EastBanc Eyes Gas Station for Apartments

Photo by Rendering courtesy of EastBanc
The idea of a new use for the parcel has been favorably received, but the design is drawing concern from some community leaders.
The idea of a new use for the parcel has been favorably received, but the design is drawing concern from some community leaders.

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

At the gateway to Georgetown — between Pennsylvania Avenue and M Street across from the Four Seasons hotel — visitors to the historic neighborhood are currently greeted by a small gas station and a jumble of cars in various states of repair.

But as early as next summer, developer EastBanc intends to begin construction on a new five-story building there. It would house eight 2,000-square-foot rental apartments and a roof terrace as well as a 70-seat ground-floor restaurant.

The firm presented its plans for the building to the area’s advisory neighborhood commission on Monday in preparation for an Old Georgetown Board design hearing tomorrow and Zoning Commission land-use considerations this fall.

Neighborhood commissioners praised the general concept of putting the gas station site to new use, but several were wary of the particular design proposed — a rectangular red-brick building that’s punctuated by deeply recessed balconies for the apartment units. Commissioner Jeff Jones said the prominent site might benefit from a more adventurous design.

“I feel like this is an opportunity — it’s a blank space,” said Jones. “I like authenticity in Georgetown as far as all the different types of architecture that we have. Once we start replicating what Georgetown looks like ... all of a sudden we’re losing some of our authenticity. I’m OK with a modern building here. This is almost pedestrian-like — it’s OK, I guess.”

EastBanc officials noted that the property is deceptively small, just 7,400 square feet, between two areas of National Park Service land. The site held a small church until 1951; it was demolished just before Georgetown’s strict preservation rules went into effect, according to EastBanc.

“I sympathize very much with your comments — we struggled a lot with the building,” the company’s Anthony Lanier told commissioners. “It’s a building that grows on you over time. I like it better today than I liked it at my first impression. It’s a very difficult building to understand, and it’s a very difficult site to build on.”

EastBanc’s Mary Mottershead added that the design, with lots of brick and deep windows, avoids the pitfalls of many new residential buildings, in which passersby can easily see into the units. “Their vision for the site has been not to make a big glass box that lights itself up, but sort of a quiet building,” she said.

Victoria Rixey of the Citizens Association of Georgetown asked EastBanc to make the proposed design “a little friendlier.”

“We feel that this building speaks to the architecture of the West End,” she said. “This is sort of a ’60s style where you have the concrete slabs with the brick infill, and we feel it belongs better in that neighborhood.”

The neighborhood commission voted to support the plans to raze the gas station and construct a new building, and asked the Old Georgetown Board to use its own judgment on the aesthetics of the proposal.

In addition to that board’s review of the project’s consistency with the Georgetown Historic District, the Zoning Commission will need to designate a zone category for a portion of the property that currently has none. Part of the site is governed by restrictions found on the north side of M Street, including a 50-foot height limit, but EastBanc is hoping to instead match the 60-foot limit found at the Four Seasons site and nearby properties to the south. Mottershead said this wouldn’t increase the number of stories but would allow for higher ceilings, especially at the restaurant.

EastBanc will also need relief from parking requirements. Mottershead said zoning rules call for three parking spaces on the property, and the company would rather use its limited land area for 40 to 50 outdoor seats for the restaurant and for a service driveway connecting M and Pennsylvania. She said the new tenants either would not have cars or could lease spaces at commercial garages nearby.

In an interview after the meeting, Mottershead said EastBanc hopes to break ground on the project in 12 to 18 months, with timing dependent upon regulatory approvals. She said the firm doesn’t have a particular restaurant tenant in mind, nor does it have a cost estimate for the project.

According to property records, EastBanc purchased the site for $4 million in March.

This article appears in the July 1 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

6 Comments For This Article

Anonymous

Sigh. This is so depressing. This building is truly ugly. Can we have something elegant here, please, instead of another modernist, brutalist building? Kudos to Victoria Rixey of CAG for her accurate comments on the design. The 50' height limit should also be enforced so it is lower than the Four Seasons and leaves more visual open space.

Anonymous

"Deceptively small", perhaps, but not deceptively ugly. One thing about the gateway gas station is that there is a visual expanse of space as you enter Georgetown from the East. This jenga-block building offers nothing aesthetically pleasing as it blocks out any decent views one might have.

Anonymous

Really?? I think the whole plan is awful. EastBanc has become a scourge in Georgetown!!! How many more apartment buildings do we need? Just because there is available land does not mean we need to build on it and cram more people in here; especially if there is no parking. What a joke to say "the new tenants will either not have cars or could lease spaces commercial garages nearby." What world do you live in?? All tenants will end up doing is parking back in the neighborhood. The neighborhood would be best served by putting something we need on that property or keeping the space open with a park. Frankly, the gas station is preferable. At least it's a service I can use.

Anonymous

Agree with the comment of 12:59pm - we use and love the garage. In fact, Devo, the mechanic, told us that Lanier told him the garage service and Devo would remmain. That appears to be "no longer operative," as Nixon used to say.

Virginia Burton

Citizens of Georgetown! Is there no way to stop this German steamroller?

Ask yourselves this: are you better off than when EastBanc landed on your shore? Are you delighted with fewer and fewer independent shops? Thrilled to spend more time trying to find a parking space near your home? Amused by commercial spaces that stand empty for years? (E.g. EastBanc is asking $10,000/month for 3246 Prospect St.--what kind of a business can pay that for a town house with one narrow front door and two small windows? The only thing I can think of is a marijuana dispensary.)

Anthony Lanier was quoted in the Washington Post as swearing off building any more condos because of his track record with furious tenants. Does anyone think this project is likely to be problem-free?

And it's UGLY, to boot!

Anonymous

I just don't understand how CAG could ever allow this to happen? Is EastBanc running Georgetown and I missed it? Too make such a big deal out of that property being the "gateway to Georgetown" and then to propose and apparently agree with this concept just completely baffles me. A. This particular design is a huge eyesore but frankly any large building on that space is going to make the entrance of Georgetown feel like your going through a tunnel with Four Seasons on one side and this building on the other. B. Say what you will about the gas station but at least it provides open space and a service. C. A restaurant is being proposed for the bottom floor. Where are those customers going to park? I feel like EastBanc is bulldozing their way through our neighborhood with the only intent to make as much money as possible. Why isn't CAG protecting us instead of rolling over for them?