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Old Georgetown Board Sends Several Development Projects Back to the Drawing Board

Several projects foundered before the critical eye of the Old Georgetown Board Thursday.

The Old Georgetown Board (OGB) sent several large projects back to the drawing board as architects and developers struggled to make their designs meet the board's high standards at the board's September meeting, Thursday.

Washington Harbour

The first issue for the board with the Harbour was to what extent its review was needed since the architecture is technically not within the historic period of significance for Georgetown. But eventually both Anne Lewis and Stephen Vanze decided that the key role the Washington Harbour plays in the local architecture merited a thorough review.

With that clear, the two set into their critique of the proposed upgrades and changes to the fountain area.

The new fountain design, according to Lewis is "vastly inferior to the initial design."

Vanze agreed saying "it becomes so sleek that there's no base to it."

Lewis opined that changes to the fountain to allow for a skating rink were "not inappropriate," however she did not approve of the proposal to remove so much of the base of the tower at the center of the fountain.

“If you could work with the base of the fountain, not amending it at all or amending it in a sympathetic way," that would be best, she said.

"Save the tower in its entirety if you can," Lewis added after some additional back and forth with MRP Realty's Charles McGrath.

"This needs to go back to the drawing board, so I don’t need to belabor it," she said.

McGrath said he and his team would happily accommodate the input of the OGB, but he said when he returns, he hoped it would be for permit approval. Otherwise, he said, "if we push this up, I think a lot of the proposed changes won’t happen."

"We’re happy to try to help you move this along," said Vanze, who suggested that perhaps MRP bring the project back in smaller packages that the board could approve without necessarily approving all of the changes at once.

3249 M St.

This project for a four-story rear addition to an existing M Street storefront and the OGB had little nice to say either. The proposal would include two stories of residential space and two stories of retail space; currently the structure is home to the retail store.

Tim Dennee for the Historic Preservation Office wrote to the OGB that he recommended "substantial revision" to the design as proposed.

"Rear additions should rarely be taller and larger than the building to which they are being added. They should be subordinate."

Additionally, Dennee said the proposed structure would be visible from several vantage points along M Street.

The OGB was inclined to agree with Dennee.

"This is just obviously way too big, it can’t be any taller than what’s there," said Vanze. "The mass is the big problem."

Lewis agreed adding "it is obvious this is going to have to go back to the drawing board."

Dumbarton Oaks

Upon its appearance at the OGB, the proposed new housing quarters for Dumbarton Oaks scholars received concept approval.

The project at 1700 Wisconsin Ave. will convert an existing 1950s-era building, built in the Colonial style, into a modern dormitory of sorts for scholars of the research institution and historic property.

Architect Ralph Cunningham, of D.C.-based Cunningham-Quill Architects, heeded the advice of the OGB to reduce what Lewis had described as a "shocking" mass.

The plans were "revised to address a lot of concerns," said Cunningham.

"We attach more of the mass to the existing building, raising the two wings to three, and reducing the mass on R Street," he said.

Neighbors now no longer have concerns about the project.

The OGB even approved of an active rooftop area along the Wisconsin Avenue side of the property.

"In this case, a roof deck and terrace is perfectly acceptable," said Vanze cautiously.

"This seems a much more coherent project than when it started," said Lewis.

Walter Grosyk September 03, 2011 at 02:18 PM
On Washington Harbour, the OGB focused on three of the proposed changes: the base of the tower, the location of the two outside bars near the plaza, and the outside lighting for the edifice. The general dimensions of the pool/rink (and the removal of the planters) and the redesigned, wider terrace around the pool got a pass, IMO.) The changes to the facade of the retail (restaurants) around the plaza so the interiors don't look so walled off and dark was deferred until MRP completes a mockup in three weeks. On the outside lighting, the OGB wants lighting to be top down rather than bottom up, and this quasi-mandate may preserve the capitals that Mr. Moore wants preserved, but whose condition has markedly deteriorated over time. On the two outside bars, I suspect the flood gates for the Harbour limit how much their proposed location can be shifted. (Apparently the Sequoia outside bar will also be resigned to mirror the two outside bars by the plaza, The redesign will take its design cue from the pergola in the new section of the waterfront park.) The tower base needs to be shaved so it can house the Zamboni for the seasonal ice rink. The OGB had no problem with a new fountain in the pool area, and a fountain flowing over the sides of the tower base. (The tower would also be used as a source of 'white noise' to lessen the decibel level of the outside bars and related activity.)
Shaun Courtney (Editor) September 03, 2011 at 02:35 PM
Thanks for your thorough addition to our reporting, Walter!

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