward, but some believe more protections might be necessary to preserve the neighborhood’s historic character.

Following up on an initial discussion in February, the Burleith Citizens Association will explore the possibility of historic designation for the neighborhood at a town hall meeting tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. at the S&R Foundation Studios, 1801 35th St. NW.

Historic districts have stronger protections on pop-ups and other front-facing development than neighborhoods without that classification. In particular, changes to anything visible from the street or other public areas receive design scrutiny for compatibility with the area’s historic character.

The citizens association first explored the feasibility of creating a Burleith historic district in 2005, according to Lenore Rubino, the group’s Historic Designation Committee co-chair. At the time, the possibility of up to $35,000 in application fees was “prohibitive,” she said in an interview.

But within the past year, some neighbors began to express concerns about a spate of redevelopments that brought increased height and density to the community’s historic row homes.

“We’ve heard from quite a few residents at this point about being unsettled by the redevelopments,” citizens association president Eric Langenbacher told The Current.

And the historic designation process would now cost closer to $25,000, thanks to a now-completed Historic Preservation Office project to catalog individual homes in an online database, which the citizens association would have had to do itself a decade ago.

One impetus for the change stems from the Georgetown University campus plan, according to the association. As the university created more on-campus housing for students, more properties in Burleith opened up, and investors took a renewed interest in the neighborhood. That trend seems likely to continue, as Georgetown just last week approved an early draft of its 2017-2037 campus plan calling for continued investment in housing options that get students out of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Upon noticing the effects of this trend, Rubino’s committee last year first explored the possibility of zoning challenges, but current zoning regulations permit all of the development that has taken place so far. And new zoning regulations going into effect later this fall discourage zoning overlays, which have previously helped neighborhoods manage maximum height.

Applying for a historic district proved the most viable remaining option to consider, Rubino said, noting that her committee isn’t necessarily for or against the possibility — but simply exploring the pros and cons at this point.

The association has already heard from residents worried that such designation would prevent them from making desired changes to their homes. Langenbacher and his colleagues plan to dispel such concerns. “It’s a way of managing the overall look of the community and letting the community have a say, without really placing a lot of restrictions, as nationally designated districts do,” Historic Designation Committee co-chair Carol Baume said.

The city currently contains 32 neighborhoods designated historic, according to Office of Planning spokesperson Edward Giefer. The application process can take more than a year, he said. Most recently, the city awarded historic designation to Grant Circle in Ward 4 and expanded the designation area for Capitol Hill in 2015. Burleith has never applied for historic designation before, Giefer said.

“Well-documented applications backed up with significant community outreach and broad community support will result in designations if the case has been made that the neighborhood meets the designation criteria,” Giefer said. “Proposals that do not receive broad community support generally do not lead to applications for designation.”

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) member Ed Solomon told The Current he’s intrigued by the prospect of historic designation for Burleith. He also wants to assure concerned residents that the process would not place as many restrictions as are currently in place in Georgetown, which were established by Congress prior to the adoption of local preservation regulations.

“I believe that more education has to be done in the community to let people know what’s involved in Burleith becoming a historic district,” Solomon said. “What they know now is what they see in Georgetown. This would be a little different.”

Baume notes that new restrictions would focus on what’s visible from the street — generally not affecting construction and additions in the rear of homes.

The citizens association aims to set the community feedback process in motion quickly, as the neighborhood’s high proportion of rentals means more investor activity could be incoming. Another community meeting in September will follow the one on Thursday, and the association is currently accepting monetary donations for the effort.

“We really do want to hear people’s concerns so we can address them and find out answers for them so they can make an informed decision,” Baume said.

This article appears in the June 15 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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