City Paper Widget

Monday, October 7, 2013

15 Dupont Circle: Move Fast or No Deal

"We are under pressure from the seller. If I don't move fast, they will sell it to someone else," said a presenter to a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle on October 1.

"Everything inside me says go slow on this," said ANC2B Commissioner Mike Silverstein (district 06). "We have to walk a very fine line."

The Patterson House
The property is 15 Dupont Circle NW. This Italian neoclassical mansion, known as the "Patterson House", is on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places. It was built by Stanford White in 1903 and for many years was the home of the Washington Club. The asking price on the property is $26 million.

The proposal

The development proposal, presented by architect David Shove-Brown of Studio 3877 and Ronnie Ben-Zur, CEO of French Quarter Hospitality of Atlanta, Georgia, is to turn 15 Dupont into the front part of a hotel. An adjoining two-story annex building on P Street will be demolished. In its place, a new six-story  building in a completely dissimilar modern architectural style will be constructed. The plan is that the new building will connect in its interior to the old building.

But first the concept must be approved by DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) in October and a handful of special exceptions, waivers, and zoning variances must be obtained from DC's Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) on December 3. If the developers don't have all the approvals they need after the December 3 meeting, the sale is off.

An ANC does not have the authority to stop or accelerate proposals of this type on its own, but an ANC endorsement is given "great weight" by the HPRB and BZA. A statement of opposition can be enough to delay or even derail a project. A statement of support makes the going easier.
This annex would be demolished

The presenters said the Patterson house would be "restored to its original glory". The first floor would contain hotel reception, a bar, a library, and lounges. The second floor would have three banquet rooms and a ballroom. There would be a total of forty guest rooms in both the historic building and the new building, plus a roof-top patio and a green roof.

Overall, 75 percent of the interior of the old building would be preserved, the presenters said. Ninety percent of the interior would be preserved on the first two floors.

Criticism from the committee

There were many aspects of the proposal for the new glass-and-steel building that the committee did not like. This generated a long discussion.

"This proposal puts so much glass on P Street," one committee member said. "It will have a negative impact."

There was a suggestion to take two levels off the front (i.e., the P Street) side of the building and make the building taller in back.

"Pushing it two floors back is not practical," a presenter said. "We are not likely to get a height variance."

An abutting neighbor in attendance said, "We would oppose a height variance."

Commissioner Leo Dwyer (district 07) continued to advocate for a height variance, and offered to lobby on the presenters' behalf if it became necessary. The presenters expressed no enthusiasm for the proposal.

Dwyer is the chair of ANC2B's Zoning, Preservation, and Development Committee (ZPD), which held the meeting where the proposal was made.

Dwyer and others had serious criticism for another part of the project. As currently planned, a mechanical penthouse, would protrude from the top of the new building and over the old building. It would be clearly visible behind the old building from all over Dupont Circle, according to illustrations provided by the presenters to the ZPD Committee.

"Get rid of the obvious penthouse on the west side," Dwyer said.

The presenters said this would be impossible, because the building could not be made any taller and because the mechanical penthouse could not be moved.

Wanted: a hotel everyone can live with

Toward the end of the discussion, the presenters said, "The intent is not to anger the neighborhood. The intent is to have a working dialog with the community."

All parties were conscious that a hotel -- as compared to a private club or an embassy -- would be the only way that the general public would be able to see and enjoy the interior of the building.

"An embassy, we lose nearly all control," said Commissioner Silverstein.

There was no motion at the ZPD committee to either support or oppose the proposal before any DC government body.

The next stop for the prospective buyers is the HPRB on October 23. The subject of the HPRB will be the proposed new building's "massing". Massing, explained on page 7 of an HPRB .pdf document here, is the extent to which a building's facade is in harmony with the facades of the nearby structures.

"The massing of a new building should be compatible with the massing of existing buildings," the HPRB document, titled "New Construction in Historic Districts", says.

If that hurdle is cleared, then the prospective buyers will make a separate request for ANC2B support of their BZA application. Details of the exceptions, waivers, and variances being requested are available on page one of a BZA word processing document available here.

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