Georgetown Current

GU Campus Plan Tweaks Win Praise in Community

August 17, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

Georgetown University released an updated version of its 2017 campus plan draft last week, retaining the essential features of the previous version and incorporating revisions suggested by neighborhood leaders and residents.

Major changes to the plan include addressing potential future expansion options for the Henle Village and Village A apartment complexes, as well as removing the previously proposed demolition and reconstruction of St. Mary’s Hall, home of the nursing school and located just west of Georgetown MedStar University Hospital. Other tweaks are mostly administrative in nature.

The draft campus plan was released to the public in early June, with the university hosting public briefings and accepting comments through July 15. Neighborhood leaders and residents responded favorably to the draft plan at the time, and the largely favorable opinions extend to last week’s update.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E chair Ron Lewis told The Current yesterday that he was happy with the June plan and remains satisfied with the latest iteration. Stakeholders agreed that the university’s St. Mary’s Hall doesn’t need to be reconstructed and that a demolition process there would be disruptive, Lewis said.

“I don’t have anything more,” Lewis said. “I think the plan they unveiled in June was a very sound plan and the result of a lot of collegial work with the community, the students and all the stakeholders.”

Several neighborhood leaders in the Palisades, just west of the campus, raised minor concerns about some wording in the June plan that would have permitted the university to develop housing for graduate students along MacArthur Boulevard NW. Under the earlier plan, such a project could have proceeded without consulting with neighbors ahead of time, provided that the consultation process would prove detrimental to the cost of the endeavor.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D, which includes the affected stretch of MacArthur in the Palisades, raised objections to that provision at its July meeting. Since then, ANC 3D representatives met with the university and negotiated an agreement, according to chair Tom Smith. The resulting language in the new plan prevents the university from taking action on MacArthur between Foxhall and Reservoir roads NW without consulting with neighborhood groups. The new plan also makes specific reference to the Palisades Citizens Association as a stakeholder worthy of consultation.

Smith told The Current that he and his colleagues had hoped for even stronger protections for the neighborhood but that they’re satisfied with their discussions with Georgetown.

“I think what we achieved was reasonable. It provided for a good outcome for all of the residents of the Palisades,” Smith said. “It’s a much improved product as a result.”

Meanwhile, Bob vom Eigen of the Citizens Association of Georgetown said he had also been concerned about the possibility of graduate student housing beyond the campus, but for a different reason: He’s wary of the university encroaching on the immediately surrounding neighborhood. But the updated plan convinced him that the university will focus its energies in areas that don’t affect the residents of Georgetown in negative ways.

ANC 3D voted unanimously in support of the draft plan at its August meeting Monday night — “pretty remarkable, especially given that it’s in draft form,” Smith said. ANC 2E will consider the draft plan at a meeting Aug. 29.

The document maintains the university’s trajectory toward housing as many students as possible on campus, with plans for additional residences closer to campus, as well as renovations to existing buildings. It also includes the expansion of the hospital — a welcome inclusion for vom Eigen, who thinks the current facilities could use a major upgrade.

So far, the campus plan process has not sparked much heated debate in the neighborhood; rather, community working groups have been involved with its development from the beginning. Lewis said the lack of contentious back-and-forth in this campus plan process is a result of the work done after the protracted battle that dogged each iteration of the last campus plan a few years ago.

“The way everyone has approached the new campus plan is a world of difference from the beginnings of the predecessor plan,” Lewis said. “It’s all based on successful agreements we ultimately reached with the earlier plan.”

Georgetown University plans to send the updated draft to the Zoning Commission in September for consideration, with a hearing expected in late 2016 or early 2017.

