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SunTrust Plaza Redevelopment — ANC 1C Resolutions

 

Resolution Concerning Certain DDOT / Public Space Issues for the Proposed Development at 1800 Columbia Road NW

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C (“ANC1C”) adopts the following resolution and authorizes any Commissioner of ANC1C to represent ANC1C before any District Board or Agency having jurisdiction over these matters:

Whereas, PN Hoffman and Potomac Development Group (the “Developers”) are developing plans for a new mixed-used building at the corner of 18th Street NW and Columbia Road NW (the “Project”);

And whereas the Project, as currently proposed, calls for a curb cut on the 2400 block of 18th Street NW to access underground parking;

And whereas the 2400 block of 18th Street NW has the heaviest pedestrian traffic in Adams Morgan, including particularly high volume on weekdays during morning and evening hours and on weekend days, and even higher volume on weekend nights, typically between 10 pm and 3 am;

And whereas the 2400 block of 18th Street NW has so much pedestrian and vehicular traffic on weekend nights that it is routinely closed or partially closed to vehicular traffic by DDOT and MPD;

And whereas the Project connects directly to a public alley on its southern side;

And whereas the Developers also propose to install underground parking spaces that extend beyond the building restriction line along Columbia Road NW;

And whereas Columbia Road NW is a significant transportation corridor connecting Connecticut Avenue NW with 16th Street NW and points east and which was historically a trolley car route and which may, for that purpose or otherwise, require full access to the ground beyond the building restriction line below grade level in the future;

Therefore, ANC 1C resolves that:

A curb cut for the Project on the 2400 block of 18th Street NW would create a significant hazard for pedestrian traffic, and accordingly should not be permitted.  Instead, access to underground parking for the Project should be from the public alley.  In this regard, ANC1C notes that the current plans show a 50 foot loading dock that is no longer required under the zoning regulations rewrite, and which could instead be converted readily to a ramp leading from the alley to the underground parking.

In order to preserve flexibility for future transit planning on Columbia Road NW, underground parking spaces for the Project should not be allowed to extend beyond the building restriction line on Columbia Road NW.

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Resolution Concerning Certain Historic Preservation Issues for the Proposed Development at 1800 Columbia Road NW

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C (“ANC1C”) adopts the following resolution, votes to send it to the Historic Preservation Review Board (“HPRB”), and authorizes any Commissioner of ANC1C to represent ANC1C before HPRB in connection with this matter:

Whereas, PN Hoffman and Potomac Development Group (the “Developers”) have submitted design plans to HPRB for review of a new mixed-used building at the corner of 18th Street NW and Columbia Road NW, HPRB Case #: 16-388 (hereinafter “The Project”);

Whereas, the Project is to be located within the Washington Heights Historic District and must be reviewed in the context of this historic district;

Whereas, the historic district designation recognizes, and HPRB is legally required to preserve, the special architectural and landscape characteristics of the area;

Whereas, District of Colombia Historic Preservation Guidelines call for compatibility of new construction, with particular attention to height, scale, setback, proportion, rhythm, massing, and signage;

Whereas, the Project is proposed to be located on a lot currently occupied by a SunTrust bank branch and a large open-air plaza (the “Plaza”);

Whereas, the Plaza has been an open-air market place, farmers’ market, and publicly usable plaza since at least 1979;

Whereas, the District’s Comprehensive Plan states: “Encourage the development of outdoor plazas . . . in neighborhood business districts . . . and in other areas with high volumes of pedestrian activity.” (10A DCMR § 819.4);

Whereas, following a multi-year community visioning effort called “Envision Adams Morgan”, the Office of Planning prepared the following recommendation concerning the Plaza: “Ensure key open spaces and focal points within the commercial corridor of the neighborhood, such as the SunTrust Bank plaza at 18th Street and Columbia Road, continue to serve as functional community gathering spaces. Consistent with community aspirations to see redevelopment of the SunTrust Bank property, any future design should include a flexible plaza space at the intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Road for events and programs.”;

Whereas, it is the view of ANC1C that the Project, as currently proposed, fails to satisfy the referenced Envision Adams Morgan recommendation, fails to satisfy the referenced Comprehensive Plan guidance, and is incompatible in multiple critical ways with the requirements for New Construction in Historic Districts as set out in the Historic Preservation Guidelines;

Therefore, ANC1C calls on HPRB to:

  1. Require that the height and scale be reduced.  The Project, as currently proposed, is significantly taller than, and fundamentally out of scale with, the adjacent buildings in the Washington Heights Historic District.

Historic Guidelines 4.1 and 4.2 state: “The scale of a new building should usually respect the prevailing scale of its neighbors.  In a few cases, a new building’s use or symbolic importance may make it appropriate for its scale to differ from that of its neighbors.”

Historic Guidelines 8.1 through 8.3 state: “While a new building does not necessarily need to be exactly the same height as its neighbors to be compatible, it should be designed to respect existing building heights.  Typically, if a new building is more than one story higher or lower than existing buildings that are all the same height, it will be out of character.  On the other hand, a new building built in a street of existing buildings of varied heights may be more than one story higher or lower than its immediate neighbors and still be compatible.”

The Project, as currently proposed, fails to comport with these guidelines.  A review of the surrounding buildings adjacent to the Project in the Washington Heights Historic District shows that the neighboring structures are significantly shorter in height and smaller in scale than the proposed building.  The Project seeks to fill out the site to the maximum extent permitted under the zoning regulations without regard to the prevailing height and scale of the existing structures.  But as a common mixed-use building, it has no special use or symbolic importance that would justify a significant difference in scale from the surrounding buildings.

