Georgetown Current

Bridge Hazard Still Forcing Trail Closure

June 15, 2017

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

The trail beneath the Foundry Branch Bridge in Glover Archbold Park near Foxhall has been closed for the past 10 months, as plans have stalled to resolve safety concerns by repairing the deteriorating structure. Meanwhile, the agencies involved in the site appear to differ on its future.

The National Park Service — which controls Glover Archbold as part of its Rock Creek Park portfolio — closed a quarter-mile portion of the north-south trail last August, from the intersection of Foxhall and Canal roads NW north to where a side trail connects to P Street. Since then, signs posted at the trail entrance near Foxhall Road continue to warn that the increasing instability of a long-abandoned trolley bridge that crosses above part of the trail “poses a safety hazard to park visitors.”

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which owns the bridge, announced plans last fall to reopen the trail by spring 2017, after conducting emergency bridge repairs and building a covered walkway to protect the Park Service trail underneath.

But none of that work has taken place. Rather, Metro has now indicated to the D.C. Historic Preservation Office and other involved agencies that it hopes to demolish the bridge, according to D.C. Office of Planning spokesperson Edward Giefer.

However, other agencies hope that plans for the bridge — a contributing landmark within the Glover Archbold Park Historic District — will go in a different direction, Giefer said.

“The DC State Historic Preservation Office has been working along with the NPS and DDOT to encourage WMATA to stabilize the trestle and transfer it to DDOT so that it can be used as a bicycle/pedestrian trail,” Giefer wrote in an email. “We are not aware that WMATA has made a final decision.”

The National Park Service is still working with Metro on constructing the covered walkway under the bridge, according to Park Service spokesperson Dana Dierkes. That project is expected to be completed this summer, she said.

Transit authority spokesperson Richard Jordan declined to provide details on plans or a timeline for work on the bridge, stressing that there have been no final decisions.

“We are working on a design solution as a temporary measure,” Jordan wrote in an email. “We will also continue to work with all interested parties to develop an appropriate long term solution.”

Jordan also declined to account for construction delays, but added that “various stakeholders are involved in discussions on how to proceed.”

A representative from the D.C. Department of Transportation, which owns the trolley trail portion west of the bridge, did not provide comment in time for publication.

The trolley line dates back to the 1900s, when city dwellers could ride alongside the Potomac River to and from the Glen Echo Amusement Park in Maryland. Much of the former route — which stopped carrying trolleys in 1960 — has become a narrow pedestrian trail, but the Foundry Branch Bridge serves as an eastern stopping point. The Metro-owned stretch east of the bridge, leading to Georgetown University, is overgrown with tree branches and weeds several feet high.

Palisades resident Brett Young has watched with dismay in recent years as Foundry Branch Bridge has fallen further into disrepair. Back in 2014, Young pushed Metro to commission an architectural study of the structure. The transit authority obliged that June, with architecture firm Structura concluding that a host of necessary replacement and repair efforts would cost approximately $2 million, while a temporary stabilization would cost around $800,000.

“It is recommended that a restoration program be implemented within the next three years to address noted structural concerns and to maintain the stability of the framing system and limit further deterioration,” the report reads, adding that until that happens “the structure should be regularly monitored for any changes from its present condition.”

On Sunday, Young showed a reporter several sizable wooden planks that had fallen recently from the bridge — and could have injured someone walking underneath at the wrong moment. The most rapid deterioration happens during snowstorms, Young said. Other curiosities at the site include a bicycle lodged in a tree atop the bridge.

Young has long floated the possibility of converting the three-mile trolley right-of-way from Georgetown to Galena Place in the Palisades into a 30-foot-wide trail with separate lanes for pedestrians and bicyclists, rather than a narrow path that’s periodically interrupted by impassable abandoned rail bridges. But given that agencies don’t yet agree on short-term plans, his proposal will likely have to wait a while.

Meanwhile, the Glover Archbold trail closure below the old bridge has not been rigorously enforced. During a visit Sunday afternoon, several joggers breezed right past the broken fence, not looking up at the bridge as they went. The signs aren’t completely ineffective, though — one pedestrian walked up to the fence, snapped a few pictures of the bridge with her smartphone and then turned on her heel.

Upon learning of the fence breach when The Current inquired about it on Monday, the Park Service sent a maintenance crew to repair the fence, Dierkes said. The fence was also repaired “a few weeks ago,” Dierkes said — meaning it has been broken several times since the trail closed.

This article appears in the June 14 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Prospect Residents Wary of Condo Plan’s Construction Impact

June 8, 2017

By Cuneyt Dil
Current Correspondent

While a five-story condo project next to the “Exorcist Steps” in Georgetown trudged through the design review process last week, neighbors described a potential horror scenario that construction could bring: a landslide for homes directly uphill.

Half a dozen residents who own homes on Prospect Street, directly above the planned condo development at 3601-3607 M St. NW, say excavation work could disrupt the foundation of the steep hill that offers homes expansive views of the Potomac River and the Key Bridge. They raised the same concern about a previous, similar project at the site, which was approved but ultimately shelved. 

