By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer
Just over a year ago, the project team redeveloping Georgetown’s West Heating Plant property had received generally positive feedback on its plan to raze the hulking industrial building and construct a glassy new one of a similar size and shape.
Then the team went before the Old Georgetown Board last February. And there, developer Richard Levy said, “We ran into a buzz saw.”
Although the 1948 heating plant building — by virtue of its year of construction — is a contributing building to the federal Georgetown Historic District, Levy’s team thought the design panel would be open to a more dramatic departure from the existing structure. It was not. “That required us to slow down and rethink,” said Levy.
Last Thursday, the project team unveiled its updated designs, the third iteration of the 2900 K St. NW project since 2013. The latest proposal retains the building’s west facade and is truer to the rest of its masonry-dominated architecture. While the new building includes windows for the roughly 60 condo units, they pay homage to the narrow vertical “exclamation points” on the current building’s sides, and many windows can be disguised with retractable brick. Previously proposed balconies have been removed except for the rear of the building, facing Rock Creek.
As before, the project calls for luxury condos on the site of the heating plant, and resident parking below an above-grade public park on the former coal yard to its south. The design retains the only exterior wall that the project team deemed salvageable: the front of the building on 29th Street. The rest, according to architect David Adjaye, is “interpretation rather than preservation.”
“We want to come back to the monumentality of the building but also have room for innovation,” he said. “We’re trying to … allow the building to express its sort of noble, sort of strong character without being compromised too much.”
Located at the prominent confluence of Rock Creek and the C&O Canal, the federal industrial property has long inspired gripes from residents in its section of southeastern Georgetown. At last Thursday’s presentation, most attendees expressed support for the latest design, and for redevelopment of the site in general. “My bedroom overlooks this building. I have looked at it for 25 years — so I love this idea; I welcome you,” one woman said to hearty applause.
Although the last design iteration also had substantial informal community support, it faced some pushback from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) over the appropriateness of razing a building considered historically significant, and about the proposed size and shape of the planned replacement. Significant turnover on the commission — including the departure of former chair Ron Lewis, a leading proponent for protecting the heating plant — means that several ANC 2E members will be casting their first votes on the project when they review its Old Georgetown Board application on April 3.
The project will then face scrutiny from that board itself on April 6, and approvals by the Zoning Commission and the mayor’s agent for historic preservation will also be necessary. All told, the project is at least four years from completion, developers said Thursday.
Some project details — such as the exact number, layout and costs of the units, as well as the number of parking spaces — haven’t yet been finalized, according to Nnenna Lynch of The Georgetown Co. She said the goal is to build a mix of larger units that would range from 1,500 to 3,000 square feet apiece. While she didn’t share the estimated sale prices, Lynch said the units will be “at the top of the market in D.C.,” a position that she says currently commands $1,400 per square foot.
As far as parking, Lynch said the designers have currently found enough room for an average of 1.5 parking spaces per unit, and “we’d love to get closer to two.” Parking will be part of the project’s future Zoning Commission application, as the Old Georgetown Board only looks at compatibility with the historic district.
The only negativity at last Thursday’s presentation regarded the new building’s impersonal name: Four Seasons Private Residences Washington, which elicited a sigh from the audience. “I think you can call it what you want,” quipped Adjaye.
One attendee said she expected the West Heating Plant name to stick: “I lived in the Residences at The Ritz-Carlton. If you look it up, it’s still called ‘the incinerator plant.’”
This article appears in the March 15 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.