City Paper Widget

Friday, October 24, 2014

1108 16th Street: Renovation of Former Planned Parenthood Building Moves Forward

At its regular monthly meeting October 8, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle endorsed the redevelopment of 1108 16th Street NW. The building, formerly the DC headquarters of Planned Parenthood, is to be transformed into a mixed-use commercial office and residential building.

1108 16th Street
Planned Parenthood has sold the building and is moving to H Street NE.

The ANC endorsed both the historical preservation aspects and requests for zoning relief by separate votes. Both votes received unanimous approval by the six commissioners present at the time of the vote.

Attorney Christine Roddy of the law firm Goulston Storrs and Jane Nelson of Nelson Architects led the team of presenters. The presenters said that the building started its life as three buildings in 1880s, was renovated to make it a single flat-front building in the 1920s, and then was "inexpertly renovated" (the presenters' words) in the 1950s.

The facade of the first two floors of the building (see photo) will be retained as is, according to current plans. Six additional stories will be added.

There will be four stories of commercial space and four stories of residential space. The current plan calls for 20 residential units.

The project requires zoning relief in three areas. The area that received the most discussion was parking. Normally, zoning would require 14 parking spaces for this building. It currently has five. It would have three if the proposal goes through as presented. The ANC discussed if there would be sufficient parking for deliveries as well as for handicapped accessibility. The presenters said there would be -- at least one of the spaces would be, as required, extra wide to accommodate people with special needs.

There are few residential neighbors, and none of them have any objection, according to ANC2B Commissioner Abigail Nichols (district 05). The project is in Nichols' district.

"This is perfect for what you are going to do," said Commissioner Mike Silverstein (district 06).

The historical preservation aspects of this case are on the October agenda to be reviewed during one or more of the scheduled meetings of the HPRB. The meetings are scheduled for October 23 and 30. See the HPRB staff report on the historical preservation aspects of the renovation here.

The case of 1108 16th Street is on the BZA's calendar for consideration on December 2.

Documents related to the request for zoning relief, including plans and drawings for the building, can be seen by going to the Interactive Zoning Information System and entering case number 18866 in the search bar.

See previous reporting on this project from the blogs District Source here and Urban Turf here.

Cheater's Guide to Dream City -- Part 22 (Epilogue)

This is the twenty-second installment of a series (see the first installment here) summarizing the 1994 book Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood. This book has recently been republished as an ebook and a paper book. HBO has plans to use material from the book to make a movie about the life of Marion Barry.

The epilogue of this book was written in 1993 or 1994. It suggests some possible futures for the city, but first it describes the crime and violence-ridden atmosphere under then-Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly.

“Sharon Kelly wasn't much of a field marshall, but even if she'd been George Patton, she would have had little chance of winning the war. The police force she inherited was not prepared to fight, because her predecessor, Marion Barry, had wrecked it” (Kindle location 5749).

“For all his achievements and failures, the dispirited and desperate  state of the city's police department in a time of turmoil was perhaps Barry’s most damning legacy” (l. 5750).

“Given the uniqueness of the setting, Barry had the opportunity to create a modern urban center that worked.... Expecting Marion Barry and [his allies] to make the city function at an ideal level may be unrealistic, but there's no reason it had to sink to the level of poverty, infirmity and fear that it occupies today” (l. 5762).

“...[T]he District of Columbia had become a mesmerizing mirror for black and white America's inability to integrate African-Americans -- economically, politically, and socially” (l. 5773).

“In essence, the poor parts of the city were becoming unhitched from the upper and middle class sections of the capital -- and from the rest of America” (l. 5786).

"As Mayor Kelly and other politicians jockeyed for position in the 1994 mayoral and council campaigns, wealthy whites and middle class blacks were voting with their feet. The District’s population in 1993 dipped below 600,000 for a 25 percent loss from the high of 800,000. Nearly 50,000 black Washingtonians had left during the 1980s, and the exodus picked up momentum in the early 1990s” (l. 5801).

“Thus the conundrum: Washington, D.C. won’t die because it’s the capital city; but if it weren't the capital, it might not be in such dire straits. If it hadn't been under the thumb of racists in Congress for a hundred years, it might have developed politics such as those in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, or other cities” (l. 5810).

