City Paper Widget

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Oman Embassy Seeks Cultural Center at 16th and L

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle was asked last night (November 5) to endorse a handful of zoning variances which will allow the Embassy of Oman to open the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center in a building on the northwest corner of 16th and L Streets NW. The request was heard by ANC2B's Zoning, Preservation and Development (ZPD) Committee.

1100 16th Street as seen from across L Street
Attorney Chris Collins of Holland & Knight told the committee that Oman plans to purchase and occupy 1100 16th Street as a diplomatic property. The building is located on a 5,725 square foot parcel at 16th and L. It is zoned in a category which allows use by diplomatic missions.

The building will be occupied Monday - Friday, 9am - 5pm. The cultural center will start with three employees but may eventually employ as many as 25 in office, exhibition, and classroom space, according to documents filed with the DC government by the Embassy of Oman.

However, at the ZPD committee hearing, Collins said there will probably be no more than 10 employees in the space. Collins also reported the building would have a lecture hall with a capacity of 50 - 75, which may host up to four events per month.

The presentation to the committee indicated the cultural center intends to put signage over its entrances and the crest of Oman above a third-floor window. In addition, there will be public art, specifically, a sculpture of a ship in the yard facing the building's 16th Street side. The sculpture will recall Oman's heritage as a seafaring nation.

The new owners will also replace the doors and improve the quality of the windows.

Starting in late 2014 or early 2015, the cultural center will offer Arabic classes from 6 until 9:30 on Monday to Thursday evenings, according to its zoning application.

Although no vote was taken at the ZPD Committee meeting, the atmosphere was very cordial. The committee will likely report favorably to the full ANC at the next meeting (November 13). Then, the full ANC will probably vote to support the Embassy of Oman in its request before the Foreign Missions Board of Zoning Adjustment (FMBZA) for the zoning variances necessary to allow the Embassy of Oman to purchase and occupy the building.

FMBZA is a DC government agency which exists to make it simpler for foreign missions to obtain and occupy buildings. It functions as a "one-stop shop" for getting necessary permissions. This relieves the Embassy of Oman of the obligations of making separate applications to the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) or Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB).

Under normal circumstances, the owner of 1100 16th Street would have to consult with HPRB because the building is part of the Sixteenth Street Historic District.

The previous tenant in the building was the charter elementary School for Arts in Learning (SAIL), which vacated the building in July 2011. SAIL was the subject of investigative journalism by the Washington Times in May 2010, which showed "a history of unaccountability and shoddy oversight" at the school, as well as many years of poor math and reading scores. The Washington Times said SAIL had paid $2.8 million for the building.

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