Georgetown Current

Heating Plant Plan Faces ANC Questions

February 3, 2016

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

The planned West Heating Plant redevelopment is facing lingering concerns over demolition of a building within the Georgetown Historic District and the scale of its replacement.

The Levy Group and the Georgetown Co. are hoping to convert the vacant industrial complex at 29th and K streets NW into a new 10-story luxury condo building and an adjacent public park. They’re hoping to tear down the monolithic heating plant and replace it with a similarly shaped but slightly smaller building with monumental architecture designed to fit in with the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Memorial.

At Monday’s meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith), most comments about the plans were favorable. The current building has few fans aside from ardent preservationists, and developers say it’s structurally unsound. Many have lavished praise on the proposed replacement designed by renowned architect David Adjaye.

But for all of the plaudits expressed by residents and individual commissioners, though, ANC 2E’s two written resolutions aren’t glowing.

“We join with many who seek a design that is both architecturally inspired and sympathetic to Georgetown’s setting,” reads the first resolution, regarding an Old Georgetown Board application for the new building. But aside from saying that “ANC 2E appreciates the evolution of the design for the structure” and looks forward “to the continuing review and the development of the design,” the unanimous resolution offers no praise for the current proposal.

“The massing of the building and the height of the structure are inappropriate to the location and out of scale with the historic district of Georgetown,” the resolution reads. Suggesting that the new building’s height shouldn’t exceed those nearby — which are six stories tall — it continues: “The proposed scale and massing present an oversized structure dominating the Four Seasons Hotel to the north and looming over the structures to the west.”

Commissioners also raised concerns about possible light pollution due to the proposed size and number of windows, and asked the board to ensure that a large building wouldn’t impose upon Rock Creek or the C&O Canal, which meet at the property.

The resolution does praise the park south of the building, which would sit one story above ground atop a planned parking garage.

The commission’s second resolution, adopted on a divided 6-2 vote, promotes a “pathway for analysis” for the various historic preservation authorities who must decide whether to grant the developers’ request to demolish the existing heating plant. Although it doesn’t directly state any opposition to a raze, the resolution asks various questions about the appropriateness of the demolition. “We do not suggest an answer to any of these; we simply note the issue,” said commission chair Ron Lewis.

Commissioner Tom Birch countered that the group risked “opening old wounds” about already debated topics. Birch was one of the two commissioners who opposed the resolution on the raze.

In an interview yesterday, Richard Levy of the Levy Group said he couldn’t speak to “the politics of the ANC” but that the commission’s votes were a positive step overall.

“That’s a long way from where we were two years ago,” he said. “They could have just come out and said they oppose demolition as a bad precedent, and they didn’t do that.”

Regarding the height issue, Levy said some compromise might be possible. “They did not reject the design — they suggested modifications which will get discussed as we go forward,” he said.

He also noted the support from other community groups, including the Citizens Association of Georgetown and the Friends of the Georgetown Waterfront Park.

The project team has two active proposals for the heating plant site: the new building, which would have a smaller footprint than the current building and setbacks at the upper stories; and an iteration that preserves more of the shell of the existing building and retains its size and shape. Levy said Monday that his team strongly prefers the former option; the citizens association echoed that position.

The building would include about 60 to 70 luxury Four Seasons Residences condominiums, priced at the top of the market at the time the project is completed, Levy has said. In a tweak since the plans were presented in December, new metal railings have been added to the balconies to give the building a more residential feel.

On Monday, there was one vocal opponent to the project in general: Ray Kukulski, a former chair of the commission. “People come here to see history, not to see buildings that they can see anywhere back home,” he said.

Commissioners rejected that argument. “If we were to build a Federal-style building here, it would be a facade and we wouldn’t know the difference between the new building and one that’s actually historic,” said Jeff Jones.

“I think it would be to the credit of Georgetown if we were to receive a really fine example of contemporary architecture to add to the menu of architecture that we offer,” added Birch.

The project’s next step will be an Old Georgetown Board review, which will take place on Thursday.

This article appears in the Feb. 3 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


Click here to share your thoughts.


Local Businesses Brush Off Blizzard to Serve Neighbors

January 27, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

Justin Anderson’s tiny basement apartment in Tenleytown was filled with four of his colleagues on Friday night. One person slept on a futon, another on a couch. Two more rested on air mattresses.