“Lacking clear divisions of power and identity, the city and its residents have become addicted to the blame game. No one is responsible for his or her actions -- not the people, not the politicians, not the criminals. The well-healed whites of Ward Three have little stake in the city, and most don't care about the politics or the government. What happens across the Anacostia River doesn't concern them. African-Americans often pin their problem on racism and blame Ward Three” (l. 5814).

The authors (again, writing in the mid-1990s) imagine two possible futures for the district.

“One leads gradually toward true home rule, independence, and possibly statehood. This would require the kind of incremental change envisioned by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, as opposed to any quick fixes” (l. 5822).

The authors consider a possible deal with Congress. It proposes, as possibilities, the hiring of a professional city manager, doubling the size of the city council but halving its salary, and increasing city control of finances, the judiciary, and criminal systems. These include the local election of an attorney general, and the election of judges, or perhaps appointment of judges by the city council and the mayor.

“To spur economic development, laws could be changed to make the city into a haven for corporate headquarters, similar to Delaware. Or it could become a tax free zone that would promote jobs and development on hundreds of acres of prime vacant land, much of it east of the Anacostia” (l. 5834).

“On the other hand, the federal government could tighten its control over the city. As we finish our work, there is growing unease about the financial stability, of the local government, even as the city's social problems draw the attention of both demogagic and well meaning members of Congress” (l. 5835).

“We've argued that Washington is unique, but we can argue the other side, as well. It is enough like other cities with financial and racial strains to be a barometer for how well the nation tends to urban America. The problem of race -- so evident in the District -- is the paramount domestic problem facing America” (l. 5842).

The original version ends at this point. The newly-released revision continues the story up to 2014 in an Afterword.

Cheater's Guide to Dream City ends

Further installments will appear on successive Fridays. All posts are cross-posted on the ad-hoc "Cheater's Guide to Dream City" blog.

Full disclosure: I have a commercial relationship with Amazon. I will receive a very small portion of the money people spend after clicking on an Amazon link on this site.

This is a great book and well worth reading in its entirety.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

2724 11th Street: Opposition to Zoning Relief Recommended

At a regular monthly meeting on October 20, a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street voted to oppose zoning relief for the owners of 2724 11th Street NW, a rent-controlled Columbia Heights apartment building. The vote was unanimous, with one abstention.

2724 11th Street a few weeks ago
The motion said the committee would reconsider its opposition if the owners could show they had arrived at a "concrete agreement with the tenants" about how the renovation would proceed.

The matter was referred back to the Design Review Committee of ANC1B from the full ANC at its last meeting on October 2. The petitioners failed to provide the full ANC with promised drawings and documents to support their request in time for the previous meeting, so consideration of the request was taken off the agenda at the last minute. However, residents and neighbors who had come to the meeting in anticipation of a vote were allowed to tell the ANC about the state of advanced disrepair into which the building had fallen -- see SALM blog post of October 8.

The owners ask again for relief

The petitioners, lead by Martin Sullivan of the law firm Sullivan & Barros, appeared with drawings that more accurately reflected their revised plans. However, Sullivan didn't think the referral back to the Design Review Committee was necessary.

"I didn't think we needed to come back," Sullivan said.

The original proposal (see SALM blog post of June 23) added 11 new basement units to the 25-unit apartment building. The revised plan will result in a net gain of eight units. One above ground unit would be eliminated to create a trash disposal room, and nine units would be added to the basement. This revised proposal was first presented to the Design Review Committee last month -- see SALM blog post of September 17 -- without appropriate drawings.

The architect, presenting the September 17 proposal once again, said the new design created a "neighborhood-friendly" and "street-friendly" building.

"We plan to do rather a lot of landscaping," he said.

The architect said the proposed new basement units would be "more of a terrace unit" with direct access to the outside. The proposed new design would improve handicapped access, he said.

"It's a terrific way to save the building," he said. "It makes it economically feasible."

Attorney Sullivan then asked for committee endorsement on two zoning variances, the most significant of which is the requirement to add three addition parking space for the new units. The variance, he said, would qualify for zoning relief as it met the legal requirement of "no substantial detriment to the public good".

