Georgetown Current

Dock Plan Would Aid C&O Kayakers, Canoeists

April 16, 2014

By Kat Lucero
Current Staff Writer

Kayaks and canoes may become common sights along Georgetown’s stretch of the C&O Canal. The Georgetown Business Improvement District and the National Park Service are evaluating locations along the waterway to install a dock, which would allow people to easily transfer their small boats to and from the water.

“The water sits down pretty deep from the edge. … Right now there’s no easy way to get down to the canal,” said John Noel, a spokesperson for the Park Service, which manages the C&O Canal National Historical Park. “That’s the hope of this project — to install a dock that would be more easily accessible for kayakers and canoeists.”

One of the sites being considered is near the vicinity of Fish Market Square, located south of and below Dean & DeLuca, a high-end grocery store at Potomac and M streets. The proposed area offers one of the few access points between the canal and the main commercial strip of M Street.

“We’re very focused on doing things to enhance the use of the canal,” said Joe Sternlieb, CEO of the business group. The canal has been losing visitors, and a boat that once carried them up and down the waterway no longer operates. So the BID has been brainstorming with the Park Service for more than a year on ways to revitalize this well-preserved waterway, which contributed to the commercial growth of Georgetown in the 19th century. The group included work on the C&O Canal in its “Georgetown 2028” plan, which aims to enhance the commercial district over the next 14 years.

The dock was “one of the many ideas that came out of the Georgetown 2028 planning process that we liked,” said Sternlieb.

Kayaking and canoeing are popular farther north, in the more wooded parts of the canal. There are no functional docks, but the Park Service has created access points. “We’ve put some steps in, for example, and created some paths that kind of wind down to the edge of the water where [people] can easily put their canoe or kayak in,” said Noel.

In Georgetown, these activities are permitted in the canal, but access to the water is a hurdle. Boating is popular nearby on the Potomac River, where facilities such as Thompson Boat Center rent out watercraft. Sternlieb said the BID plans to see if these vendors will allow customers to carry their rental equipment to the canal, which could be an alternative when boating in the river is not advisable. “Sometimes, it can be a beautiful day and the canal is peaceful, [but] the Potomac is rushing out after a storm,” he said. “I’m hopeful that people will figure out ways to get access to the recreational craft even if they don’t have their own. We’ll also help facilitate those conversations.”

The Park Service first approached the BID a few weeks ago about installing an existing but unused dock in the canal. The business group then held a meeting on the proposal, which drew a positive reception from neighboring businesses, said Sternlieb.

Officials recently discovered that the existing dock wouldn’t work in Georgetown, because it was designed for larger boats. The BID is now looking at building a new one, which would require a design review by the Old Georgetown Board.

Ron Lewis, chair of the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission, told The Current that the dock “could be a lively and fitting use for the canal if it’s done well.”

This article appears in the April 16 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Board Calls for Tweaking Exxon Condo Plans

April 9, 2014

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

A plan for condos at the site of the Key Bridge Exxon station is moving closer to fruition, but the Old Georgetown Board continues to seek architectural refinements.

EastBanc is proposing 26 to 28 luxury condo units in a five-story, 50-foot-tall building at 3601-3607 M St., in a project dubbed “Hillside.” The board had previously signed off on the size of the building despite community objections, but members requested revisions to architectural details.

The board — part of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts — reviewed the company’s latest designs last Thursday. “The preferred scheme that was presented last week was a move in the right direction,” but members felt it still needs some tweaks, commission secretary Tom Luebke said in an interview.

At that Thursday meeting, the board also informally supported rough plans for an addition at Hyde-Addison Elementary School and requested a revised design for a mixed-use project proposed at 3000 M St., according to Luebke.

On the Exxon project, Luebke said the board suggested revising the first floor to make the upper levels look less like they’re “floating,” as well as additional vertical design elements. “It feels like it’s an office building or an embassy, and it needs to feel more residential,” he said.

The board also asked EastBanc to reduce the height of its rooftop mechanical equipment so that it will have less impact on the Prospect Street homes that overlook the M Street property. Residents there, and the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission, had unsuccessfully petitioned the board to allow only a 40-foot building.

EastBanc’s Mary Mottershead wrote in an email to The Current that the company doesn’t mind revising its architecture. “Design is subjective, and OGB always has good comments,” she wrote. “Right now we don’t really see any downsides per se to the direction from OGB as long as we and they continue to narrow down the search for an acceptable design.”

However, revising the roof structures would force EastBanc to seek a variance from the Board of Zoning Adjustment — a three- to six-month process that Mottershead said could affect the project’s timeline. The company has said previously it hopes to break ground in spring 2015, with construction lasting 20 to 22 months.

