ANC6B Working Group Wrestles with Hine Design Issues – Delays Considering Height Issue Pending Forthcoming Shadow Study

ANC6B Working Group Wrestles with Hine Design Issues – Delays Considering Height Issue Pending Forthcoming Shadow Study

by Larry Janezich

Last Tuesday night the ANC6B Working Group on the Hine Design met to consider recommendations to improve the design of the Hine project, but deferred consideration of the height issue until the results of the shadow study are made available, possibly later this week.  The shadow study is required by the Zoning Commission as part of Stanton/Eastbanc’s application to change the zoning of the site permitting a building height up to 90 feet.  A private consultant, hired by Stanton/Eastbanc, will determine what shadows the building will cast by time of day and time of year.

At the meeting, working group leader Gary Peterson called the height of the proposed development “the elephant in the room.”  Former ANC6B Commissioner Ken Jarboe noted that the building on 7th Street is two stories higher in the current plan than it was in the proposal which the city selected when awarding the bid to Stanton, making it three stories higher than the building housing Le Pain Quotidian across the street.  Jarboe said, “[e]ven with a step down of the building toward C Street, building to the property line creates a canyon effect.”  Peterson agreed with this, saying that “there’s something wrong with the height.”  ANC6B Commissioner Dave Garrison differed, however, saying “it doesn’t look like a canyon to me.  I’m hard pressed to say this is a canyon.”

Also at the meeting, the façade of the 7th Street building came under fire for the windows all being the same size and the confusing attempt to break the single building into three sections to make it look less monolithic and more human in scale.  While the working group seemed to agree with these goals, the feeling was strong that the design efforts to do this were unsuccessful.

Peterson put to rest the idea that the development might be set back from 7th Street to encompass a view of Eastern Market from the Metro plaza as “a dead letter,” saying the National Planning Commission and the Historic Preservation Review Board were opposed.   He also shot down any idea of having an entrance or exit to underground parking on D Street or Pennsylvania Avenue, saying because the city will oppose a curb cut, “it’s not going to happen.”

The group will meet next on Thursday, March 1, when the shadow study might be available.    Peterson said he hoped it Stanton/Eastbanc would put it on the Hine website for viewing by the community.  There was no discussion at the design working group of the 3-D scale model, reported by Stanton Eastbanc to be delivered from China mid-March.

The next meeting of ANC’s Subcommittee on the Hine PUD process will be on Wednesday, February 29, at 7:00pm in Hill Center.


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27 responses to “ANC6B Working Group Wrestles with Hine Design Issues – Delays Considering Height Issue Pending Forthcoming Shadow Study

  1. The proposed height is fine. The height is all massed towards the Penn Ave portion of the project, where the building fronts on a very wide public square. Likewise, the key elements of human scaled design are the details at the street level, not the height of the buildings above. The additional density will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

    I don’t buy the canyon critique either. Go to Chicago or some other city with 60 story buildings and zero setback – that’s a canyon.

    I’m not sure why anyone thinks that building back from the property line would be a good idea – the entirety of Capitol Hill is comprised of buildings built right up to the property line. It’s a tremendous urban design, altering it would be a mistake. Having a direct sightline of EM from the Metro is of little value, as well. Instead, the design of the project should be able to guide pedestrians from 8th St south of Penn to 7th north of Penn. Having an active retail node at 8th and D is a key ‘hinge’ in doing so, helping people make that connection between the two retail streets.

  2. DC Spur

    Alex B. is completely right. The height is completely fine and the density will greatly help support retail businesses in the area. Time to get this thing started are already!

  3. Kathleen

    DC Spur, I know that exclamation is directed toward the developer, and I agree!

    The height is not fine. Building up to the property line on what was community open space is also not fine.

    But thanks for coming by you guys. No seriously, thanks. It’s always great to see you on our little neighborhood blog.

  4. Ken Jarboe

    It is not at all clear to me that Capitol Hill needs more density to support retail. The Comprehensive Plan of the District of Columbia notes that “the Hill is already one of the densest communities in the District of Columbia.” Economic studies show that there is already enough consumer disposable income in the area to support more retail and there is a fair amount of “leakage” of consumer dollars to other areas.

    I agree with Alex that “the design of the project should be able to guide pedestrians from 8th St south of Penn to 7th north of Penn.” However, the hinge is not, as he states in the next sentence on 8th and D. Just the opposite. The hinge is on 7th and Penn. Making a hinge at 8th and D will defeat the purpose of drawing people to the corner down the block – at 7th and Penn. It will also reinforce the wall effect — that the entire block from 7th to 8th is the same and there is nothing beyond. People drawn to 8th and D will not be wandering up 7th.

