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Cecil Place Condo Project Clears Design Review Hurdle

By Brady HoltCurrent Staff Writer

Developers of a long-debated Georgetown condominium project are preparing to break ground in November at the corner of Grace Street and Cecil Place, pending final design and permit approval.

Although the Old Georgetown Board rejected initial proposals as out of character with southern Georgetown’s industrial feel, it ultimately signed off on a concept design last month and OKed further refinements to the design July 5. With that approval, the project by Capital City Real Estate cleared the largest hurdle facing most developments in the federally protected historic neighborhood.

Renderings of the four-level, seven-unit building — which will be built on the site of a small gravel parking lot — show a rectangular shape devoid of the architectural flourishes shown on previous design iterations.

“The concern is to try to come up with a design that was simple and straightforward in the manner of the small-scale industrial buildings in the context of the waterfront, one without occupiable balconies and all the kinds of things that wouldn’t be typical in that historic district,” said Thomas Luebke, secretary to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which includes the Old Georgetown Board.

In approving the concept, said Luebke, the board determined that the latest design met that standard and appropriately blends into the neighborhood.

The latest design was developed by Georgetown architect Dale Overmyer rather than in-house by Capital City; since September 2011, Overmyer and Capital City’s architects have collectively submitted a half-dozen revisions and redesigns of the project.

At the July 2 meeting of the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission, residents and commissioners said they were still disappointed with the size of the building. The commission unanimously recommended against Old Georgetown Board concept approval, saying the plan would dwarf nearby town homes and — with no setback from Cecil Place — create a “tunnel effect” along that narrow roadway.

Developers had said at various meetings that their project would be only one of many larger buildings in that section of Georgetown, which sits just south of the C&O Canal. Neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels said in June that the preponderance of big structures in the area was precisely why a new building shouldn’t be too large: to prevent small row houses from getting overshadowed even more.

“When you walk down there, you’re really getting a taste of what Georgetown was two centuries ago, and it looks like you’re trying to box that in here,” Starrels told developers in June.

But in July, commissioners focused on fine-tuning the approved concept rather than continuing to request large changes.

“Do we want to say anything about the proximity to the street?” asked Starrels.

“I think that’s done,” commissioner Tom Birch replied.

In an email to The Current, Capital City’s Brian Papke wrote that the project will likely require six months of construction following the anticipated late November groundbreaking.

“We are happy to finally be moving forward full-steam ahead with our Cecil/Grace development project,” Papke wrote. “After working numerous rounds with the OGB and neighbors, we have finally settled on a concept design acceptable to the OGB.”

This article appears in the July 25 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.