City Paper Widget

Thursday, November 13, 2014

1017 12th Street: Offices in Mary Todd Lincoln's Dressmaker's Residence

At its regular monthly meeting on November 5, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle voted unanimously to endorse requests for zoning variances by the owner of 1017 12th Street NW, a lonely red-brick holdout in the downtown business district, dwarfed by surrounding modern office buildings.

(Photo credit below)
According to an article in the Washington Business Journal, the building was once the residence of Elizabeth Keckley. Keckley was a freed slave who became a dressmaker to prominent Civil War-era Washington wives, including Mary Todd Lincoln. Keckley became a confidant of Mrs. Lincoln but then had a falling out after Keckley published a memoir about their relationship.

The Washington Business Journal article adds that the building underwent a major renovation in the 1890's so that it no longer resembles the building where Keckley lived.

The presentation to the ANC

A team by attorney Meredith Moldenhauer of Griffin, Murphy, Moldenhauer & Wiggins, LLP, and by the building owner and applicant Fred Hill of the Bethesda-based Hill Group, presented to a meeting of the October 29 meeting of Community Development Committee (CDC) of ANC2F.

Hill purchased the building in December 2012 to serve as the headquarters of the Hill Group and its 70 employees, according to publicly-available documents from DC's Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA). The building had been vacant for seven years, according to the applicant's BZA statement. Hill told the ANC the plan was to have 40-50 people in the building total, roughly six people to a floor. This would bring roughly $30 million in tax revenue to the District in 15 years, Hill said.

The building would be made taller -- the plan is 10 stories (about 105 feet tall), roughly the same as its neighbors. The applicants do not need special permission to make the building taller -- they may do so by right.

The building is not located in a historic district, so does not require permission from DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). The applicants told the ANC they had consulted the HPRB, who said the building had no historic significance.

Still, "the goal is to save the facade", according to attorney Moldenhauer.

She also explained the applicants were seeking three zoning varances. Among the variances are floor-to-area ratio (FAR) and a parking exception.

FAR means the ratio of the area of the total floor area of the building to that of the footprint of the building on the ground. The building's tiny lot is about 1,250 square feet, and the building now takes up 100% of the lot. Zoning regulations for this zoning designation (DD/C-2-C) limits a developer to an FAR of 8.0 -- in effect, an eight-story building. The developers are proposing an FAR of 10.0, i.e., a ten-story building.

The building now takes up the entire lot and has no parking. To provide the seven parking spaces required by zoning regulations, the applicants would have to cut a hole and/or dig into the existing foundation, which everybody seemed to agree was not a good idea. The applicants plan to have no parking on-site, but its mammoth neighbors will provide pay parking in lots only steps away.

"Relief is obviously necessary, so as not to have the building become a vacant blight to the community," Moldenhauer said.

Some members of the CDC made design suggestions to the applicants. Since the design will not be review by the HPRB, the applicants are not required to take need of the ANC's suggestions, but they listened politely anyway.

"I really appreciate you preserving this building," said CDC Chair Walt Cain (Commission for district 02).

The proposal was approved unanimously by the CDC on October 29. The proposal came up before the full ANC as part of a slate of proposals, all of which had received unanimous approval by the CDC at the October 29 meeting. The full ANC approval the entire slate in a single vote.

See a summary of the October 29 meeting of the CDC meeting from ANC2F's web site here.

Documents concerning the application for zoning relief may be viewed by going to the case search tool of DC's Interactive Zoning Information System and entering case number 18878 in the search bar.

The case is on the calendar for a public hearing at the BZA on December 9, at 9:30am, at the BZA hearing room, Room 220 South, 441 4th Street NW (Judiciary Square metro).

In addition to the links above, there is an extraordinary amount of information on the Internet about Elizabeth Keckley, who was recently the subject of a popular novel as well as a minor character in the recent film biography of Abraham Lincoln. There are also web pages devoted to Keckley on, and the Virginia Historical Society, among many others. National Public Radio also did a story about Keckley in 2012.

(photo credit: from BZA official documents)

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