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Plans Move Forward at Vacant Hotel Site

By Mark LiebermanCurrent Staff Writer

The Latham Hotel site in Georgetown is now slated to be restored as a new hotel, instead of the residential project that a previous developer won approval for a few years ago.

The 3000 M St. NW property — the hotel facing 30th Street and retail storefronts along M — has stood vacant for several years after suffering severe water damage in 2012. Neighborhood leaders and residents are generally receptive to the latest plans despite concerns about elements like a large rooftop deck and a loading area.

Developer Thor Equities purchased the property for more than $50 million earlier this year and subsequently announced plans for a renovated 82-room hotel with several floors of above-ground retail on the street. Current designs include 24 parking spaces accessible by car elevator and a valet parking program. The developer also hopes to incorporate a small bar or lounge on top of the hotel, which will require a special exception from the Board of Zoning Adjustment, to be decided at a hearing June 21.

Representatives from Thor Equities presented the plans to Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) on Monday. The representatives said the firm intends to spend the rest of May working with ANC 2E, the Citizens Association of Georgetown and other neighbors on issues like transportation and loading management.

The neighborhood commission voted unanimously to oppose the proposed rooftop lounge, arguing that the 2,700-square-foot enclosed portion is too large and noting that the Old Georgetown Board, which must register design approval before the project can proceed, typically opposes rooftop establishments as well. Commissioner Bill Starrels recommended the developer shrink the perimeter of the roof deck and said a settlement agreement will be required before ANC 2E signs off on an alcohol license for the spot.

Beyond that — aside from requests for more information and small tweaks on aspects like the south facade and a cooling tower — ANC 2E generally expressed appreciation to the developer for the project’s goal and for working cooperatively.

“It’s going to take essentially an eyesore and an abandoned building and make it into a center of activity,” Starrels said in a follow-up interview. “It will bring people to eat, dine and spend money in the city.”

Starrels told The Current that the developer hasn’t yet indicated a timeline for the project.

At Monday’s meeting, resident John Lever, representing the citizens association, opposed the roof deck and questioned whether the street-level entry and exit will create a “logical flow,” but added his thanks for the developer’s agreeable nature as well. “It’s really rare to see a developer who actually cares about what they’re doing,” Lever said.

The Georgetown Business Improvement District also expects the redevelopment to boost the commercial fortunes of the busy shopping district on M Street, according to Jamie Scott, the group’s economic development manager. The retail frontage on the block will be particularly lucrative, Scott expects.

“Having the space activated is good for the experience of shoppers in Georgetown and good for the commercial district overall,” Scott said.

Some residents had raised concerns about the previous plan for the Latham site: a proposal by developer SB-Urban to turn the hotel into 140 “micro” apartment units with no on-site parking spaces, and to rebuild the M Street storefronts for new retail space. Following various compromises and design tweaks, developers and community leaders generally reached a compromise and the project won various necessary approvals. But SB-Urban, which purchased the property for $45.4 million in 2013, elected to sell it two years later to prioritize its projects in Dupont Circle and Blagden Alley.

This article appears in the May 4 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.