Robert Neubauer of Neubauer Consulting Engineers wrote in a 2014 letter to Prospect Street neighbors that much of the surrounding area was built on top of fill soil, and as a result is “extremely susceptible to vibrations.” He believes excavation at the site, currently an Exxon station, is a “precarious situation.”

“Removing the soil at the base of the steep slope, say, to install an underground parking garage, runs a significant risk of the slope soil failing,” Neubauer wrote.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) voted 6-0 last Tuesday to criticize the project’s design as well as its potential impact on Prospect Street homes.

Developers of the site, led by Altus Realty Partners — which acquired the site in fall 2016 from EastBanc and retained the original project team’s architect — pushed back against concerns of the project’s impact to homes on Prospect Street and its design.

The proposed building features a glassy exterior with light gray brick, designed by Amar Sen of the New York-based Handel Architects. The project team hopes to break ground in 2018 and plans to work with Prospect residents to address their concerns, according to Al Troup of Altus. The project requires no zoning relief, but like all projects in the neighborhood, it does need Old Georgetown Board approval.

Troup said the project team has received geotechnical consulting from Schnabel Engineering and that there are a number of concepts to protect the hill, primarily with the construction of a retaining wall. (He declined to release the engineering firm’s findings.) “We’d like to be good neighbors, and we’ve offered several remedies to stabilize their hillside,” Troup said.

Luke Russert, a former NBC News correspondent who lives on Prospect Street, said neighbors around him have been concerned about development downhill for years. “We were always worried about what could destabilize this hillside,” he said.

Russert and several other neighbors voiced concerns at last Monday’s ANC 2E meeting. Among the opponents was University of Maryland professor and Washington Post writer Roger Lewis, who dinged the entire building design as out of scale for the site. “To me, this is a site that demands a more iconic building,” he said.

The ANC 2E resolution prescribed that developers and neighbors “negotiate in good faith” to address any structural issues.

Altus plans to return to the Old Georgetown Board in July or September after further alterations to add more symmetry to the roof deck, which will include a pool and mechanical equipment.

This article appears in the June 7 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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GU Hospital Plans Head to Zoning Review

June 1, 2017

By Katherine Saltzman
Current Correspondent

The long-anticipated expansion of MedStar Georgetown University Hospital will be the topic at a Zoning Commission hearing next week amid broad support for the ambitious plans.

The hospital’s new medical/surgical pavilion would cover about 450,000 square feet of the 3800 Reservoir Road NW property, connecting to the east side of the existing hospital building on the site of surface parking lots. The project would include 156 private patient rooms, 32 state-of-the-art operating rooms, outdoor green space, a rooftop helipad and a 644-space, three-level underground parking garage.

Despite the magnitude of the project, it has won support from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) and other key stakeholders, due to compromises established during an extensive Georgetown Community Partnership process. Joe Gibbons, chair of ANC 2E and a partnership member, praised Georgetown University and MedStar officials for ensuring that residents’ and students’ opinions were factored into the plans.

“Everyone is involved,” Gibbons said. “Everyone gets a voice and a seat a table.”

The Office of Planning also chimed in on Friday with enthusiastic support for the zoning application. “The project proposes to manage transportation demand, improve community relations, increase sustainability and energy efficiency, and improve campus open space and student spaces, while allowing the hospital to meet and improve their programmatic and space needs,” the agency’s report states.

The community partnership and the Planning Office had encouraged the Zoning Commission to approve the hospital’s plans last fall, but the Zoning Commission elected to delay consideration to allow a more thorough review after approving the university’s 2017-2036 campus plan in December. The commission did approve the general outline of the hospital development as part of the campus plan, and on June 8 it will review the specific details of the design and impact.

“We look forward to the opportunity to present our zoning application at the upcoming hearing,” MedStar Georgetown spokesperson Karen Alcorn wrote in an email to The Current. “We have enjoyed working closely and collaboratively with the community and our University partners in the planning process to help us bring this much needed, state-of-the-art facility to fruition.”

Hospital officials have said that construction will take three to four years once the Zoning Commission grants its approval. According to the hospital’s zoning filings, patient care will continue normally in the existing 1946 building during construction and satellite parking will be available until the new underground garage is ready.

A detailed construction management plan, developed through the Georgetown Community Partnership, promises a series of key points: “Complete transparency of all information and data; clear lines of accountability and points of contact; communication procedures and methods that maximize effectiveness for the community; a comprehensive staging plan that minimizes community impact and traffic; construction workers brought to the site via shuttles and no workers parking in the community; truck traffic reduction strategies using flaggers and wireless technology, eliminating idling of trucks on Reservoir Road and in the vicinity; off-site parking to replace the loss of on-site parking during construction; noise, trash and vermin mitigation strategies; and repairing and resurfacing any part of Reservoir Road or other roads within the community damaged by construction traffic.”

The Zoning Commission has the authority to set its own conditions of approval for the hospital plan, as MedStar needs approval to operate in a residential zone and to waive several detailed regulations.

The project also needed design approval from the Old Georgetown Board because it’s located within the Georgetown Historic District, and won approval in September after multiple design revisions.

This article appears in the May 31 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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