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EastBanc Debuts New Plans for Condos at Exxon Parcel

By Brady HoltCurrent Staff Writer

The M Street Exxon station near the Key Bridge is once again being eyed as the potential site of a five-story luxury condominium building, which could break ground in spring 2015.

Developer EastBanc has filed plans with the Old Georgetown Board for a modern new building at 3601-3607 M St., the base of the “Exorcist Steps” that lead up the hill to Prospect Street. The project — dubbed “Hillside” — is slated to include about 26 to 28 condo units and underground parking, according to EastBanc.

But the proposal is facing opposition from Prospect Street residents who fear the building would threaten their views of the Potomac River, according to advisory neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels, whose single-member district includes the property. Such concerns, along with other design issues, helped derail a similar EastBanc proposal for the site in 2011.

The proposed 50-foot roof height would be below the lowest levels of the Prospect Street homes above, but the building would be topped by up to 14 feet of elevator overruns and other mechanical equipment, according to EastBanc’s Mary Mottershead.

This equipment would sit 1 foot lower than that of the 2011 concept, and it would occupy barely half the footprint of the equipment in the previous design — 3.3 percent of the roof area. Part of the change comes from eliminating two top-floor units, thus removing an elevator overrun. Rooftop landscaping would also block views of the equipment “where possible,” Mottershead wrote in an email.

“This project will be all residential in nature, and given its small size should have little impact on any of the surrounding neighbors, especially in comparison to the current very busy and noisy gas station and convenience store on the site today,” Mottershead wrote.

Brian Kapur/The Current
Brian Kapur/The Current

The design has also changed. The proposal is still the same size and shape, and it retains a modern style with large windows, sharp edges, and little of the brickwork that characterizes many Georgetown buildings. “However,” Mottershead wrote, “the new design is very different with the idea of being a quieter, more neutral design which does not compete with all the different very busy townhouse elevations above nor with the wedding cake design of the Arthur Cotton Moore building to the west nor with the massive and heavy design of the Car Barn to the east.”

Starrels said aesthetic concerns remain, especially because the property is in such a prominent spot. “It’s a gateway to Georgetown — it’s going to be one of the first things you see coming into the area from the Key Bridge or the Whitehurst Freeway, and you can see it from Virginia,” he said in an interview.

Another change in the latest proposal shifts the building away from the eastern retaining wall, which also helps create a small open space at the base of the stairway featured in the film “The Exorcist” — instead of “dumping” pedestrians “out into the middle of the road way beside dumpsters and parked cars as happens now,” Mottershead wrote.

Starrels said comparisons to the 2011 concept for the site mean little. “There is very little if anything good about the last proposal, and that should not be the benchmark about anything,” he said. “That’s history, and we’re starting from a clean slate.”

He wouldn’t say whether any other possible redevelopment concepts for the Exxon site would better suit the community, but said he looks forward to discussing the project more with EastBanc. “I have a lot of unhappy constituents right now with the way it’s being presented, so hopefully there’s a solution somewhere,” said Starrels.

Mottershead wrote that the project offers many benefits to southwest Georgetown. In addition to offering a better alternative to the existing gas station and convenience store, “we think that adding residential units to this end of M St will fit well with the neighboring residential building to the west as well as with the townhouse units above,” she wrote.

EastBanc expects that construction of the Hillside project would last 20 to 22 months, according to Mottershead. Costs on the 26 to 28 units haven’t yet been set, but Mottershead said Georgetown condo rates are typically $800 to $1,200 or more per square foot. The building’s units would likely range from 1,200 to more than 4,000 square feet, averaging 2,200 to 2,500 apiece. There will be two parking spaces per unit.

The project must undergo design review by the Old Georgetown Board, which is set to consider the matter at its March 6 meeting. EastBanc will also present its plans on Monday to the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission.

Mottershead wrote that the project is not likely to need any relief from zoning regulations, which allow for a 50-foot-tall building with 18-foot-tall rooftop equipment covering up to 37 percent of the roof area.

But before filing building permits, the team must double-check with the compliance of “the last minute changes to the roof top to lower and clean-up the sight lines for the residents above,” she added.

This article appears in the Feb. 26 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.