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Whitman-Walker Health’s Plans for its Undeveloped 14th Street Properties Praised

Accompanying images can be viewed in the May 2016 issue pdf

P.L. Wolff

As we reported exactly one year ago, following the relocation of Whiman-Walker Health two blocks south on 14th Street to its new building between Q and P Streets, redevelopment of the Elizabeth Taylor Health Clinic site — which includes the much altered over time small clinic building at the northeast corner of R Street all the way north along the east side of the 1700 block to Riggs Street — was to be evaluated with a decision by that summer. (See, “Whitman-Walker Health Set to Open at its New 14th Street Building in May,” InTowner, May 2015 issue pdf, page 1.)

And so it was that last summer the Whitman-Walker board decided to proceed with a mixed-use project that was to feature a new, six-story  building incorporating on the ground floor spaces for retail along with a portion to be dedicated for community uses; on the second floor to be Whitman-Walker’s administrative and project management offices and meeting rooms; on the third floor, leased commercial offices, and on the fourth, fifth and sixth floors will be 80-90 mostly market rate rental apartments along with “affordable” units in accordance with DC’s inclusionary zoning requirement. An underground garage will serve both residential and commercial tenants.

The project is a joint venture between Whitman-Walker and DC-based Fivesquares Development, with one of its principals being Andy Altman who formerly served as the director of DC’s Office of Planning under then Mayor Anthony Williams.

Altman, when being interviewed by The InTowner   explained that a desire expressed early on by many in the neighborhood that the project design take into account the existing contributing structures in the historic district and to preserve as much as possible of both the small corner building named in honor of  Elizabeth Taylor who was an early outspoken advocate on behalf of AIDS sufferers and of the larger building two doors north at No. 1711 which once housed the DeSoto sales showroom when 14th Street north of Rhode island Avenue was known as Automobile Row.

Both of the two late 19th-early 20th century buildings mentioned are also contributing structures considered deserving of restoration and preservation. With that in mind, Selldorf Architects, based on New York City’s Union Square, incorporated the entirety of these two buildings seamlessly into the new one rather than the more common approach of leaving only 10 or so feet of the original structure behind a façade. Thus, as noted by Altman, Whitman-Walker’s administrative and project management offices will flow through both the old and new structures.

The other expressed imperative was the desire that the project set aside more than just the customary ground floor retail space in favor of mostly residential use. As explained by Altman, the concern by residents was that even with all the new development along 14th, during the normal work week the street remains relatively devoid of pedestrians, that if there were to be more office workers the retail shops and restaurants would see more actual customers and not depend so heavily on the evening and weekend crowds to maintain profitability — and the sidewalks would be more alive as a consequence.

So, by providing two full floors devoted to daytime office workers this project will contribute good numbers of people livening up the otherwise lonely weekday sidewalks, especially during late morning and early afternoon.

With these two major considerations having been addressed, along with agreement that the overall design (subject to some tweaking of the materials and colorization), Logan Circle’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2F, by a vote of four to two, adopted a resolution of approval on May 4th for transmittal to the DC Historic Preservation Review Board which will have this project on its late May or very early June public hearing calendar.