This article appears in the Aug. 17 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Latham Project Cleared to Proceed

August 10, 2016

The redevelopment of the Latham Hotel site in Georgetown is moving forward after a brief dispute with neighborhood leaders over the scale and use of a proposed rooftop lounge atop the building.
The New York-based development firm Thor Equities closed on the property at 3000 M St. NW for $53.35 million last month with plans to rehabilitate the vacant 10-story building into a luxury hotel with retail on the three lowest floors.
The Board of Zoning Adjustment voted last month to approve relief from land-use regulations to construct a partially enclosed rooftop deck, and the Old Georgetown Board approved the historic preservation aspects of the project design concept in May. With those decisions out of the way, the developer can proceed with construction, scheduled to begin early next year and conclude in time to open both the hotel and retail by early 2019, Thor’s Joshua Greenwald told The Current.
Back in May, members of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) balked at the roof deck proposal, urging the developer to scale back the outdoor portion and consider the harmful effect of noise pollution on surrounding neighbors. Since then, Thor representatives sat down with ANC 2E members and crafted a settlement agreement that limits the volume of noise audible from the street, prohibits amplified music on the unenclosed portion of the roof deck and prohibits trash pickups between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. The document also requires the developer to install 16 bicycle parking spaces in the building and 20 more outside in public space. 
ANC 2E member Bill Starrels told The Current he thinks the resulting document is “very comprehensive as far as possible negative effects on the surrounding neighbors.” The size of the proposed roof deck has not changed from the initial proposal of 2,700 square feet, but the activities there have been limited, he said.
The Latham Hotel and its accompanying restaurant, Citronelle, closed with severe water damage in 2012. An earlier development plan from SB-Urban would have transformed the hotel into 140 “micro” apartment units and front-facing retail. That concept fell through because the developer chose to focus its efforts elsewhere in the city, but Greenwald said Thor’s current design retains most aspects of the original plan, aside from the interior use.
According to Greenwald, Thor CEO Joe Sitt had the idea to launch a development in D.C. after spending time in the area with his two children — one of whom recently graduated from George Washington University, with the other currently attending Georgetown University.
“Over the years, he’s really fallen in love with the Georgetown area,” Greenwald said. “He was looking to purchase a property and felt that it would fit with our portfolio.”
No retail vendors have been chosen for the lower floors, but all options, including grocery stores and restaurants, are under consideration, Greenwald said. The 27,000 square feet of open retail space could be filled by one large retailer or several smaller ones, he said. Starrels said he hopes the developer will consider adding a high-end grocer, like Whole Foods or its new grab-and-go operation, “365 by Whole Foods Market.”
Overall, Starrels said he has heard largely positive responses to Thor’s plan for the site. “It’ll be nice to see a quality project moving forward,” he said.
This article appears in the Aug. 10 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Park Service Releases Boathouse Sites Study

August 3, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

The National Park Service has narrowed its proposed options for new Georgetown boathouses, with only one development scenario remaining under consideration for the 1,500-foot stretch of riverfront from 34th Street NW to west of the Key Bridge.

In an environmental assessment released Thursday, the Park Service studied a proposal for two or three new boathouses and other improvements, as well as an option that would make no change to the status quo.

The new study is the latest step in an effort spanning nearly 30 years to increase the area’s existing boathouse capacity, which is used by Georgetown and George Washington universities, as well as high school crew teams and members of the public. “This is the final public comment period, so barring something unforeseen it is unlikely anything that hasn’t been addressed over the many years this planning effort has been in progress would be considered or proposed,” Park Service spokesperson Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles wrote in an email yesterday.

Under the development scenario, one 13,800-square-foot boathouse would be situated on a sizable vacant lot between the Key Bridge and the Georgetown Waterfront Park. A second 3,600- to 4,200-square-foot boathouse would be constructed just east of the Potomac Boat Club, as well as a 6,000-square-foot storage facility for canoes and kayaks between the Potomac Boat Club and the Washington Canoe Club. The plan also allows for the possibility of a small boathouse west of the Washington Canoe Club. Under this action alternative, the Washington Canoe Club building would receive a complete restoration, and other smaller improvements would address traffic flow and pedestrian safety in the area.

The current proposal retains the two Key Bridge boathouses that were constants among three alternatives first shown in 2015 and hews closest to last year’s proposed “low-density” option, with the exception of the new plan’s possible third boathouse west of the Washington Canoe Club.