To the south of the Project on 18th Street, there are a set of three three-story townhouses, followed by a row of five commercial buildings (several of which are low buildings, with just one or two floors), and then a two-story industrial building.  Similarly, to the west, the buildings on Columbia Road are a row of six townhouses.  The four closest to the proposed building site are four-story townhouses, followed by a three-story townhouse, followed by a six-story apartment building.

While the Historic Guidelines permit some variation in building heights and scale, the Project, as currently proposed is nearly 86 and a half feet tall when measured from the Columbia Road NW side, and an estimated 94 and a half feet tall when measured from the 18th Street NW side.  On the Columbia Road NW side, this reflects an approximately 30% increase in height over the prevailing structures.  On the 18th Street NW side, this reflects more than a doubling of height over the prevailing structures.  A small step-up on the 18th Street NW side does little to mitigate the way the proposed new building would completely overwhelm the historic 18th Street NW properties.

  1. Require that the setback be increased on the corner.  The Project, as currently proposed, fails to satisfy the setback requirements of the Historic Preservation Guidelines.

Historic Guideline 2.1 states: “In addition to complying with the legal setback requirements, a new building should respect the setbacks established by the buildings on a street. For example, the front of a new building should not extend beyond the line created by the fronts of existing buildings, even if allowed to do so by code.”

While the sides of the proposed building appear to align with the setbacks of the buildings on Columbia Road NW and 18th Street NW, the front of the building that faces the corner fails to respect the long-established setback that creates the Plaza.  The first iteration of the Project completely obliterated this setback and the Plaza.  The current iteration of the Project is an improvement, but still significantly undermines the long-established building set-back and the Plaza.  As noted, this also fails to satisfy the Comprehensive Plan directive and the Envision Adams Morgan recommendation concerning the Plaza.

  1. Require that the proportion, rhythm, and massing be brought into better consistency with the adjacent properties.  Given the significant issues with height, scale, and setback, it is difficult to assess how the proportion, rhythm, and massing of the Project will need to be further adjusted once those other core parameters have been addressed.  However, ANC1C has significant concerns about the Project’s failure to adequately comply with the following Historic Guidelines:

Historic Guideline 5.1 states: “Proportion is the relationship of the dimensions of building elements, such as windows and doors, to each other and to the elevations.  Often, proportions are expressed as mathematical ratios, particularly for buildings based on Greek, Roman, and Renaissance architecture.  For example, many historic buildings designed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries use mathematical proportions to locate and size windows, doors, columns, cornices and other building elements.  The design of a new building should respect, but not necessarily exactly duplicate, the existing proportions of neighboring buildings.”

Historic Guideline 6.1 states: “The spacing of repetitive facade elements, such as projecting bays, storefront, windows, doors, belt courses and the like, give an elevation its rhythm.  The space between free-standing buildings, the contiguousness of rowhouses and other party-wall buildings, and the heights of roofs, cornices, towers, and other roof projections establishes the rhythm of a street.  A new building should respect the rhythm of its neighbors as well as that of the street.”

Historic Guideline 7.1 states: “Massing is derived from the articulation of a building’s facade through the use of dormers, towers, and other roof projections, as well as façade projections such as bays, porches, and steps.  A building’s massing significantly contributes to the character of a street, particularly in districts containing rowhouses or contiguous commercial buildings.  A new building should respect the massing of neighboring historic

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Resolution Concerning Certain Zoning Issues for the Proposed Development at 1800 Columbia Road NW

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C (“ANC1C”) adopts the following resolution, and authorizes any Commissioner of ANC1C to represent ANC1C before the Board of Zoning Adjustment (“BZA”) in connection with this matter:

Whereas, PN Hoffman and Potomac Development Group (the “Developers”) are developing plans for a new mixed-used building at the corner of 18th Street NW and Columbia Road NW (the “Project”);

And whereas the Project is located within the C-2-B zone district under the District’s zoning regulations (which is expected to become the MU-5 zone under the zoning regulations re-write);

And whereas this zone requires a 15 foot rear-yard as part of any development;

And whereas, the Project, as currently proposed, fails to comply with this rear-yard requirement;

Therefore, ANC1C:

Opposes any building permit that may be issued for the Project based on the claim that the property fronts on three streets, rather than on two streets, and is hereby authorized to appeal any such building permit to the Board of Zoning Adjustment.

Opposes any zoning relief from the requirement that the Project provide a rear yard of 15 feet, and is hereby authorized to contest any application for such zoning relief that may be made to the Board of Zoning Adjustment.

ANC1C notes that the Project can easily satisfy the rear-yard requirement because the building restriction line on Columbia Road NW is already more than 15 feet from the property line on Columbia Road NW.  ANC1C therefore notes that the Developers’ purpose in seeking relief from the rear yard requirement is not due to any difficulty in complying with the law, but is merely based on their desire to increase the size of their building beyond what is legally allowable for the property (by selecting Columbia Road NW as their front yard for purposes of measuring their building height).

It is ANC1C’s view that zoning relief from the rear yard requirement in these circumstances would not be in harmony with the general purpose and intent of the zone in which the property is located, with the Zoning Regulations, or the Zoning Maps, and will tend to affect adversely the use of neighboring property, in accordance with the Zoning Regulations and Zoning Maps.  Allowing developers to opt-out of easily satisfied zoning requirements, merely based on their desire to build larger buildings than the law allows would fundamentally undermine the zoning regulations, and would set an unwelcome precedent that other developers could be expected to try to imitate.