In addition to sightlines, Prospect Street residents have also raised concerns about the project’s impact on the retaining wall that holds their homes in place. The Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission has urged EastBanc to pay attention to this issue.

On Hyde-Addison Elementary, Luebke said the board was comfortable with the idea of a new building at the center of the school property. The feedback will let project architects fully refine this approach and return to the board for further approvals, Luebke said.

The addition proposed is a three-story, 25,000-square-foot structure — connecting to the existing school buildings via hallways — with the bottom level below grade, comprising a gym, cafeteria, media center and classroom space. D.C. Public Schools officials cited the expansion as a reason to enlarge the boundaries for Hyde-Addison as part of a newly released city plan aimed at relieving crowding at nearby schools.

Construction of an addition at the 3219 O St. school was slated to begin this summer, but faced delays after the Old Georgetown Board rejected a previous proposal that would have buried the new space under the school’s playground.

At 3000 M St., the site of the closed Latham Hotel and vacant retail space, developer SB-Urban hopes to construct new storefronts and turn the hotel building into about 150 “micro” apartment units with shared amenity space. Luebke said the board supported the general idea but had concerns about the style and scale of some of the plans.

In particular, the board said the proposed second story of retail was too tall and “top-heavy,” according to Luebke. “It’s putting two stories in an area that’s usually three or four,” he said.

The board also criticized an M Street “tower” structure and the 30th Street “arcade” entrance, both of which are dominated by glass in the SB-Urban plans. And according to Luebke, board members also said the company should consider “a more bold reworking” of the staid brick hotel building, which is mostly untouched in the SB-Urban proposal above the ground level.

Board members did support the proposal to demolish and replace the M Street retail space, even though they were not comfortable with SB-Urban’s specific designs for it, Luebke added.

This article appears in the April 9 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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‘Micro’ Apartments Eyed for Latham Site

April 2, 2014

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

A local developer hopes to convert Georgetown’s Latham Hotel into a vibrant mixed-use building with 150 “micro” apartment units, new retail space and no off-street parking.

The Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission said Monday that it supports SB-Urban’s broader vision for the property at 3000 M St. But commissioners said the developer needs to tone down the modern facades it’s proposing on the street level, including a glassy 32-foot-tall retail structure that would stretch along 140 feet of M Street.

“Red brick is the vocabulary of that building, and I think what goes on M Street should respect that vocabulary,” said commission chair Ron Lewis. “I would expect something like this in Friendship Heights — that’s more or less the storefront vernacular there, with massive masonry and very large windows — but it’s really not the vernacular of M Street.”

As proposed, SB-Urban would tear down the 27-foot-tall retail building that currently sits on the M Street side of the property — a red-brick structure with a pitched roof above two stories. Plans call for replacing this with a taller building with gray brick and large windows. The company would also like to drastically overhaul the 30th Street entrance to include much larger windows and an angular shape that stands out from the staid seven-story hotel.

Project architect Patrick Burkhart said the design reflects the existing diversity of building styles on M Street while upgrading the site’s aesthetics. “The idea is to lighten this block to create something that’s more inviting,” he said.

Neighborhood commissioners disagreed. “I think this would change the feel of that area of M Street dramatically, and it’s not in keeping with the historic nature of that street,” said member Bill Starrels.

“That’s an unusually important view on that corner because of the Old Stone House across the street,” Lewis added. “People go there to see what they think of as Georgetown … and I think the building needs to respect the expectations of that site.”

Commissioners were more receptive to the housing plan, with some reservations. As proposed, the hotel would be converted into small, furnished studio apartments, marketed to professionals who move to D.C. temporarily, SB-Urban officials said. The firm is pursuing a similar project at the Patterson Mansion at 15 Dupont Circle, albeit with a more architecturally subdued design.

“Our view is that the Latham is a perfect example of the kind of situation in which we want to deliver this kind of project,” said SB-Urban’s Michael Balaban. “It’s immediately adjacent and surrounded by urban amenities of all kinds, and it has wonderful access on transit and by bike and on foot to the workplace.”

Accordingly, Balaban said his tenants would be unlikely to own cars. Developers would therefore like to replace the Latham’s 52-car parking garage with plaza space, common amenity rooms for the residents and a storage facility. Though neighborhood commissioners will formally consider zoning issues at a later meeting, some residents and commissioners expressed reservations Monday about supporting the project without parking.

“If this were right at a Metro station, maybe, but the people who live there are going to want to get out in the evening and they’re not going to want to take public transportation,” said Lewis, who suggested providing 25 to 35 spaces. The Citizens Association of Georgetown has recommended 90 spaces.

Balaban said parking would cut into the common space needed by residents of tiny apartments, and offering spaces to attract residents with cars. He added that the plan is to prohibit the tenants from getting on-street parking permits.

This article appears in the April 2 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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