The tenants and neighbors testify

One tenant testified about the infestiation of rats, mice, and other vermin that the tenants have to deal with every day. He said that the owners had, last year, proposed a renovation and suggested that, if the tenants didn't agree, they should move out.

The tenant characterized the renovation as "a tool to try to push people out".

Speaking next, Janet Laskin, a student attorney representing the tenants, said the last year's deal referred to by the tenant above was part of a proposed condo conversion deal which was now "taken off the table".

Laskin said some repairs are now being done.

"Our legal team has just begin to speak with the owners," she said. "It's a bad, bad, bad situation."

One neighbor testified that an unauthorized renovation last year, started and then abandoned, left a big hole by the side of the building that filled up with water when it rained. This showed the owners had a bad track record on construction, she said.

Other neighbors concentrated on the effects the proposed variances might have on the neighborhood. One said the parking relief would create more cars wishing to find on-street parking where it was already very difficult to do so. Another said a proposed trash pick-up area on the rear alley would block the alley for service and emergency vehicles.

An owner responds

A woman who said she was a member of the family who owns the building had a chance to respond.

"There are so many untruths here," she said about the testimony of the tenants and neighbors.

"You may think we're rolling in dough, but we're not," she said.

About the renovation, she said: "We want to make this a beautiful building. You have drawings in front of you -- it could be a beautiful building."

Committee comments on the motion to deny

Committee member Joel Heisey made the motion to deny endorsement, and said there was "no compelling interest for the community".

"I agree this building needs to be renovated," Heisey said, but the owners were not entitled to "special treatment due to deferred maintenance".

Other committee members announced themselves against the motion, with one exception: Patrick Nelson.

"I'm at a total state of frustration," Nelson said. "For me, that's a lot of BS. There's stuff that's being brought in that has absolutely nothing to do with it [i.e., the zoning variance request]."

But others disagreed.

"Everybody wants to see the building renovated," committee member Tony Norman said. Norman commented on the testimony of tenants and neighbors: "I think all of this is relevant."

Norman also quoted ANC1B chair James Turner, who said that the tenants and neighbors should continue to come to the relevant meetings if they wished to influence the process.

Turner is commissioner for district 09, where 2724 11th Street is located.

The request for a zoning variance will probably be considered once again at the next meeting of the full ANC, which is scheduled for Thursday, November 6, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets). The zoning variance request for 2724 11th Street is on the calendar for consideration by DC's Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) on November 18 at 9:30am. The BZA holds open meetings at its offices at 441 4th Street (Judiciary Square).

Astonishingly Short ANC Committee Meeting

Last night, the liquor-licensing affairs committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle met. It completed all its business in 12 minutes. This is the shortest ANC-related meeting I have attended.

No one from the community appeared to object to any of the liquor license renewal requests.

The most complex item concerned the Capitol Supermarket (1231 11th Street NW). The committee wanted to include an item in the establishment's settlement agreement stating that deliveries will be taken from 11th Street (i.e., the front of the supermarket) and not the rear alley. The owner said he would, except in cases where official or construction vehicles took up the parking spaces in front of the building. The committee agreed to include language to this effect.

The second item was the liquor license renewal for Whole Foods (1440 P Street).

"No one objecting to the rowdy crowds at Whole Foods?" a committee member asked in mock astonishment.

The third item was a request by Studio Theater (1501 14th Street) to change their liquor-license category from D-X to C-X. This will allow the theater to serve hard liquor, in addition to wine and beer, to patrons.

The fourth item was a liquor license renewal for Cork & Fork (1524 14th Street). No one objected to that either.

Congratulations to all involved on the short meeting.

The items above will now be considered at the next meeting of the full ANC, scheduled for Wednesday, November 5, at 7pm, at the Washington Plaza Hotel (10 Thomas Circle). Items like those above, which pass the committee unanimously with little controversy, normally are passed by the full ANC as a slate with little or no discussion.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

944 Florida Avenue: "The Neighbor Upstairs Wants the Place Closed"

At a meeting October 15, a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street voted to recommend the ANC attempt to broker peace between the operators of Darnell's Bar (944 Florida Avenue NW) and a group of neighbors. But Nick Baumann, chair of ANC1B's liquor-licensing affairs committee, wasn't very optimistic of the chances of smoothing over the contending parties.
944 Florida Avenue (Google Street View)

"The neighbor upstairs wants the place closed and won't compromise," Baumann told the committee, reporting about an attempted mediation between the bar and its neighbors.

