Panel Unfriendly to Underground Garage

Photo by Bill Petros/The Current
Residents feared the garage could convert the 31st Street property known as the Friendly Estate into an events venue.
Residents feared the garage could convert the 31st Street property known as the Friendly Estate into an events venue.

By BRADY HOLT
Current Staff Writer

A proposed underground parking garage at the old Friendly Estate would be out of character with the surrounding neighborhood, the Old Georgetown Board determined Thursday, vetoing the latest in a series of proposals for the partially renovated site.

Property owners wanted space for a total of 11 cars underground. This would let them consolidate various above-ground parking spaces from across the nearly three-quarter-acre property at 1645 31st St., they told residents at last Monday’s Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission meeting.

Marc Teren, a previous owner of the 1817 estate, also known as the Williams-Addison House, unsuccessfully sought to subdivide the property before beginning a series of controversial renovations six years ago. Two owners later, the work still stands half-finished, frustrating many neighbors.

The latest owners — from Capital City Real Estate, which bought the site for $6.2 million this spring — have promised to restart previously approved construction while also seeking permission to add new amenities.

The underground garage, they said, would make the site more marketable, allowing them to invest in other beautification efforts on the property. They would eliminate a planned above-ground garage and add green space in place of existing surface parking spaces, they said.

The Old Georgetown Board disagreed that the underground garage would be a net positive, said Tom Luebke, secretary of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which includes the Old Georgetown Board. “The impact on the property was just too great,” said Luebke. “[The garage] takes up a substantial part of the rear yard. It prevents the development of mature landscape.”

Beyond that, neighbors had feared that having so much parking would turn the site into an attractive event venue. “If there’s going to be an event where 200 people come, valet park them the way every other house in Georgetown does when something else is going on,” said commissioner Tom Birch.

Project architect Dale Overmyer said the idea was merely to have accommodations for a prospective wealthy homeowner whose family might have many cars, and who would want to park close to the house. When a neighbor asked why the owners couldn’t park on the street like everyone else, Overmyer replied: “Is there anyone here who wants to see less parking in Georgetown?”

Neighbors also raised concerns that existing mature trees would be threatened by an excavation project. Overmyer said the plans call for a new planting program after construction ends.

At one point, Overmyer suggested neighbors would oppose anything the current property owners might put forward, exacting revenge for the site’s troubled history and its current messy conditions. Increasing parking wouldn’t change the situation. “It’s going to be a mess until at least next spring regardless, because of the construction that’s going to be ongoing,” said Overmyer.

Birch said he hopes the property already has enough appeal even without the garage. “I understand your interest in wanting to create a marketable property. It’s a disappointment that a nice house with a big yard doesn’t sell, I guess,” he said.

This article appears in the Oct. 10 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.