EastBanc, Inc.'s plans to add a mezzanine level and rear alley access to the current home of Coach at 3259 M St. is yet another calculated move in a plan to develop a -type project behind commercial structures on M Street. EastBanc, Inc. owns five properties along the alley, which runs behind the 3200 block of M and Prospect Streets and is accessed from Potomac Street.
The plan for 3259 M St., designed by _Cox Graae + Spack architects_, is to add an additional 1,800 feet to the rear of the existing building on a mezzanine level without changing the footprint of the structure. The addition would also be within the allowable floor area ratio, so no zoning exception would be needed.
EastBanc representatives have said the project came about because the lease with Coach is almost up and they are trying to seize the opportunity to improve the space before another tenant moves in.
At the Old Georgetown Board meeting Thursday, Anthony Lanier told the board, "we are trying to take a building that we acquired and never were able to rehabilitate—to bring it back to the 21st century before the next tenant takes occupancy."
Hinting at the potential future use of the space the senior Lanier said, "We believe that today’s alleys can be tomorrow’s courtyards, shopping streets, or accesses."
Philippe Lanier, Anthony's son and a principal at EastBanc, was slightly more direct. "It is our intent to make this a version of another’s Cady’s Alley," he said in a phone interview with Patch.
However, at the Advisory Neighborhood Commission Monday, a group of neighbors from Potomac Street other nearby residences objected to the project, worrying that EastBanc's continuing gradual acquisition of the area would result in residents being alienated by increasingly active commercial spaces.
Alex Meeraus, a Potomac Street resident, called EastBanc's purchases "salami tactics" in which the developer "takes a little slice at a time" hoping no one notices until it is too late.
Meeraus sent a formal email to both EastBanc and the ANC objecting to the project ().
In it he wrote, "This project, if approved, will eventually lead to the conversion of the entire block into commercial use. The remaining residents will move as the character of the neighborhood changes."
However, at the OGB, the senior Lanier assured those in attendance that his intent was not to force the neighbors out.
"We are not necessarily corrupting all of our neighbors into a Cady’s Alley concept," he said, "but I certainly think that over the next many, many years, I can imagine, there will be uses that will be accessed from the alley, particularly from Prospect Street, as all the buildings on Prospect Street are currently used commercially."
The younger Lanier shared that sentiment. "It's not our intent to force any residents out...All we’re doing is activating a dead brick wall."
Practical issues also concern the neighbors and the ANC. The entrance to the alley warns of a seven feet-wide entrance because of a railing on a neighboring building. The actual public alley is ten feet wide and provides enough room for service deliveries. An open area in the rear has parking spaces on private property, but there is no public parking area space.*
Michael Steiner, whose office at __ is on Prospect Street, said the alley already poses significant logistical issues.
"Introducing pedestrian traffic is going to further complicate matters," he said.
The younger Lanier said that while EastBanc respects the concerns of the neighbors, they are at odds over the value of an area that is part residential and part commercial.
"Some [neighbors] will say 'we don’t want it changed into part residential and part commercial,' but that’s something we think is part of the urban landscape,” he explained.
Luckily for EastBanc, the OGB agreed.
Board member Steven Vanze said "we do what we can to encourage good design...it is not our job to discuss use."
Both Vanze and Lewis had high praise for the design concept.
Lewis acknowledged the neighbors concerns, but said she was not worried that the project would impact them in the way they feared so long as it was a "low-level activity space."
The project received OGB concept approval.
*Editor's Note: Patch initially reported that the alley was seven feet wide and that there was public parking.