"The complaint about Darnell's is the music," a committee member said. Neighbors angry about the noise from the establishment have been protesting the renewal of Darnell's liquor license since at least 2013, according to documents available at the web site of DC's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA).

A neighbor who lives upstairs in the same building from Darnell's gave the following testimony (see page 17 of a 24-page .pdf here) about the establishment at a February 26, 2014, ABRA hearing:
... [W]e tried to get along with the party and we need a sound proof because we can hear everything that's going on downstairs. Got my window shaking, my picture dropping off the wall. And we tell him to cut the music down, he don't. We done called the police. I bet a couple, over a hundred-some times, they go and they tell him, the manager, cut the music down.
In addition to the upstairs neighbor, residents of the Floridian, a nearby apartment building, and other neighbors have joined the protest against Darnell's.

There has been an attempt to settle the dispute by getting the liquor licensee to sign a settlement agreement, which could make clear, for example, the hours of operation, permitted noise levels, and mechanisms for resolving disputes. However, the settlement agreement recently drafted by the lawyer for Darnell's said, in summary, that Darnell's agreed to abide by the letter of the law -- not really a document worth signing.

"There's stuff to be negotiated but who will negotiate?" Baumann asked at the meeting. Baumann is committee chair but has said previously that contentious negotiations with liquor licensees often require the authority of an elected official.

Darnell's is in district 11 of ANC1B. The Commissioner is E. Gail Anderson Holness. Holness is running for election as Ward One representative on the DC State Board of Education. She will give up her ANC seat at the end of the year.

ANC1B Chair James Turner (Commissioner for district 09) attended the meeting, although he is not on the alcohol-licensing committee. Turner advised the committee that Holness could negotiate on this matter, but she would need clear guidance from the committee on what were the desired outcomes of the negotiations.

"If you ask Gail to make it better, make it specific," Turner said.

The committee came up with some clear goals for the negotiations, such as explicit promises to close all windows and doors while music was playing, no amplified music outside, no noisy disposal of glass bottles and other trash between 10pm and 7am.

The committee then passed a resolution to recommend a settlement agreement be negotiated by Commissioner Holness with the owner.

The resolution will probably come up at the next meeting of the full ANC, scheduled for Thursday, November 6, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets).

During the daytime, The Blind Dog Cafe, a coffee house, also operates at 944 Florida Avenue. The Blind Dog Cafe was not discussed at the meeting. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Logan Circle ANC Endorses Raze of Building on "Most Endangered Places" List

At its regular monthly meeting on October 1, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle voted unanimously to endorse the raze of two historically-protected buildings at 911-913 L Street NW. On October 8, the DC Preservation League included this property on its annual list of "most endangered places".

The property in 2007 (from Flickr, licensed for reuse)
"911 L Street is one of the oldest buildings to survive in the Shaw Historic District," the DC Preservation League says on its website. 913 L Street "was constructed in 1892 and designed by well-known Washington architect Appleton P. Clark."

See articles about the DC Preservation League's 2014 list of most endangered historic properties from the Washington Post here and the Washington Business Journal here.

A small piece in a big puzzle

If the raze goes forward, it will be a small part of a larger plan to build two separate Marriott hotels and a 12-story residential building near the intersection of 9th and L Streets in Shaw. The planned complex would cover a large part of the city block bordered by 9th, 10th, L and M Streets, close to the Washington Convention Center. (This should not be confused with another Marriott hotel, the Marriott Marquis, which opened nearby in May.)

The construction of the hotels and residences is part of a Planned Unit Development (PUD), a planning tool which allows developers of large projects to bundle benefits to the community and concessions from the community into a single package. (See a short explanation of PUDs here and 21 pages of official PUD regulations here.)

