Georgetown Current

ANC to Eye Reforms for Street Dumpsters

July 23, 2014

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

In Georgetown and other high-demand neighborhoods of closely packed single-family homes, curbside dumpsters are a familiar sign that another property is undergoing extensive renovation.

But with parking at a premium in such areas, Georgetown’s advisory neighborhood commission is preparing to consider recommending that the city overhaul its dumpster permits.

“These are huge receptacles that are wider than a parked automobile and take up precious space just in terms of available driving space on the street, and they also take up precious parking spaces,” neighborhood commissioner Tom Birch said at the group’s June 30 meeting. The commission intends to take up the matter more fully Sept. 2.

Under current city rules, homeowners can place a dumpster on the street in front of their property at a cost of $150 for every six months — and at a cost of several parking spaces. Birch said the relative lack of restrictions means there is little incentive for contractors to minimize how long a dumpster stays in place.

“These things sit there for days with a blue cover on them and nothing gets put in them for days,” said Birch.

Among the ideas that commissioners will consider suggesting to the city in September are increasing the dumpster fees, placing stricter limits on how long dumpsters can remain in front of a home and charging progressively higher fees the longer a dumpster stays in place. Another is to ban them altogether.

“There’s no reason to have dumpsters in a small scenic village like Georgetown,” resident Carol Joynt said in an interview. “This is a neighborhood with very rich people. They can afford to have dump trucks come in and out on a daily basis.”

The issue has come up periodically over the years, but it received heightened attention a couple of months ago when Joynt, a prominent Georgetowner who serves as an editor-at-large of Washingtonian magazine, heard a neighbor’s concerns about a particular project, in the 1400 block of 31st Street. Joynt contacted the office of Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans, and his staff began working with the community on both the specific case and the broader issue.

“There’s a lot of money spilling into Georgetown and there’s not a lot of regulation on this sort of thing,” Joynt said. “So it’s running up on being a little bit out of control, which shows there needs to be perhaps some new rules.”

Evans was unavailable for an interview, but he provided a written statement on Monday: “Parking continues to be a large concern for residents and visitors in Georgetown. I understand that the ANC is working with residents to discuss different issues, including how to manage dumpsters. I look forward to working with the ANC and residents on any recommendations they make.”

Changes to dumpster policies could require both regulatory changes within the D.C. Department of Transportation and an act of the council. Transportation Department spokesperson Reggie Sanders did not respond to questions.

Several Georgetowners have noted that some contractors avoid dumpsters altogether, instead using trucks to continually haul away debris and make nighttime parking available for the community. They also found a precedent in Old Town Alexandria, Va., where dumpsters are prohibited.

“It’s a very similar neighborhood, they have a lot of renovations, and they get by with no dumpsters,” neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels said of Old Town. Starrels said previous efforts to ban or otherwise control dumpsters were stymied by government dysfunction, but he’s more optimistic this time around that reform can be achieved. “I don’t understand why this is permitted in this day and age.”

This article appears in the July 23 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Possible Redevelopment of Gas Stations Sparks Concern

July 16, 2014

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer


Georgetown could be losing three of its four gas stations in the coming years as developers eye their valuable land.

Developer EastBanc is far into the approval process to build condos on the site of the Key Bridge Exxon, and the company is reportedly also in negotiations to buy the service station at M Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. And according to Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioners, the Exxon at 1601 Wisconsin Ave. could also be sold, with a developer being the most likely buyer.

At the commission’s June 30 meeting, several commissioners said they were concerned about the possible redevelopment.

“We are a historic district, but also we’re a living community that needs gas stations,” said commissioner Tom Birch. “I hope we can find a way to keep the gas pumping.”

The condo project at the Key Bridge Exxon site is currently working its way through the Old Georgetown Board design review process. Tom Luebke, secretary to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (which includes the board), said the board’s most recent comments were largely requests for clarifications in the application documents rather than calls for further substantive changes.

The project, dubbed Hillside, includes 26 to 28 units in a 50-foot-tall modern-looking building at 3601 M St., the base of the “Exorcist Steps” leading up to Prospect Street. EastBanc is also working with Prospect Street residents regarding the stability of the retaining wall behind the property.

