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Mt. Pleasant Preservation and Zoning Controversies Roil Community and ANC

Accompanying images can be viewed in the current issue PDF

By Anthony L. Harvey

The Mount Pleasant Public Library’s spacious new community meeting room was filled with a standing room only crowd, plus rump groups in the adjacent lobby and activists moving between both spaces — for the Advisory Neighborhood Commission’s (ANC) December meeting. In addition to the hot-button issue of the “Local Resident Voting Rights Act of 2013” which would permit permanent, legal DC residents to vote in local elections –- which the ANC endorsed with little discussion or dissension — largely attracted such a crowd, the ANC’s agenda included consideration of the prospective impact on historic preservation and  zoning as a consequence of the infill and adaptive re-use projects being proposed by developers on two important sites in the Mt. Pleasant Historic District –- specifically, the north side of the 1800 block of Park Road and the juncture of 17th Street with Oakwood Terrace.

1867 Park Road, NW

New to the ANC’s agenda was the proposed 1867 Park Road redevelopment project, which its architects from the Dupont Circle-based Trout Design Studio presented to the assembled — and mostly hostile —  audience on behalf of the project’s  developers, Potomac Construction Group.

Both the architects and the developers are well-known in the adjacent Adams Morgan community for their successful presentations two years ago to the community and its ANC, the Zoning Commission, and the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) of their “Il Palazzo” adaptive re-use residential project. When completed, it will consists of a large condominium structure behind the restored former Italian Embassy buildings at 16th and Fuller Streets with a modernist “hyphen” connecting the old with the new. (See, “Old Italian Embassy 16th Street Site Redevelopment Plan Proceeding Apace; Adams Morgan Hotel Plan Has Way to Go,” InTowner, June 2011 issue PDF page 1; http://tinyurl.com/lfopcro.)

Trout Design Studio’s architectural rendering for its 1867 Park Road adaptation envisions an historic restoration of the existing structure’s front façade and porch and the construction of a replacement house façade on the adjacent side yard — a vacant lot where 1865 Park Road once stood. The existing and new structures would both have additional rear construction to allow for a total of six new units in a luxury condominium apartment building within, in effect, a pair of connected, house-like structures.

Part of the presentation included a rendering of the front façade of what would be constructed on the old 1865 site — a house, which, from the front reminded one of an eerie and fascinating Edward Hopper-like depiction of an eclectic, turn-of-the-20th century Queen Anne-style house.

Curiously, these two houses, built originally five feet apart, have always been somewhat out of place on the north side of the 1800 block of Park Road — all of which had in 1978 been federally landmarked and placed on the National Register of Historic Places celebrating a series of Mt. Pleasant’s hilltop mansions possessing gracious yards and gardens. Numbers 1867 and 1865 are much more like the handsome duplex houses on the south side of Park Road’s 1700 block.

Setting aside the community’s and the ANC’s objections to the nature and size of the new construction — asserted to be more than three times the size of the existing house and not conforming to historic preservation compatibility criteria — the crux of the zoning matter is the existence of a regulatory provision that allows for the conversion of the amount of lot occupancy for  single family structures in R-4 zoned districts, which Park Road is in, to be increased from 40 to 60 percent when converted to multi-family use. In zoning language, the proposed 1867 and 1865 Park Road redevelopment would be a “matter of right” project.

In response to the community, the ANC passed two resolutions directly related to the  project. The first stated that the HPRB should “reject the design concept currently being proposed for 1867 Park Road, NW” for the following reason:

“Whatever its architectural design elements, this building is inherently incongruous at this location in Mt. Pleasant. It is too large, being more than triple the size of the existing house on this lot. The anticipated use, as a 6-unit apartment house, is contrary to the usage of other houses on this row, all detached single-family dwellings, widely spaced, on large lots. The proposed structure is a drastic deviation in building size and in building spacing, being built essentially up to the property line, and looming over the adjacent house and rear yard. Consequently, whatever the architectural details of its construction, this structure is incongruous on its row, and incompatible with its neighbors, and perforce must be judged incompatible with the Mt. Pleasant Historic District.”

The second resolution was directed to the Zoning Commission, which is presently wrestling with a comprehensive re-write of the District’s zoning regulations.

Noting that a “2007 rulemaking by the Office of Zoning resulted in allowing for a detached building with a 40% maximum lot coverage if used as a single-family dwelling, could be transformed into a ‘row dwelling’ or ‘flat’ simply as a result of conversion to a multiple-family dwelling. This has permitted detached and semi-detached houses to be expanded by as much as 50%, resulting in some very unfortunate construction results. The conversion of a detached or semi-detached building into a multi-family dwelling should leave the building categorized under ‘All other structures, as it is not, by virtue of multiple families, transformed into a row house. The maximum lot coverage should remain at 40% so developers are not tempted to bulb-out houses by half, to take advantage of this lot-coverage “bonus.”

These resolutions echo the well-expressed and concise testimony on this and other issues affecting the historic district given by Fay Armstrong, president of Historic Mt. Pleasant, in her November testimony before the full Zoning Commission.

3428, 3430, 3432 Oakwood Terrace, N

On the matter of the Oakwood Terrace project, the ANC adopted a resolution, recommending that the HPRB “reject the design concept currently proposed at 17th St. NW and Oakwood Terrace NW (3428, 3430, 3432 Oakwood Terrace) because of [the project’s] incompatibility with other homes on the Oakwood Terrace block within the Mt. Pleasant historic district as well as outstanding questions related to the application, process and public notification of the subdivision of land parcels.” (For background on this project, see, “Controversial Project for Construction of New Row Houses on Heavily Wooded Mt. Pleasant Site Raise Issues of Compatibility & Appropriateness,” InTowner, July 2013 issue PDF page 1; http://tinyurl.com/nwu9d2b.)

The ANC’s resolution further asserts that “the proposed design and setback is not consistent with the design of other houses on the historic block and does not follow guidelines for new construction in historic districts in the District of Columbia.” Moreover, the resolution continues —

“There are questions concerning the subdivision of the property in 2007 and 2010. There is a pending Freedom of Information Act request to the Historic Preservation Office which will clarify whether proper legal notice was given.

“Residents unaware of the project or the HPRB evaluation in 2010 did not have an opportunity to review the plan and express their concerns to the ANC or the board.

“The ANC now wishes to make clear to the HPRB that it is taking this opportunity afforded by the board’s continuing review to express its opposition to the project as proposed and requests that the project be denied clearance for permitting.”

The Oakwood Terrace project was struck from the Board’s January 9th agenda and may appear on the HPRB’s January 23rd public hearing schedule, as well as that of the 1867 Park Road project’s design review consideration.