Plans Advance to Shift Farmhouse on Foxhall

Photo by Brian Kapur/Current file photo
A new home and garage will go behind the 1865 Scheele-Brown farmhouse on Foxhall Road.
A new home and garage will go behind the 1865 Scheele-Brown farmhouse on Foxhall Road.

By Kelsey Knorp
Current Correspondent

The owners of a 19th-century farmhouse at 2207 Foxhall Road NW will be able to relocate the structure elsewhere on their property to make room for a new two-story home and detached garage behind it, following a decision by the Historic Preservation Review Board last Thursday.

Board members, however, recommended the farmhouse be farther from the street than originally proposed and objected to a planned fence around the property, on the grounds that these conditions failed to “fit the context” of the setting.

The complex plan from owners Chantal Attias and Andreas Kotzur came after an earlier scheme — relocating the house to the Field School next door — fell through after school officials evaluated the long-term costs of annexing the building. Attias and Kotzur found the farmhouse too cramped for their family of five, which includes two toddlers and Attias’ mother. They’re seeking to add space in a way that avoids detracting from the building’s original character, particularly in light of a pending application to designate the home as a historic landmark.

The family’s plan represents the second time the farmhouse will shift positions: In 1903, it was moved about 150 feet from the spot where farmer Augustus Daniel Scheele originally built it in 1865.

Attias and Kotzur have proposed moving the home an additional 12 feet west and 40 feet north, which would require demolition of the pantry shed addition, kitchen chimney, second-story bathroom and enclosed rear porches that were added after the first move.

According to architect Rich Markus, this change would provide sufficient space farther back on the lot for construction of a two-story front-gable house and separate garage, with a covered walkway connecting the new buildings to the rear of the farmhouse. The historic building would serve as a potential in-law suite, while the rest of the family would live in the new house.

Since the move would also place the house within about 15 feet of Foxhall Road, the family also proposed to construct a tall metal fence around the property to protect their children.

Board members didn’t oppose the basic idea of the plan, but challenged the specifics.

“It’s really a remnant of the formerly agrarian roots of the neighborhood,” said member Maria Casarella. “The global strategy with preserving this is how to recall that context. Moving it forward and putting a fence in front of it does not lend itself to understanding that context.”

Chair Gretchen Pfaehler added that the board wouldn’t require a specific alternative design, but that fixes could include consolidating some proposed structures or spacing them out in a more cohesive way. Project engineer Tim Burke said the current arrangement of the buildings is designed to address concerns from neighbors about stormwater runoff, given the slope of the lot. The proposed garage placement assumed that the farmhouse would have already been moved to close to the street.

Frances McMillen, who prepared the Historic Preservation Office’s staff report on the farmhouse, also added some recommendations that were echoed by the board. She said the proposed covered walkway appeared somewhat out-of-place, calling its character “industrial” and “commercial” rather than residential. She recommended that the project team lighten and narrow the walkway or employ a structure more like a trellis; she also advised adding more detail or windows to some stretches of blank wall on the new house.

The family originally wanted to subdivide the lot and donate the farmhouse building to the northern-adjacent Field School. The proposal was intended to assuage the concerns of local preservation group Historic Washington Architecture Inc., which nominated the farmhouse for landmark designation in September 2013. Although the preservation board approved that proposal in December 2014, the Field School Board of Trustees declined the donation due to long-term land-use and preservation obligations too burdensome to outweigh student benefits. The preservation board still has yet to review the pending landmark application.

This article appears in the Sept. 30 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.