Meanwhile, the Washington Business Journal reported last month that EastBanc is also pursuing the service station on the other end of M Street in Georgetown, across from the Four Seasons. The company’s Anthony Lanier told the paper that he’s preliminarily looking at 15,000 to 18,000 square feet of residential development there.

The future of the third station, the Exxon at Wisconsin Avenue and Q Street, isn’t yet clear. The Current couldn’t reach the owner to confirm the neighborhood commission’s news that he intends to sell the property. But several residents at the meeting said that they wouldn’t shed a tear over its redevelopment. They said the station brings a lot of traffic to a congested and confusing intersection, and deters tourists from exploring the area north of Q.

“It’s not the most pleasant appearance, and I think the shops on Book Hill have long complained that people walking up the hill shake their heads and turn around,” said Topher Mathews, who also writes the Georgetown Metropolitan blog.

But commissioners noted that Georgetowners still need a place to fuel, maintain and repair their cars.

“I understand the concern about walking up Wisconsin Avenue,” said neighborhood commissioner Ed Solomon. “But I think this is something where we should look at the big picture. … We need these services and don’t want to just have them lost, because once they’re gone they’re gone.”

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

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Prominent Figures Spar Over Planned Addition

July 9, 2014

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

The nine-bedroom, 7,000-square-foot manor once owned by Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham sits on more than an acre of prime Georgetown real estate. But since her death in 2001, it’s been owned by a local venture capitalist who for years rarely used the property.

But now Mark Ein has fresh plans for his 1870 home, known as the Beall-Washington House: a large new addition to the east, and a pair of detached garages out front. Ein, CEO of the Venturehouse Group firm and owner of the Washington Kastles tennis team, presented his plans last week to the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission and the Old Georgetown Board.

But both panels and Ein’s immediate neighbors — prominent developers Calvin and Jane Cafritz — questioned the proposed work. Neighborhood commissioners worried last Monday about the size of the three-story addition that would replace an existing one-story kitchen, the prominence of two new garages in front of the home, and the impact on the property’s trees.

And on Thursday, the Old Georgetown Board — part of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which has jurisdiction over the neighborhood’s federally protected historic district — also raised concerns. According to commission secretary Tom Luebke, the board members opposed the garage placement and requested that Ein rethink plans to replace the existing side addition.

Perhaps the most passionate appeal, though, came from the Cafritzes, whose adjacent 29th Street home is a twin to Ein’s. They said Ein hopes to build unnecessarily close to their home rather than excavating the basement and building in the large space behind the house if he wants more room.

“We are bewildered why the architect chose to put all of the density on this location instead of taking advantage of a property size that’s twice ours,” Jane Cafritz said at the neighborhood commission meeting.

The Cafritzes also feared the loss of trees on the 2920 R St. property and their own near the property line, and said some architectural drawings were inaccurate. They also criticized Ein for not consulting them early in the design process.

Ein and his representatives said little about the concerns at the neighborhood commission meeting. One neighbor, supporting the application, said there had been community outreach in the 10 days leading up to last Monday’s meeting.

The Cafritzes’ comments recall the neighborhood complaints surrounding a Calvin Cafritz Enterprises apartment project that’s now under construction at 5333 Connecticut Ave. in Chevy Chase. There, neighbors also criticized a lack of public notice and cooperation, complained that there was room to move the project farther from their homes, called renderings inaccurate or misleading, and feared tree damage.

At 5333, though, the apartment project was free to proceed as a matter of right, having met all applicable zoning requirements. When polled a few years ago, a majority of Chevy Chase residents opposed forming a historic district overseen by the city, which would have granted some level of protection against development. In Georgetown, though, the Cafritzes are protected by federal law that oversees any building changes that are visible from the street to ensure compatibility with the community’s historic fabric.

Luebke said Old Georgetown Board members suggested that Ein make use of his rear carriage house — recently split into a separate lot but still owned by Ein — rather than constructing new buildings out front.

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

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