    I also agree that “the key elements of human scaled design are the details at the street level.” However, the statement that follows “not the height of the buildings above” is not correct. The height above has a large impact on the feel of whether a street-scape feels human scale. The example of downtown Chicago (or New York) is exactly right. Those place have a lot of details at street level. I doubt anyone would call them human scale.

    • Interesting points.

      To be clear, Ken, I’m not in favor of more density just to support retail. I’m in favor of more density because it’s the right thing to do. We need it for ecological reasons, economic reasons, and for the general well-being of the city. Whether Capitol Hill is already dense is largely irrelevant (also, the Comp Plan text is misleading, if you look at the actual numbers there are several other DC ‘hoods far denser), the question is if we should be denser than we are. And the answer, for many reasons, is unequivocally yes.

      As for the retail ‘hinges’, 7th and Penn is an important hinge, no doubt. But it’s a given that it will be a hinge. The west side of 7th already has strong retail, and the project will fill out the east side nicely. The existing retail alone isn’t enough to bridge the mental gap between 8th south of Penn and 7th north of it. A strong, active, first floor use at 8th and D is critical and would be a tremendous asset to the neighborhood.

      As for building heights, I stand by my statement. Human scale is all about what humans interact with. New York is very human scaled at the street level. There’s a reason you don’t see native New Yorkers gazing upwards. Jan Gehl has talked about the biology of human vision (our eyes are side by side), just look at an HDTV or a movie screen and note the horizontal aspect ratio. That’s where we focus, and that’s where human scale matters. So yes, New York and Chicago are absolutely human scaled.

      Now, there might be other reasons to consider building heights, but invoking the urban canyon reference to places like New York and Chicago with 40, 50, and 60 story towers to make the case against a measly 90 foot tall building is pushing it.

      • goldfish

        @Alex B: the neighborhood is not your sandbox. Those of us that live here will have to live with this project for generations, long after its hip design fades into the next fad and “smart growth” sanctimony is humiliated by genuine city living. Please focus your arguments accordingly.

      • Goldfish: “the nieghborhood” is my neighborhood. I live here, too.

        And there’s nothing I’m talking about that’s hip or a fad – I’m talking about the basics that make a city and city, things like density and active first floor uses that haven’t really changed in centuries – indeed, things that are central to ‘genuine city living,’ as you put it.

      • I for one am appreciative of Alex B’s voice on this blog, otherwise it would be an echo chamber. You are reasonable in your rhetoric and help to sharpen the debate. Thanks for having a thick skin and continuing to come back to comment, even in the face of oft cynical criticism.

        With that said, I have to two questions and one point, and they are not intended to be flip:

        1. Is there any aspect of this development that concerns you? I’m not looking for an easy answer, e.g. it’s not dense enough. As a resident of Cap Hill are you fully on board with the aesthetic and design of this development?

        2. My one critique of the smart growth philosophy is that the calls for increased density by way of increased height and mass seem unbounded. How much is enough? I hear and read allot of pro-TOD arguments that say, “build it higher”, but that battle cry never seems to come with a number and an associated rationale. Sometimes it seems as much dogmatic as scientific.

        My own academic search for the right density number has not yielded much fruit, but I found the following passage from Brown, Dixon and Gillham’s ‘Urban Design for an Urban Century’ to be helpful:

        “Residential densities in these nodes [Transit Oriented Development nodes] vary widely but generally range from 7 to 60 dwelling units per acre. These densities do not mean high-rise development: More typically they blend row houses (about 36 units per acre) and mid-rise apartments (which can reach 160 units per acre).”

        By this measuring stick, the Hine development is at the high end of the spectrum (160 dwelling units/3.14 acres = 51 dwelling units per acre). Arguably, changes to the design could be made without radically altering this number. Where do you stand, generally, on the question of numbers?

        3. When people express concern about the impact of the development, and say things like, “it will create a canyon along xyz street”, it’s not fair to dismiss the point by comparing Cap Hill to the urban profile of NYC, Chicago or any other city for that matter. This is a specific place with a specific character. Just as I would not deign to push the virtues of the L’Enfant plan onto another municipality, I don’t think it’s appropriate to suggest that the Miracle Mile, Times Square or Rodeo Drive offer the best blue print for our neighborhood (but if we are going to pick a role model, let’s agree on the Champs-Élysées).

