Georgetown Current

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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Heating Plant Wins Fine Arts Nod

May 25, 2017

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

Georgetown’s West Heating Plant project won conceptual approval from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts last Thursday, a surprising reversal of objections from the panel’s Old Georgetown Board subsidiary.

The project envisions demolishing most of the vacant 1948 industrial building at 29th and K streets NW to construct a luxury condo building with about 60 residential units. The proposed design emulates the heating plant’s shape, but a dressier facade would provide windows for the residences. The Old Georgetown Board last month rejected the plans as insufficiently respectful of the historically protected building, but the development team successfully appealed to the Fine Arts Commission.

Commission secretary Tom Luebke said the proposal presents “kind of a funny hybrid” between reconstructing a historic building and starting from scratch. Presented with such a design, he said, the Old Georgetown Board and Commission of Fine Arts went in opposite directions: the former sought a closer reflection of the existing structure, and the latter encouraged greater deviation.

“The commission … expressed support for the general design direction, and also said they thought the design could be more innovative and expressive, and less literal in its reinterpretation of the building,” Luebke told The Current. However, the changes wouldn’t be as dramatic as an earlier design scheme that fully demolished the heating plant building, as the commission supported plans to retain the existing western facade facing 29th Street, according to Luebke.

The decision was a coup for the project, which has won substantial community support for its goal of transforming a blighted industrial site and providing a public park. Richard Levy of the Levy Group, one of the heating plant developers, had said that the Old Georgetown Board’s requested changes would have made the project unsuitable for residential use. Now, he said in an interview, the Commission of Fine Arts decision exceeded even his optimistic projections.

“Did I expect a unanimous agreement? Did I expect it at the first meeting? The answer is no and no,” Levy said. “To say I was shocked would be an understatement.”

Levy said project architect David Adjaye will revise the designs in the coming weeks to reflect the commission’s request for a “bolder” design, and that he can’t speculate on what the architect will bring back. “David certainly feels unshackled,” said Levy.

The project team hasn’t yet pinned down a revised schedule, but Levy said he hopes the new designs can go before the Fine Arts Commission in July and the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board in September. The project needs so many approvals because the heating plant is part of the federally protected Georgetown Historic District and also has further protections as a former federal building. Levy said last week’s decision was a major step toward clearing those hurdles.

“It was great to see a body take seriously the issues that we’ve been grappling with, as well as the solutions that have been carefully thought through,” Levy said. “It’s the first time that there’s been that kind of serious involvement, versus reactive negative reaction, and that was reassuring.”

Luebke, the Fine Arts Commission secretary, called it “extremely rare” for the full commission to reverse the advisory opinion of the Old Georgetown Board. “The advantage of having the Old Georgetown Board review things is they know the historic district very well, the details of it,” he said.

The commission did ask developers for revisions to the public park planned for the heating plant’s former coal yard. Commissioners considered the current proposal overly “gardenesque and sweet” for southern Georgetown, Luebke said, and requested that the landscaping reflect some of the area’s historically “gritty industrial character.”

This article appears in the May 24 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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