Historic Review Board Gives Partial Approval to Hine Project – Delays Consideration of Height and Massing Issues
by Larry Janezich
HPRB met on Thursday to review Stanton Eastbanc’s Hine project and – while approving the basic site plan and the general architectural direction of the project – deferred consideration of the all-important height and massing issues until next month. Chair Catherine Buell noted these issues are complex and will be addressed building by building.
More than a dozen residents – some representing community groups and some representing themselves – testified against aspects of the Hine project.
The two community organizations which appeared to have the most sway with the Board were ANC6B, represented by ANC Vice Chair Ivan Frishberg, and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, represented by Shauna Holmes. Each raised similar objections regarding height and historic compatibility, particularly with the two buildings fronting on Pennsylvania Avenue and D Street. These objections were in opposition to the staff report of Historic Preservation Office, which looked more kindly on the two buildings.
Frishberg noted that the two buildings should be a distinctive landmark evocative of Capitol Hill and failed to achieve that. He singled out the 8th andD Street building in particular, saying it does not reflect character of Capitol Hill, is too tall and has an “unrelenting quality.”
Regarding the 7th and Pennsylvania building, Holmes said, “exclamation points are fine – shouting with exclamation points is not.” She went on to urge reconsideration of the 8th and D building as failing to convey anything other than associations withSouthwest DC.
Holmes also urged HPRB to convene a group meeting of major stakeholders including DDOT, Office of Planning, ANC6B, EMCAC, Market Row,Barracks Row Main Street, andCHRSto provide project input and insure that the proposal is the best that can be done.
Other community organizations testifying included EMMCA, Eyes on Hine, and the 200 block of 8th Street Coalition. All raised concerns with the project’s height and massing.
Steve Callcott, representing the Historic Preservation Office (HPO), appeared to have become more critical of the project than the HPO staff report published last week indicated.
In his remarks to the Board, he said he was unconvinced that the design of the north residential building was appropriate for the location. He said he was comfortable with the architectural direction of the 8th Street residential building, suggesting only a variation in the building’s roofline. However, Callcott went beyond the staff report on the 8th and D Street Building, saying now that it is “very important to address the architectural direction of the building to make sure it was headed in the right direction.” He noted that HPO had been more optimistic about the building in its report but recognized that there were clearly concerns about the height and architecture.
While recognizing the call of the ANC and CHRS for reduction in height of the 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue office building, he said he stood by the HPO assessment that a taller building in this location is compatible with the character of the Historic District. He said that a softer resolution of the issue of the appearance of the building’s height involving recessing the top floors of the building could be achieved. Finally, he noted that the architectural direction for the 7th Street office building and the 7th Street residential building have “not been accomplished” and the buildings “have not achieved a sense of place yet,” and would receive further review. He concluded that he thought the project was largely supportable but the reality is that it still needs a lot of work.
Chair Catherine Buell noted that the majority of comments and concerns raised by community groups and members could be addressed by staff as they work with the architect in light of the views of ANC6b and the CHRS.
Board Member’s reception of the community comments varied. Board Member Christopher Landis seemed most in agreement with the ANC and CHRSreports encouraging HPO staff to work with architect and with these reports to “move in that direction.” Chair Catherine Buell said “I’m not a fan of the 8th and D Street building, it is too big, needs to step down, and change design.” Also, “the building across from the north plaza needs to be rethought as well.” Board Member Pamela Scott seemed to give an uncritical endorsement of the project, saying “the entire design is a very positive addition to Capitol Hill.”
The vote to approve the basic site plan and the architectural direction was 5-0 with Chair Catherine Buell, Maria Casarella, Pamela Scott, Joseph Taylor, and Christopher Landis voting to approve. Board Member Tersh Boasberg has recused himself from this case.
Members of the community who had testified seemed pleased that their comments appeared to be taken seriously by the Board. One commenter characterized the feeling as “cautiously optimistic” that the effort would result in positive changes from the community’s point of view.
The concept drawings will undergo revision in the weeks ahead, and these revisions will be considered by the Board in a May meeting to address the project’s height and massing issues. That will likely be followed by another hearing – probably in June – to review all the changes to date in the project. Following that meeting, if the Board signs off on the project, the developer can file for Planned Unit Development status and the project will go before the Zoning Commission. Community members and community organizations will have another opportunity to effect changes on the project and everything will be on the table – not only design elements, but usage issues. That process is not likely to begin until early next year.