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Kalorama Road Condo Project Objections Heard and Considered by Preservation Board

By Anthony L. Harvey

Accompanying images can be viewed in the current issue PDF

The recent clash between the District government’s powerful push for greater population growth and increased property tax roles by encouraging infill development in both vacant and under-utilized properties and the adaptive reuse of historic structures and buildings in mature neighborhoods, one which has been engendering opposition from residents who fear adverse affects — especially in historic districts where open spaces are consequently under assault, took yet another form in a case that has pitted developers of a proposed new project at 2012-14 Kalorama Road, NW.

As previously reported by The InTowner (“Kalorama Road Neighbors Seek to Overturn Condo Project Approval,” January 2013, http://tinyurl.com/bjfnnxg), the Kalorama Road project is supported by the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) staff and was approved in concept by the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) on the consent calendar at its October 2012 meeting, against the wishes of residents of nearby apartment buildings — especially two that abut the proposed new development, one being the 2101 Connecticut Avenue Cooperative Apartments and the other  being the Stratford Apartments at 2010 Kalorama Road, neither of which had received notice of the project prior to the HPRB’s October 2012 meeting.

Further inflaming the controversy was the fact that the HPO form required from the developers and their architect, which is referred to the Preservation Board along with the HPO staff recommendation and other documents, misrepresented that the abutting neighbors had been so informed. Joining in this opposition to HPRB’s October 2012 concept design approval of the project were the presidents and boards of three other nearby apartment buildings — the Carthage at 2301 Connecticut Avenue, the Mendota at 2220 20th Street, and the board of 2029 Connecticut Avenue.

Although an HPRB decision to reconsider and disapprove its October 2012 concept design approval would be without precedent, at its January meeting the Board nonetheless agreed to hear the protesting neighbors but adroitly sidestepped the disapproval question by calling this subsequent consideration that of the Board simply hearing public comments on the matter — in effect, a continuation of its prior October concept design review where no public comments were presented and the matter was approved on the Board’s consent agenda.

Background of the Case

The Board’s prior approval was of an application for the redevelopment of two adjoining colonial revival-style houses at 2012 and 2014 Kalorama Road — built as a duplex — by extending the bulk of these structures on their deep lots with the following additions noted in the HPO staff report: “A three story ‘ell’ to the rear of each house; extension of the two story side additions to the two houses; and the connection of this enlarged main block to a new block at the rear via a glassy connector.”

The staff report further recounted that the applicant proposed that “the form of the rear blocks would punctuate the front and rear roofs of the additions and Juliet balconies would project over the rear parking pads. Six new windows are proposed for each side of the existing houses.” This new construction would create a total of eight condominium units for 2012 Kalorama Road and nine units at 2014 and continue the provision of three parking spaces for each of the two houses.

Of special importance to historic preservationists, which is included in this earlier approved design concept, is that of restoring the appearance of the badly compromised front façade of No. 2014. The staff report asserts: “Not inconsequentially, the 2014 half of the duplex has been significantly altered over time and the proposed project will restore the façade’s historic character. The front door and porch were removed in a prior renovation; the berm was removed to allow access to a new side door at the basement level, and all windows were replaced. The project would replicate the intact porch of 2012 and reinstall a berm returning the façade and landscaping of 2014 to its historic appearance.”

The Board of 2101 marshaled a galaxy of professional and expert historic preservation and architectural design consultants led by Emily Eig of EHT Traceries, Stephen Hansen of DC Historic Designs, Steven Spurlock of Wnuk Spurlock Architecture, two attorneys, arborist Keith Pitchford, traffic engineer Edward Papazian of Kimley-Horn Associates, plus Sylvia Bergstrom of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage together with two other 2101 residents, attorney Mary A. McReynolds and long-time Cleveland Park and 2101 resident David Marlin.

2101 Connecticut’s position is eloquently summarized in a document addressed to the Adams Morgan ANC conveying forms and expert opinions regarding all aspects of this case, both those aspects within the jurisdiction of the preservation board and those not, and copied to the attorney for the developers, Cary R. Kadlecek, and to Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, who testified on behalf of 2101 Connecticut and its supporting witnesses.

The document and its attached exhibits challenges the lawfulness of the proposed project: it asserts that three trees straddle the property line between 2101 and the project; it contends that the design concept plans fail to address the actual impact of the project on abutting properties and that the concept plan mis-characterizes the project as a rear addition. It further asserts that the proposed additions do not comply with HPRB’s design guidelines that stipulate setbacks, orientation, scale, proportions, rhythm, massing, height, roof shape, and reversibility, concluding that “the proposed construction is incompatible with the historic townhouses and other historically significant properties in the block and neighborhood in contravention of HPRB guidelines.” It further alludes to adverse affects on parking, sanitation, noise, light and air, and the value of apartment units in 2101, and pleads for a fresh consideration of all aspects of the case in new proceedings before the ANC and the HPRB.

The protestants exhibits were further supplemented with additional documents at the HPRB’s January meeting, with all of this being concisely articulated by the witnesses — punctuated by assertions from the chair when witnesses wandered — that matters such as parking, noise, trash, traffic, trees, and views were not matters covered by the District’s historic preservation laws and regulations.

The exhibits from EHT Traceries were especially fascinating, presenting as they did the history of the entire square surrounding the project and the square’s bizarrely irregular alley with its many garages, including a public garage behind the Stratford said to now be owned by the Mendota and the garages behind 2012 and 2014 Kalorama, reputed to have been originally built as rentals on a separate tax lot. And the exhibits and live testimony of Eig, Hansen, and Spurlock dealt harshly with the HPO staff report and its recommendations that the Board approve the design concept application, fundamentally challenging the staff’s competence and independence.

Attorney Kadlecek countered by providing the preservation board with a robust and compelling defense of the applicants‘ proposed development project and of the HPO staff’s analysis and expert opinion on its design merits, including the Board’s endorsement of that staff report in its October 2012 approval decision. That approval included a recommendation to delegate to staff final approval of architectural details for the project. The Board’s questioning and conclusions strongly supported the work of the staff, commending its excellence and the sharpness of its conclusions.

While fully affirming its October design concept approval, the Board voted unanimously, 6-0, to continue the normal process following such approval and to encourage the applicant to work with the ANC, the neighbors — especially those abutting the project — and staff of HPO on architectural details such as roof form and the chimneys and dormers as well as how the new building is connected to the old, with an admonition to beware of false provenance. Its adopted motion also contained the provision that the project come back to the Board on the regular agenda for final approval.