“It’s not the biggest in the world, but we make it work,” said Anderson, manager of Osman & Joe’s Steak ’n Egg Kitchen at 4700 Wisconsin Ave. NW, which promises 24-hour service in all kinds of weather.

Steak ’n Egg was one of numerous local businesses that kept their doors open during the weekend blizzard that blanketed the city under 18 to 24 inches of snow. Anderson’s colleagues stayed with him overnight so they could make the mile trek to the restaurant for work.

The tight squeeze paid off, Anderson said — as of early Saturday afternoon, during the height of the snowfall, between 40 and 80 paying customers had already come in, ranging from snowplow operators to the usual types of passerby. Even the looming threat of a power outage (which never materialized) didn’t faze Anderson, who noted that the grill and other appliances don’t require electricity.

The restaurant has built a reputation in the community for reliable, consistent service, and Anderson wasn’t willing to let a snowstorm ruin that. “As long as we can see, we can work,” Anderson said.

The story was similar at Glen’s Garden Market at 2001 S St. NW in Dupont Circle. Owner Danielle Vogel told The Current she was manning the cash register all day on Saturday alongside four other employees who live near the store.

Some of the market’s prepared food options had to be reduced because of the storm, but brunch continued to be served and groceries sold. The store’s Shaw location was also open on Saturday, with only the three managers behind the counter, Vogel said.

In Dupont, Vogel walked to work from her home a block away, knee-deep in snow. As far as she could tell, her store was the only one on her block to open.

“Everyone’s really happy that we’re open,” she said. “It kind of feels like a ski lodge.”

Over by the National Zoo, the cake pop joint Baked By Yael, 3000 Connecticut Ave. NW, briefly turned into an actual ski lodge. Owner Yael Krigman said one customer, a woman, bought a few cake pops to go and then headed out of the store — on skis.

The snowstorm cut into the small pastry shop’s sales, which have been booming thanks to the public debut of panda cub Bei Bei at the Zoo. But Starbucks down the street was closed on Saturday, so Krigman snapped up customers looking for a hot beverage.

Like Anderson and other employees who made it to work, Krigman hoofed it — her home is a few blocks away.

“It was not that bad. To be honest, I was just really excited about being able to open,” Krigman said. “It didn’t really bother me.”

But walking-distance proximity wasn’t a factor for every business owner who decided to stay open. William Kim, owner of the Mac Market convenience store and deli at 5185 MacArthur Blvd. NW in the Palisades, lives in Reston and kept his store open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Driving home each day was impossible — Kim tried to take his vehicle out to the road at one point but got stuck in a snowdrift, his tires barely touching the ground. For both Friday and Saturday nights, he slept on a small bed he’d previously installed in the store’s office for such purposes.

For Kim, there was no question about staying open. He said he hasn’t closed Mac Market in the 11 years he’s owned it, and had no plans to break that streak for this storm. Customers came in on all three days, knowing the market would be open without having to check.

“The neighbors know that I’m here,” said Kim. “They get used to it and they expect me to be here.”

Meanwhile, some newer businesses used the snowstorm as an opportunity to get more acquainted with their neighbors.

In Georgetown at 1525 Wisconsin Ave. NW, employees at the Italian deli and wine and beer shop Via Umbria stayed at the nearby Georgetown Inn on Friday night so they could get to work safely on Saturday morning.

Via Umbria debuted in its current location two weeks before Thanksgiving, so this blizzard was the store’s first opportunity to establish itself. “We weren’t sure what today was going to look like, but we wanted to make sure we could experience it,” said Lindsey Menard, the store’s hospitality and events manager.

Despite the dangerous weather conditions, Menard said she had a steady stream of customers on Saturday, as well as a large crowd on Friday night, during the first blast of snowfall.

“It’s been really interesting today. It’s fun because we get to see a lot of the neighbors who would usually be working or busy today,” Menard told The Current on Saturday.

The nearby juice and taco bar Jaco, 1614 Wisconsin Ave. NW, is even newer, having opened just two weeks ago. Owner Chris Luceri said two colleagues stayed with him at his nearby home in order to stay open and try to lure new business to the fledgling store.

“We had nothing better to do,” Luceri said. “We figured we’d give it a shot, and so far it’s definitely paid off.”

