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Important Projects in the Heart of Shaw Will Enhance 7th Street Architecturally While Also Serving the Community’s Needs

By Anthony L. Harvey

[Note: Photographs accompanying this news story in the print edition can be viewed in the full PDF copy in the Current & Back Issues Archive.]

Despite the nation’s current economic downturn, the number of new development projects for which financing is already in place being approved in the heart of the Shaw and Mt. Vernon neighborhoods continues to increase. Most recently are last month’s endorsements by the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) of a seven-townhouse project at 8th and P Streets -a part of the new Kelsey Gardens development project — and the dramatic, planned expansion of Bread for the City on 7th Street directly across from the now vacant dilapidated and soon-to-be demolished original Kelsey Gardens townhouse-style apartment complex.

These concept plan approvals by HPRB were followed a week later by the Zoning Commission’s October 30th positive response to the Kelsey Gardens developers’ planned unit development (PUD) plan for a new eight- or nine-story mixed-use building comprising street-level commercial and seven or eight floors of apartment residences stretching 460 feet along 7th Street between P and Q Streets, NW. Zoning Commission members praised the “handsome” contemporary design of this building and the articulation of five differing bays reflecting, over time, differing architectural styles of the community.

Visually breaking up the unusual length of the proposed structure was deemed especially noteworthy and in keeping with the planned mixture of shops and sit-down restaurants envisioned for the street-level commercial floor, each requiring a separate entrance and noteworthy presence to fully engage a lively streetscape environment. Also, 231 underground parking spaces on two levels are planned; this will serve to minimize any impact on the community’s already overtaxed on-street parking.

A second noteworthy accomplishment in the plans for the Kelsey Gardens building is the provision of 20 percent affordable housing at not greater than 60 percent of average median income and the further protection of any voucher rights held by the 54 displaced families previously residing in the old Kelsey Gardens — residents whose transition housing costs are being borne by Metropolitan Development and its partner, the Deliverance Church of Christ in God, owner of the property. The 54 affordable apartments will also be the same mix of one, two, three, and four-bedroom units as were in the old garden apartments and will be scattered on all floors of the planned new market rate building, including the top floor.

Points of contention for this project focused on the proposed P Street entrance for the loading dock and underground parking garage — this rather than the use of the already busy alley between 7th and 8th Streets. The developer supports the community’s position favoring the P Street entrance, but the District government, particularly the Department of Transportation (DDOT) opposes such a proposal, favoring an alley entrance.

The other main point of contention, that of an eight rather than nine-story building, is less important, according to Shaw Main Street Executive Director and ANC Commissioner Alex Padro, whose single member district includes the project site. The ANC and the community have strongly supported the project plans, according to Padro and nearby residents.

The adjacent row of seven proposed new townhouses at 8th and P Streets required no zoning relief, only HPRB design approval since that part of the parcel, now vacant land, falls on the edge of the Shaw Historic District. According to Historic Preservation Office (HPO) staff reviewer Steve Callcott’s report and recommendation, “These row houses would be three-stories above partially-raised English basements and traditionally styled in variations of vernacular Victorian row houses with brick façades, projecting bays, bracketed cornices, and elongated windows and doors capped with precast or brick lintels.”

Supported in their appropriateness to the district and as attractive structures in their own right by the immediate community, the planned project represents a collaborative success among HPO’s Callcott, the community and the Lessard Group’s architect Steve Gang, as does Callcott’s work with the community, the developer, and the architect for the Bread for the City’s planned expansion building.

The results of this second collaboration were presented to the HPRB by architect Kendall Dorman, of the noted public interest architectural firm of Wiebenson & Dorman Architects PC, who designed the renovation and elevator tower addition to the original Bread for the City building that had been built in 1909 for the Barker Lumber Company and now an historic landmark. Dorman’s strong and clever design consists of a two-story glass and brick structure with the brick component of the expansion structure serving to “bookend” in materials, size, and massing the original lumberyard structure. The glass component serves like a hyphen between the two brick components and will have vertical colored glass strips all the way across to the building’s south end, with a recessed entry at the edge of its southern connection. Above the entry will be a projecting metal armature supporting an oriel bay and signage — evocative of the entrance for the old Broadway Theater which once stood on this site.

Bread for the City’s highly praised programs have grown exponentially over the past 18 years since its founding with its original programs of food and medical services expanding to encompass clothing, social services, and a legal clinic. This expansion building will be connected through openings on each of the original buildings’ two floors, two per floor — these being the only changes which the new building will bring to the old — and the original exterior brick wall of the old building will be left exposed. This expansion will more than double the usable office space, adding 11,000 square feet to its existing, jam-packed space of 9,500 square feet, primarily for medical services but also providing for day room client space.

According to George Jones, Bread for the City’s Executive Director, thanks to a dedicated staff and an extraordinary cadre of volunteers — from students and retirees to practicing physicians and attorneys — during their 2007 fical year the organization served 120,000 people in their three-day supply of groceries program, provided 36,000 articles of clothing, conducted over 8,000 intake and re-certification social services interviews, provided almost 3,000 patients with over 8,000 medical visits, and gave 3,844 clients legal advice and referrals.

HPRB gave its unanimous approval to Bread for the City’s bold new expansion building, which, like the new Kelsey Gardens building across the street, will be a LEED-certified green structure.