But before the PUD process can move forward, the developers and city must deal with the historic preservation aspects of the project. There are currently nine historically-protected buildings on the site, which is in the Shaw Historic District. The developers plan to incorporate seven of the nine into the design of their hotel and residence complex. 911-913 L Street are the other two buildings on the block.

ANC2F's Community Development Committee (CDC) had, on September 24, recommended after community discussion that the full ANC support the raze application with the condition that the existing materials be preserved and reused as much as possible -- see SALM blog post of September 30.

The discussion at the full ANC meeting

At the October 1 meeting, ANC2F Commissioner Greg Melcher (district 06) started the portion of the meeting dealing with this matter by noting the building was in the downtown development district.

"Something's going to have to come down," he said. "I'm inclined to vote for it. It's not a wholesale tearing down of the building."

911-913 L Street is in Melcher's ANC district.

Sherri Kimbel, Director of Constituent Services at the Office of City Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward Two) told the ANC that Evans had spoken to "several people" about the development. The people Evans talked to were supportive of the two hotels but not the residential component, Kimbel said.

"There was a requirement to have housing," Kimbel said. "That requirement was not in place for the Marriott across the street" -- meaning, the new Marriott Marquis.

Robert Knopf, Senior Vice-President of the Quadrangel Development Company, spoke on behalf of the developers.

"We're very interested in putting in the residential component," he said. "We need the residential component to cover costs."

As it was, Knopf said, the development had to pay "retail price" for the lots where the planned hotel and residences would go, and then were compelled to shrink the size of the project due to historic preservation requirements -- from an original plan of 237 units to 200.

"We feel like we've been tricked," Knopf said. "We were told we would not have to preserve the building."

All applications to raze buildings in historic districts have a public hearing before the Mayor's Agent in the Historic Preservation Office. A hearing on this project was originally scheduled October 15. On September 19 (well before the meetings described in this article), attorneys for the developers asked for the hearing to be postponed until November, because the developers needed time to respond to comment on the project's overall design from DC historic preservation authorities.

See an article about this development's struggles with historic preservation authorities from the blog BadWolfDC here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Historic Preservation Website Reboot Creates Hundreds of Broken Links, Vanished Information

Without any apparent announcement or press release that I could find, DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) and its mother agency, the Office of Planning (OP), have redesigned HPRB's web presence. The result, as of this writing, is that hundreds of hyperlinks that formerly led to HPRB informational web pages and official documents, from its welcome page to scores of staff reports, now lead to a default "page not found" page (see screenshot below). In addition, I am unable to find any information on the HPRB website about Board meetings before September 2014.

A Google Search for HPRB yields this
A email request for information from HPRB about the broken links and removed information was not answered as of this writing. The email request was made before opening of business three days ago, Friday, October 17.

In addition, Google searches for "HPRB" or "Historic Preservation Review Board" also lead to the default "page not found" page, as of this writing.

This page advises, among other things, to visit the Office of Planning at the following URL: . However, this URL does not lead to a functioning web page.

However, there is a link on the page that reads "Historic Preservation" on the upper left of the same page. This link leads to the new HPRB web presence.

In the HPRB's new "Agendas & Reports" page, no longer has information prior to September 2014. Before the reboot, this HPRB page contained information going back to 2010 -- see this archived page of the old HPRB website from Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.

Hyperlinks to HPRB documents, especially staff reports, from many local blogs and other sources now lead to dead links. A short Internet search lead me to find broken links to HPRB documents at the web site of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle (the broken link is located on this page) and at the following blogs that report on HPRB activity:
In each case above, the hyperlink leads to the page with the broken link.

Dozens of links to HPRB-related stories I have written about on this blog in the
last 14 months are now also dead.

Finally, the abbreviated URL ( that HPRB posts on its mandatory public placarding (see example left), which promises a web page where people unfamiliar with the process can get information about historic preservation review, also leads to the unhelpful "page not found" page.

HPRB announced a pilot program of public placarding of historic preservations projects in March -- see SALM blog post of March 28. I first noticed actual placards appearing in public in September -- see SALM blog post of September 2.

I would appreciate comments or emails from anyone who can help me make sense of the HPRB website redesign and/or help me re-link articles to now-difficult-to-find HPRB information.