Will Restoration Board Endorse Riverfront BID on Lower-8th Street Building Height? Rare Closed Session Held to Consider
by Larry Janezich
At its December 21 meeting the Capitol Hill Restoration Society Board of Directors went into a rare closed session (with only Board members, staff, and the newsletter editor present) to discuss Capitol Riverfront BID’s request to endorse their process (to date) pushing greater building height and massing proposals for the lower 8th Street developments. It was the first closed session of the Board in recent memory.
Just prior to the closed meeting, Michael Stevens, Executive Director of the Capital Riverfront BID – introduced to the Board by President Elizabeth Purcell as “a great friend of CHRS – he has sold (Restoration Society) house tour tickets for the last two years.” – answered questions from Board Members regarding plans for developments surrounding the Blue Castle at 8th and M Streets, SE. The Capitol Riverfront BID organized a planning process for 8th Street, SE, below the Freeway. That process is called “The Lower 8th Street Visioning”.
Stevens said that Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregonning – who has often crossed swords with CHRS – had advised him to seek input from community organizations in “a transparent process.” To that end an Advisory Board representing interested parties was formed and meetings involving the community and stakeholders were held. In the ensuing dialogue the height and massing of buildings in the proposed development became issues.
The Lower 8th Street Vision Process hired ubiquitous architect Amy Weinstein to construct views featuring 45, 65, and 85 foot high buildings in the available parcels.
Stevens said that the subsequent dialogue revealed the possibility “that an increase in height and density could be a good thing”. Minutes of the February 23, 2010 community meeting state there was consensus that “people would likely be ok with 65 feet” and that “65 feet was very reasonable.”
Developers can build to 45 feet as a matter of right. Smith said to the Board that the concerns were that 85 foot buildings “would be overwhelming – and we found that they were not overwhelming”. The views can be seen in the online final report – see link below.
It is noteworthy, that the Office of Planning has sometimes favored the interests of developers over those of the Restoration Board. Recent examples include a Heritage Foundation construction project on Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, and the proposed height of the planned Union Station North development. This blog will post on the latter in the next few days.
In seeking the Board’s endorsement of the process to date, Stevens said, “we are asking you to say that you participated in the process, that you recognize the process has been good, and that the final report would serve as a framework for future decision making.”
Stevens noted that he had “met last Tuesday with the ANC and had gotten their endorsement.”
Restoration Board concerns center on the four squares bounded by Virginia Avenue and M Street, lying between 7th Streets and 9th Streets, SE. Questions were raised by Board members about what the Navy Yard thought of the maximum height proposals of buildings overlooking the Navy Yard, given security issues.
Stevens pointed to a 93 foot structure in the square to the west of the Blue Castle that the Navy Yard had signed off on, and noted that the Navy would need space for some 3,500 additional personnel assigned to the Navy Yard. Inquiries made to ascertain their needs had been unanswered, however. He also noted that 25% occupancy by DOD personnel would trigger security setback provisions that would present problems concerning first floor retail in a development overlooking the Navy Yard.
The Board went into closed session that lasted some 10 -15 minutes. No word of what happened there has been forthcoming. President Purcell did not respond to an email asking whether votes had taken place and if so, the subject and results of the vote, as well as whether the minutes would reflect what took place in the meeting.
One clue as to possible Board sentiments comes from Society Historic Preservation Committee Chair Nancy Metzger’s suggestions for amendments to the final report (which has already been published online). Meztger recommended several changes to the report including language “that at least implies that something lower than 45’ might also be considered – Historic Preservation review is involved in this as well and, depending on circumstances, 45’ might just be too much.”
It is unclear whether it was necessary for the Board to vote on the amendments to the report or whether it did so, or whether to Board took a position with respect to the request from Stevens. The Board may be waiting for its own newsletter to comment on the matter. The final report can be viewed here: http://lower8th.blogspot.com/