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Opposition to Size of Meridian International Center’s 16th Street Planned Residential Tower and Conference Space Grows

To view images full size, left click on each

By Anthony L. Harvey

In yet another jam-packed Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) July 8th monthly meeting, opponents of the latest proposal by the Meridian

International Center for the development of a large residential tower and expanded conference center on its historic site adjacent to the White-Meyer and Meridian Center historic landmarked mansions filled the

ANC’s meeting space at Mary’s Center in unanimous support of the ANC’s Planning, Zoning, and Transportation Committee’s detailed Resolution that politely but forcefully argues a profound failure on the part of Meridian to address recognized problems in its development proposal raised by residents throughout the community, the ANC, the neighborhood citizen groups, and by the National Park Service, staff of the Historic Preservation Office, and members of the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). [Ed. Note: see “Meridian Hill Project Gets Cool Reception from Preservation Board; Design Requires Changes,” InTowner, April 2015 issue pdf page 1.

Architect’s depiction of the proposed apartment building as viewed from high above 16th and Belmont Streets illustrates why neighbors are so opposed to what they say is a structure totally out of scale, especially as it relates to the historic red brick White-Meyer mansion and the adjacent historic stone-faced Meridian House immediately to the east and the Beekman Place town homes to the south. (In comparing this revised depiction with that submitted two months ago, it is hard to discern any apparent changes.) illus.--courtesy shalom baranes associates.

Architect’s depiction of the proposed apartment building as viewed from high above 16th and Belmont Streets
illustrates why neighbors are so opposed to what they say is a structure totally out of scale, especially as it relates to the historic red brick White-Meyer mansion and the adjacent historic stone-faced Meridian House immediately to the east and the Beekman Place town homes to the south. (In comparing this revised depiction with that submitted two months ago, it is hard to discern any apparent changes.) illus.–courtesy shalom baranes associates.

The committee Resolution drew more than 50 supporters from the Meridian project’s immediate neighbors, all in opposition to the project — from the 216 town homes of the Beekman Place condominiums at 1600 Belmont Street, with no raised opposition from any of its owners or residents to its protest, according to its board officers Carl Schmid and Pete Quinnan; from the 53 cooperative apartments at 1661 Crescent Place, all 53 of its owners, co-op President Fred Carter noted, having signed its protest letter; from resident owners of two of the 29 condominiums at Meridian Crescent; from board members and residents of Park Tower at 2440 16th Street; and from at least one outspoken resident of the Envoy’s more than 200 rental apartments located directly north of the Meridian project, who ironically noted the absence of any consultation or engagement from Meridian or its developers with its rental apartment neighbors — “Don’t renters count in these matters?,” resident Fran Johnson asked.

During the course of discussion, it was remarked that many of these immediately adjacent and nearby apartment buildings are also historic landmarked structures and many of their residents were intimately involved in the further development of historic protections for the neighborhood — an effort that resulted in the establishment of the Meridian Hill historic district and the promulgation of historic district design guidelines by HPRB.

The ANC’s committee Resolution, in setting the stage for the full ANC’s consideration of the matter, noted that “on April 2, 2015, the HPRB held a hearing on this Project . . . [and at that hearing] HPRB Members Davidson and Metzger raised concerns regarding the height and mass of the Project; [moreover] the HPRB Action Summary for the April 2, 2015 hearing states that the HPRB approved the HPO Staff Report. In the HPO Staff Report, the Staff states its finding ‘that the height and mass, the relationship of the building to 16th Street, the design and materials, and the architectural and landscape treatment of the area between the house and the apartment building should continue to be evaluated and revised to improve the compatibility of these elements as suggested above.’”

Continuing, the Resolution cites “the HPRB Action Summary for the April 2, 2015 hearing [which also] states that: “The entrance, detailing, penthouse of the new building, and the design of the Meridian meeting rooms and parking court were among the elements identified as needing modification to improve the proposal’s compatibility with the historic district.”

“Whereas, [the ANC Resolution continues,] the revised Project proposal fails to address the important concerns raised by ANC1C in the ANC1C March 4, 2015 Resolution and by the HPRB at the April 2, 2015 hearing. Therefore, it is the view of ANC1C that the Project, as currently re-proposed, is still incompatible with the historic nature and character of the Meridian Hill Historic District, the two historic houses, and the neighborhood, Meridian Hill Park, and fails to comply with the Meridian Hill Historic District Design Guidelines. Therefore, ANC1C calls on HPRB to:

Architect’s depiction of how the proposed apartment building facing 16th Street would appear at the foot of the Crescent Place slope as viewed from above the western portion of the Meridian site where can be seen the red brick White-Meyer mansion and the stone-faced Meridian House. (As with the image above, this revised depiction also did not convince the ANC that there was any discernable difference to what had previously been shown from this perspective.) illus.--courtesy shalom baranes associates.

Architect’s depiction of how the proposed apartment building facing 16th Street would appear at the foot of the Crescent Place slope as viewed from above the western portion of the Meridian site where can be seen the red brick White-Meyer mansion and the stone-faced Meridian House. (As with the image above, this revised depiction also did not convince the ANC that there was any discernable difference to what had previously been shown from this perspective.) illus.–courtesy shalom baranes associates.

“I. Require that the height be reduced . . . HPRB should [also] insist that the [project] setbacks be increased, particularly on Crescent St., 16th St., and Belmont St., to avoid a “wall” that would block vista views from the Meridian Hill Park’s Grand Terrace. As [the] National Park Service explained, the Meridian Hill Park’s designers took advantage of the elevation and sloping topography to create excellent distant views toward downtown Washington, D.C. from the park that would be permanently lost if this structure’s height is not substantially reduced. This inhibits an important view shed.

“II. Require that the scale and massing be reduced . . . Though HPRB found the Project to be a new construction, the design still must be deferential to the historic buildings as well as the historic district. This proposal must be reviewed under a heightened level of scrutiny and the project must mitigate any impacts on both the White-Meyer House and the historic district generally.

“III. Require that the materials be further revised and enhanced. The re-proposed design is visually incongruous with its neighboring contributing elements of the Meridian Hill Historic District.

“IV. And finally, require a clearly defined central entrance on the 16th Street facade. The re-proposed design, though better, still only provides a small and visually insignificant entrance at the corner of 16th Street and Belmont Street.”

Confronted with this committee Resolution, architects from Shalom Baranes Associates and Andy Altman from the developer Streetscape Partners, having gamely presented an abbreviate version of the PowerPoint video of the revised project proposal that was presented by the developer on June 17th to the ANC committee, listened impassively to the full ANC unanimously voting in support of that resolution.

The ANC’s Chair Billy Simpson, observing that he had seen no fundamental changes to the height, scale, and massing by the developer, urged the community to appear in great numbers — 100 residents — at the July 23rd HPRB public meeting where the matter will be considered, and write letters expressing their individual opposition as well. “HPRB pays little attention to the ANC,” Simpson advised the evening’s attendees; “it’s the community they will listen to.”

Further, the ANC’s committee Chair JonMarc Buffa observed that even with the Historic Preservation Office staff asking, along with the community and HPRB members, that height and scale be meaningfully modified, nothing had been done since last March. Buffa did commend the developer for their positive interaction with the community; “it’s the resultant product we don’t like and don’t agree with,” he concluded. At that point, the ANC proceeded to unanimously adopt the ANC committee Resolution.