Luceri says he also gave out free hot chocolate to visiting patrons.

This article appears in the Jan. 27 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


Click here to share your thoughts.


City Studies Dangerous Intersections, Including Wisconsin and M

January 20, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

The D.C. Department of Transportation is working to research and enact improvements for five of the city’s most dangerous, accident-prone intersections, including two in Northwest, according to a new report released Thursday.

The report gathers information from site visits of the intersections arranged by Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh in August and September. The two Northwest intersections are Wisconsin Avenue and M Street and 14th and U streets; the other three sites are located in Northeast.

Cheh, who chairs the council’s transportation committee, selected the five intersections from a list designated “high-crash” by the transportation agency. The report also includes data on crashes at the intersections from Jan. 1, 2012, to Aug. 1, 2015.

Cheh said she organized the site visits with the goal of making the issues at each intersection easy to understand, and to facilitate a dialogue between the government and the public. In previous years, she said, she got the impression the D.C. government made promises to improve traffic safety but didn’t deliver on them.

“The sense was that maybe we don’t focus in particular in a way that allows us to have specific recommendations and actions and a plan,” Cheh told The Current.

The Wisconsin and M intersection, in the heart of Georgetown, serves as a hub for private vehicles, buses, pedestrians and bicyclists. Between 2012 and Cheh’s site visit, 36 injuries were reported at the intersection from pedestrians and bicyclists alike, including two disabling injuries, according to the Transportation Department report. The intersection is also notorious for a 2005 fatality, when volunteer police officer Joe Pozell was struck by a car while directing traffic.

Causes for the congestion and confusion at the Georgetown intersection include quick intervals between signal switches; frequent crossing outside the crowded crosswalk lines; and pedestrians running for buses along both streets. Multiple instances of cars running red lights and drivers becoming confused at the turning options also contribute to the high risk, the report says.

The document lays out some potential improvements, like temporary curb extensions, expanded crosswalk boundaries, red light cameras and further deployment of traffic control officers.

Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans said in an interview that he jogs through that intersection every day and often drives there as well.

“The biggest issue as a driver is when you’re going south on Wisconsin. It’s virtually impossible,” Evans said. “They have people walking at the same time as the right signal. It’s so crowded that you can’t make the right turn.”

Evans said he thinks the recently installed left-turn signal on the eastbound side of M Street has helped. He also supports the idea of more traffic control officers.

Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels said the crosswalk has been problematic for many years. He believes traffic control officers and red light cameras are particularly critical as solutions. “They do help in calming things down and making things safer for pedestrians,” Starrels said.

Meanwhile, the 14th and U intersection is the crossroad between two bustling commercial and nightlife-centric corridors. Two fatalities have occurred in this location since 2012. Half of the more than 200 collisions at the site happened between 7:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m., the report says.

In terms of solutions, the intersection will be part of the $10 million 14th Street streetscape project, which will outfit the corridor with new lights, sidewalks, ramps, traffic signals and pavement. The project is set to begin construction this fall, according to the report.

The document also lists several potential short-term fixes that will be discussed during the next couple of months and implemented by May. Options include exploring photo enforcement of traffic violations; improving enforcement of bike lanes to prevent errant vehicle parking; and evaluating the potential for installing high-intensity activated crosswalk, or HAWK, signals in the area.

Cheh’s office arranged the intersection visits with representatives at various levels of D.C. government: Metropolitan Police Department officers, the Department of Transportation, advisory neighborhood commissioners, D.C. Council staff, and advisory councils for pedestrians and bicyclists. Members of the public were also invited to join in and share the issues they faced while crossing.

“It was this exchange of information back and forth,” Cheh said. “It was really very valuable, and I think people really enjoyed the opportunity.”

In the coming months, Cheh said she’ll do her best to keep the public abreast of agencies’ progress on specific reforms at hand. In the past, she said, recommendations without in-person site visits have tended to be too general.

“People don’t become mobilized unless they have a specific plan,” Cheh said. “That’s what I was hoping for with this. And so I’m optimistic.”

The other intersections the report identifies are 1st Street and Massachusetts Avenue NE; Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue NE; and Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road NE. The full report can be viewed at tinyurl.com/DDOTReport.

This article appears in the Jan. 20 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


Click here to share your thoughts.