Abandoned concepts from the higher-density options include a 10,000-square-foot boathouse between the Washington Canoe Club and the Potomac Boat Club, and a storage facility just east of the latter. The original size of the proposed boathouse next to the Potomac Boat Club has shrunk in size from 7,800 square feet in the 2015 plan to between 3,600 and 4,200 square feet in the new one.

In developing this final plan for each of the affected sites, the National Park Service factored in ease of access to transportation, as well as its goals of diversifying visitor activities along the riverfront and efficiently spreading out access to water resources. The 10,000-square-foot structure proposed earlier “would not fit onto the site very well,” the study concludes. Other modifications reflect an effort to preserve the aesthetics of the area and its surrounding historic district while enhancing accessibility to the site and establishing accessible connections between the boathouse sites.

The project’s overall purpose, according to the Park Service, would be to add more opportunities for non-motorized boats to exit and enter the river near Georgetown, providing more access points for the expanding culture of water sports in the area. The study states that the existing boathouse facilities are insufficient and that the current configuration leads to frequent conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists.

Although the study has been long in the works, the plans themselves remain in the early stages and could change before construction begins, assuming the Park Service moves forward with the action alternative. In-progress projects — like the condominium development at 34th and Water streets NW, the planned conversion of the West Heating Plant into residences, and C&O Canal trail improvements — could impact future plans, the study states. Meanwhile, the study notes that a group of town houses adjacent to the site of the planned smaller boathouse could become available, in which case that boathouse could as much as double in size.

Early reactions to the new boathouse plan — totaling nearly 200 pages of text — have been mixed.

Rod Mackler, first vice president of the C&O Canal Association, told The Current he’s pleased with this latest iteration of the plans, especially in comparison to earlier ideas that his team felt were less feasible.

The association’s priorities, according to Mackler, include maximizing public access; constructing reasonably sized facilities that don’t dwarf the canal towpath; and situating the largest buildings below the remains of the Alexandria Aqueduct just north of the Key Bridge. This plan does all three, Mackler said.

“My general feeling is that it’s a very fair-minded document. It looks pretty good,” he said. “It responds to a lot of the concerns that we as an organization and individuals have expressed over the 30 years of this project.”

Mackler said he’s particularly happy to see that the largest boathouse will take up the empty waterfront lot, which he notes is covered in weeds and paved over with asphalt. “A boathouse would certainly seem to be an improvement on the status quo of that site,” Mackler said.

Concerns about the exact shape and size of the building remain, Mackler said. His colleagues are particularly focused on ensuring that any construction preserves the “rural” appearance of the canal park looking west from the waterfront park. Overall, the plans strike him as far more sensible than previous designs, which allowed for more and larger buildings, he said.

The plans aren’t without their detractors, though. Citizens Association of Georgetown president Bob vom Eigen told The Current he’s concerned that the emphasis on facilities for kayaks and canoes will leave the rowing teams at George Washington and Georgetown universities competing for space with high school teams and the public, as they do now.

“It’s really disappointing,” vom Eigen said in an interview. “It just doesn’t sound practical to me.”

Georgetown University’s Ryan King wrote in an email that the school is “monitoring the situation closely.”

“We are hopeful the EA lays out a path forward for Georgetown to partner with the Park Service to build a university boathouse that will better serve the needs of Georgetown and the community,” King wrote.

Representatives from George Washington University didn’t respond to requests for comment in time for publication.

In the meantime, vom Eigen said he’ll be gathering interested parties for a meeting on the boathouse issue next month.

Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioners and Georgetown Business Improvement District representatives told The Current they’re reviewing the boathouse study but haven’t come to a consensus yet.

Stakeholders have until Sept. 30 to submit comments on the plan at The agency will also accept written comments to Tammy Stidham, National Park Service — National Capital Region, 1100 Ohio Drive SW, Washington, DC 20242.

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

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