Georgetown Current

EastBanc Project Gathers Mixed Reviews

July 27, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

The planned five-story development at the current site of the Valero gas station across from Georgetown’s Four Seasons Hotel earned mixed reviews from the Zoning Commission at a public hearing on Thursday.

Developer EastBanc is pursuing the project at 2715 Pennsylvania Ave. NW as a planned unit development, which provides community benefits in exchange for zoning modifications. Under the current proposal, the existing gas station would be replaced with a mixed-use building with a restaurant on the ground floor and eight apartment units on the four floors above.

Plans for the parkland adjacent to the proposed building prompted concern from the commissioners at Thursday’s hearing. As part of a required community benefits package for projects of this nature, the developer has committed to upgrading and maintaining National Park Service land that lies in front of the proposed building. Details on that project remain fuzzy, the developer admits.

“Everybody’s on board with the concept of the plan, but we have a lot of work to finalize the actual design,” Mary Mottershead of EastBanc said at the hearing. “Part of our proffer is the maintenance of the park. We have committed to do so.”

Commissioner Peter May said he and his colleagues typically prefer to see a design, or at least a concept plan, for a project like that before voting. Mottershead assured him that such a plan will be available before the developer secures construction permits for the building. The commission delayed voting on proposed action for the project until its Sept. 12 meeting, giving the developer more time to negotiate the finer details of its plans with involved agencies.

Other amenities in the community benefits package include improved pedestrian access and vehicle mobility, LEED gold certification for environmental friendliness, and a contribution of $359,604 to the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

The application for the project, which takes up 7,400 square feet of land area, also requests an amendment to existing rules that require planned unit developments to take up at least 15,000 square feet in terms of its footprint. The building is surrounded by areas that the developer can’t claim for itself: M Street NW to the north, Pennsylvania Avenue NW to the south and National Park Service land to the west and east, which project representatives said make the irregularly shaped parcel a worthwhile candidate for an exemption.

Other design considerations prompted concern at Thursday’s hearing. Zoning commissioner Michael Turnbull was particularly critical of the project, focusing on a “monumental chimney” designed to serve a single apartment unit on the top floor, rather than providing heat to the building as a whole.

“What is this, the Donald Trump suite?” Turnbull said. “It’s totally extraneous; it’s not needed for what you’re trying to do.”

Despite complaints, most commissioners agreed that the project as outlined will be a substantial improvement on the current site.

“This is certainly a much better use of this site than the gas station that’s been there as the gateway to Georgetown for a number of years,” commissioner Robert Miller. “I think it’s very attractively designed.”

The project has prompted controversy at various points during its development, and design tweaks have occurred throughout the process. The Citizens Association of Georgetown reiterated its support for the project during Thursday’s hearing, and the community’s advisory neighborhood commission voted to support the project last month.

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

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Pokémon Smartphone App Sends Northwest On The Go

July 19, 2016

By Brian Kapur
Current Staff Writer

At first, a seating area at the Georgetown Waterfront Park was empty. But a few taps of an iPhone was all it took on Thursday evening to quickly fill the area with roughly 30 aspiring Pokémon trainers of various ages.

The Exorcist steps are popular for catching the digital characters. (Photo by: Brian Kapur/The Current) The Exorcist steps are popular for catching the digital characters.

Using the Pokémon Go app, The Current had created a lure module — a setting that attracts the game’s characters to predetermined locations called Pokestops. The object of the game, which has seen various iterations since its debut in 1995, is to catch the digital creatures (called Pokémon) and build up their strength. Pokémon Go scatters these Pokémon around real locations, which players find using their phones’ GPS. Once you locate the digital creature, you can use the “augmented reality” feature to see the Pokémon in a real-world location using a phone camera.

“When I come home from work every night, we go out and we drive around, walk around, bike around and go where he wants to go where there are hot spots,” said Brendan Owen, who came to the park with his young son, Luke.

Members of the crowd chatted up strangers about where they found which Pokémon and confirmed the rumor that a Hitmonlee — a powerful, fighting-type character — could be found at the base of Georgetown’s “Exorcist steps.”

Players also told The Current that the game has boosted their activity levels as they travel the city to fulfill the game’s objectives: to be the very best, like no one ever was, by catching ’em all.

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

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ANC Gives Nod to EastBanc Project

July 13, 2016

By Cuneyt Dil
Current Correspondent

The eastern gateway into Georgetown through Pennsylvania Avenue currently features a Valero gas station, perched above the Rock Creek Parkway.

Now, the sometimes-controversial plan for a five-story mixed-use building at the 2715 Pennsylvania Ave. NW site is heading for the Zoning Commission, with the support of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith).

The 60-foot-tall brick building with inset balconies, designed by Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, would feature seven apartment units above a ground-level restaurant.

The project would also bring park benches, plantings and other public space improvements to the site.

“The proposed structure represents an improvement to the Georgetown cityscape in comparison to the unruly appearance of the site’s existing gas station at the threshold of the historic district,” ANC 2E wrote in its resolution of support to the Zoning Commission.

Opponents have criticized the building’s design in the past, calling it inappropriate for such a prominent spot. The architect has tweaked aspects of it since its first conception, and the changes were enough to win ANC 2E’s support.

The Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on the development on July 21.

The project has faced obstacles because of its small, unusually shaped lot. Developer EastBanc is following the planned-unit development process, which adds public amenities in order to win zoning exceptions, but such projects ordinarily need a lot size of at least 15,000 square feet. The Georgetown site is half that, and developers are asking the Zoning Commission to waive that lot size requirement in this case.

On Monday, the D.C. Office of Planning submitted its recommendation for approval of the project, with certain conditions. The recommendation is subject to EastBanc working with the city for public space improvements and with the National Park Service for “long-term maintenance of the park land to the west,” according to the agency.

The agency also asked the firm to work with the Department of Housing and Community Development “on their contribution to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund,” — a fund in which Mayor Muriel Bowser has vowed to invest $100 million a year. The project does not feature affordable housing, but under the current proposal developers have agreed to contribute $359,604 to the trust fund.

Describing the public benefits the development offers, the Office of Planning notes plans for an improved street environment around the site, “including wider sidewalks, native plantings, and outdoor cafe seating.” Renderings envision a Capital Bikeshare station on Pennsylvania Avenue, with new trees, benches and bicycle racks around the area.

The project remains subject to the approval of the Old Georgetown Board and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and additional review by the National Park Service. The Old Georgetown Board reviewed multiple iterations of the proposal last year and expressed support for the general concept of replacing the gas station with a mixed-use building of this scale.

This article appears in the July 13 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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