Developer weighing changes to Cecil Place condo project
By Brady Holt...Current Staff Writer...
The developer of a planned Georgetown condominium building withdrew his concept from consideration at last week’s Old Georgetown Board meeting, following criticisms from neighbors and the advisory neighborhood commission a few days earlier.
Chevy Chase, Md.-based Willco Residential hoped to build a four-story, seven-unit building on the site of a 2,700-square-foot gravel parking lot at Grace Street and Cecil Place, Willco president Gary Cohen said at last Monday’s neighborhood commission meeting.
But after many meeting attendees criticized the scale of his plans — and nearly everyone who spoke objected to the proposed design — Cohen said he would consider revisions.
One neighbor who said he “agreed with the idea” of the condos remarked to a companion at the meeting that the boxy glass, metal and brick building Cohen showed in renderings was “the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I think it’s a bad architectural design when you have a building turn its back on the neighborhood,” he told Cohen later in the meeting, criticizing the main entrance for opening to an alley instead of the street. “It’s essentially saying, ‘We’re not part of you.’”
“When you say ‘turning your back,’ I hear you. I’m going to work with my architect on that,” Cohen replied. Other aspects of the design, he said, came from meetings with the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts — the parent organization of the Old Georgetown Board — where he was asked to model the design on the Georgetown Safeway.
Thomas Luebke, secretary of the Fine Arts Commission, said Willco representatives asked to have their project removed from last Thursday’s agenda but didn’t explain why. Cohen didn’t respond to messages.
In addition to Old Georgetown Board approval, Willco will need Board of Zoning Adjustment exemptions to bring the front and side of the building closer to the property line than allowed, and to provide none of the four required parking spaces on site.
At last week’s meeting, several residents said leasing four spaces from a private garage would be insufficient for a seven-unit building. “The parking is impossible on that street,” said one neighbor. Cohen said there isn’t room to build a garage under the property.
Michele Jacobson, who lives near the site on Cecil Place, said the project should be smaller and use cues from nearby buildings.
“Most people were fine with the concept of the use; they were fine with the development,” Jacobson said in an interview. “They figured that was inevitable. But the concern was particularly about the massiveness of the building on the site and the impact it would have on the narrow streets.”
Bill Starrels, the neighborhood commissioner whose single-member district includes the parcel, agreed that Willco was simply trying to squeeze too much development onto a tiny lot. “The building site would be better suited for either a few town houses or a smaller building that would be a more effective use of the space involved,” Starrels told Cohen at the meeting.
In a subsequent interview, Starrels said Cohen didn’t tell the commission why he skipped the Old Georgetown Board meeting. But Starrels said he didn’t think the plans were ready for prime time.
“Nothing about the project seemed to fit the neighborhood,” Starrels said. “It didn’t pay any homage to the historic nature of that section of Georgetown, the scale of that section of Georgetown, the parking needs of that section of Georgetown.”
Neighborhood commissioners voted 5-0 to request that the Old Georgetown Board reject the plans as presented. Luebke said it’s not clear when Willco will return to the board or whether the firm will bring revised plans.
This article appears in the Sept. 7 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.