City Paper Widget

Monday, September 30, 2013

Neighbors Lobby ANC2F on 1101 Rhode Island Avenue

"You are increasing your property's value, but you are decreasing ours."

CAS Riegler prepares to present
This was a reaction of a local resident to the presentation by real estate development company CAS Riegler about its proposed new multi-story building at 1101 Rhode Island Avenue NW. More than 20 future neighbors of the proposed mixed-use building turned out at the Community Development Committee meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle to question developers closely about their intentions, and to express their displeasure at certain aspects of the project. The meeting took place on September 25 at the Washington Plaza Hotel (10 Thomas Circle).

The community mobilizes

The controversy started before the meeting had begun. Activity on Twitter and the web site Popville indicated the possible future neighbors of the proposed project were mobilizing against it. Among the reasons: concern about building height, parking, and setback. Developers responded with a detailed post explaining their position and asking that supporters of the project come to the ANC meeting.

No members of the community other than those connected to CAS Riegler spoke in favor of the proposal during the meeting. However, more than 20 local residents came in a group and identified themselves as having serious concerns about the proposal. Of these, six or seven individual residents identified themselves by name and address before detailing their objections.

ANC2F apparently had advance warning of the turnout, as the published agenda had an unusual annotation reminding attendees that questions about the project from the floor would not be taken until the presenters had spoken and the committee had asked all the questions it wished to.

CAS Riegler presents

Kevin Riegler of CAS Riegler made the initial presentation. He asked the ANC to support a petition to DC's Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) requesting five zoning variances and a special exception. The BZA hearing is scheduled for December 3. (A list detailing the variances and exception are listed on page two of a BZA word processing document available here.)

Artist's view of project, presented at meeting
Unusually for the area, the building site is not part of any historic district, so does not require endorsement from DC's Historic Preservation Review Board.

The proposed building will be located on an odd-shaped lot. It will have existing two-story townhouses to its rear. As planned, the building will be more than more than two stories taller than these neighbors.
Riegler said his company was also a member of the community. The company's offices are located diagonally across from the project site. He talked about the history of the site -- it belonged to the Diamond Cab company, and before that was a gas station -- and is a high-traffic area of Rhode Island Avenue.

"It's a nice quiet street but doesn't necessarily need to be," Riegler said.

The site now
The planned building will have "up to" 40 residential condominium units, and 25,000 to 29,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. The vision is for the space to be occupied by a single retailer, most likely a "three-meal bistro, umbrellas on public space".

The developer is planning a single level of parking with 14 spaces for the building. Over the garage, the plan is to create a "green roof", which might cost more to build, but would be more pleasant for residents to look down on than the roofs of cars. The garage will include a bicycle room with 40 spaces.

Another potential problem area is what excavation may reveal about the land underneath the former cab company and gas station. There is expected to be petroleum contamination to clean up and old gas tanks to remove. How many gas tanks are actually below the property is impossible to know. Records indicate that there were once as many as 11, and at least 4 have been removed.

Questions from the committee

ANC2F Commissioner Walt Cain (district 02) asked whether the proposed penthouse will be visible from the alley to the rear of the building, which will face the neighboring historic townhouses. Reigler said that it would "in spots".
From drawing presented at meeting

Cain is chair of the ANC2F's Community Development Committee.

Committee member Joel Heisey asked who would manage the retail space.

"We will," Riegler said.

"Forever?" Heisey asked.

"We can't promise that," Riegler replied.

Commissioner John Fanning (district 04) said that the alley that will separate the building from the row houses was in bad shape and will need to be resurfaced. It was agreed that this could be done as part of the project.

In response to committee questions, the developers put forth a timeline for the project. Ideally, they will be able to get a permit to raze the buildings on the property in 30 days. Demolition would take place in the first quarter of 2014, and construction would stretch for 12-14 months after that.

The community has a say

The first speaker from the community, a resident of the 1500 block of 12th Street, said they had three concerns: parking, roof setback, and lot occupancy. 

The developers assume that most residents will not have cars. Most of the current residents of the neighborhood had cars, the first speaker said. It was not appropriate to assume that new residents will not have cars. The best way to assure the new building would not aggravate the parking shortage would be to meet the legal requirements, which would entail providing 21 parking spaces.

"We feel really comfortable with the ratio of people who own cars," Riegler replied.

Concerning roof setback, there seemed to be some disagreement about whether the penthouse would exclusively house stairs, elevators, and mechanical equipment, as required by law. If the penthouse structure is in any way meant for residential use, it would be in conflict with zoning code.

The proposed building's neighbors to the rear
CAS Riegler is also requesting an exception from lot occupancy requirements. Community members said the building as designed would occupy 90 percent of the lot space, including the "green roof" on the parking area. This is far more than the maximum 75 percent permitted under law. 

Debate went on a long time. It wandered back and forth among these topics as other residents echoed the above concerns. Residents urged the developers to lower the number of units and to dig a deeper garage to get the required number of parking spaces.

"A restaurant is not needed in that neighborhood," one resident said.

"The building looks like a cheap hotel," said another, commenting on the drawings presented to the committee. 

Still another, a mother of a small child from the 1100 block of Q Street, was worried about the ground contaminants that the excavation would uncover, and said she was "worried about remediation".

By the end of the meeting, several members of the Community Development Committee had indicated they felt CAS Riegler's presentation was inadequate. They would have to return and do better. 

"We need concrete documents instead of assertions," Committee Member Joyce Cowan said. Other members of the committee echoed her sentiments, and indicated they expected to see more detailed plans and information in the future.

"I need more concrete information," said ANC Commissioner Matt Connolly (district 08).

No motion was made and no vote was taken about the project at the meeting. It was agreed that there would be further meetings between the concerned parties and the committee would consider the zoning relief requests again in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great coverage. Neighbors hope to see you again at next week's ANC2F Development meeting on 10/23!!