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Board Accepts Size for Exxon Condo Project

By Brady HoltCurrent Staff Writer

A controversial condo proposal at the site of an M Street Exxon station needs aesthetic revisions but its size is reasonable, the Old Georgetown Board determined last Thursday.

Developer EastBanc hopes to build 26 to 28 luxury condominium units in a five-story building at 3601-3607 M St. at the base of the “Exorcist Steps.” A number of residents on Prospect Street overlooking the site have criticized the proposed 50-foot height (topped by a pool and up to 14 feet of mechanical equipment). Others have called the modern design inappropriate for the spot, a gateway to historic Georgetown.

Because the neighborhood is a federally protected historic district, all development projects are subject to design review by the Old Georgetown Board, part of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. Commission secretary Thomas Luebke said in an interview that overall the board gave a “positive” review to the project.

“They didn’t approve anything, but they were basically fine with the mass,” said Luebke. “The height is not the issue — it’s basically about the architectural articulation.”

Even though members weren’t yet ready to give it a final OK, their positive assessment represents a departure from a 2011 EastBanc design at the site that the firm scrapped after repeatedly failing to get the board’s approval.

Luebke said the main objection to the current plan is that the proposed angular, glassy building with a dark metal frame would not be compatible with the general feel of M Street.

“There’s a very relentless horizontality that needs to be mitigated with more vertical articulation, and the general character was too dark and somber in color,” Luebke said. “They recommended that [developers] try to lighten some of that up.”

Luebke said there was some debate among the board members about whether to accept the proposed rooftop pool. “I think some of them are willing to consider rooftop amenities; others are concerned about it,” he said.

At its March 4 meeting, the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission had urged the Old Georgetown Board to: limit the project’s height to 40 feet instead of 50, or require a tiered design in which little of the building would stand higher than 40 feet; require a more traditional brick or stone facade; reject rooftop amenities; and investigate whether construction at the site could affect the stability of the Prospect Street homes overlooking it.

“The site deserves a design that is less boxy and blends better with this area of Georgetown,” the commission’s resolution reads. “Our Georgetown constituents as well as the millions who use Key Bridge and the nearby streets and sidewalks deserve a building that better represents the uniqueness of our village.”

In an interview, EastBanc’s Mary Mottershead said the company was unperturbed by comments from the Old Georgetown Board last week.

“We got the signoff on the massing and the volume and the height and the footprint,” she said. “We’re into decorating the box, so to speak. … We like the [current] design, but there are plenty of designs that can work for the site, and it’s just a matter of working with OGB to get there.”

Mottershead said last month that EastBanc hopes to break ground in spring 2015, with construction lasting 20 to 22 months. EastBanc budgets several months for the Old Georgetown Board process, she said, so the project remains on schedule. The design may also require Board of Zoning Adjustment review for the layout of its rooftop mechanical equipment, but otherwise complies with zoning regulations as designed, Mottershead said.

This article appears in the March 12 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.