        Thanks again for providing an alternative perspective, one with merit on several points.

        Brian Pate

      • Brian, great questions.

        1. On my concerns with the development, sure, I have them. I have some thoughts on the aesthetic of the development, but that’s largely a function of a) architecture and b) individual taste. None of the renderings I’ve seen so far scream out to me as something to be avoided, yet if I were in charge there would be a few changes I’d look into.

        That said, I don’t think that’s the role of the public in a case like this. Make sure the design meets key, objective principles (such as addressing the street, providing designs compatible with retail. etc). The existing review within the framework of HPRB seems to be fine to my view with regard to integration with the existing historic context of the neighborhood. Design-by-committee seldom produces good results.

        2. On density, you hit on a key issue. How much is enough?

        I suspect your research on trying to find a ‘right’ number hasn’t borne fruit because I don’t know that you have the correct approach. The ‘right’ number isn’t a science, exactly. You can work the equation the other way (e.g. how many households do you need within x radius to support a grocery store?), but as for what’s the right number for a given project encompassing all of the elements of urbanism? That’s a lot more difficult.

        The other problem is in meshing the aggregate impacts of density and using that to help guide a single project.

        What I do know is that we need more of it. Aggregate supply in this region (and others) has not kept pace with demand. Prices are absurdly high – dangerously high, even – to the point where the high cost of housing will be a serious threat to the ongoing economic success of the region. The primary reason is that in the face of a strong demand for urban living, the supply has not kept pace. The slow process of a project like Hine is an example of the market’s inability to react to the broader trends.

        Obviously, this is a much larger issue than just one project, but I think we have a number of imperatives to increase density wherever we can, for many different reasons. The proposed project density is quite modest – not at the upper end of the spectrum (that would be the 160 unit/acre mark, not the 60 one). IIRC from the PUD application, the FAR is in the range of 4ish. That’s very modest for a key location on top of a Metro station a short distance from downtown.

        3. I’m not trying to dismiss those concerns, just to provide some appropriate context. We all argue from analogues and anecdotes from our own experiences, but pushing those arguments to extremes isn’t often useful. To me, the ‘urban canyon’ argument brings forward a very specific context that, frankly, nothing in DC matches. The Hine site wouldn’t even come close.

        We see this kind of ad absurdum argument all the time – one new bar will bring on Adams Morganization (extremely doubtful); or that a proposed 90 foot tall building is somehow akin to Manhattanization (that was 90 feet, not 90 stories), etc.

      • And some links (I didn’t want the other post to get held up by a spam filter, hope this goes through):

        Ryan Avent on the economic reasons for density, both at macro and micro levels:

        Ed Glaeser on what the ‘right’ density is:

        Note that the Jane Jacobs ideal would be more like 150 units per acre – but Glaeser would argue that predetermining the ‘right’ level without input from the market would be wrong. And, indeed, Jacobs’ own Greenwich Village is extraordinarily expensive these days…

        David Owen on the environmental reasons for density:

        So, as to the calls for more density seeming dogmatic, I see that criticism – but I think the calls for more density come precisely because we’ve dug ourselves such a large hole. Also, attacking things on a project by project basis makes it tempting to try and make up the entire gap in one fell swoop.

  5. Thom Riehle

    @Alex, I agree with you when you write, “the design of the project should be able to guide pedestrians from 8th St south of Penn to 7th north of Penn.” What I don’t understand is how putting retail on the corner of 8th and D Street helps that. In fact, retail at 8th and D Street would walk the foot traffic away from the Central Business District-like Barracks Row-EM Metro Station plaza-7th Street retail corridor, and instead lead potential customers to a dead end where the largest historic residential district in the city begins, at precisely 8th and D Street.

    Don’t you really mean, “Having an active retail node at *7th and Pennsylvania* is a key ‘hinge’ in doing so,”? I agree with Ken that you’ve put the hinge at the wrong corner. As for “bridging the mental gaps,” I am afraid you are asking too much of the architect….that sounds like a job for a team of psychologists.

  6. goldfish

    @Alex: The project is essentially a sterile office building that will have a few daytime visitors, but will be dead off-hours.

    The success of Eastern Market is closely tied to the flea market. Because the access for the vendor is so inconvenient, and because the area reserved for the flea market is less than a third of that used today, this project will obliterate a lively flea market that has drawn people for a generation. There will be a huge loss of weekend foot traffic. It won’t help Eastern Market either.

  7. Kathleen

    We need a new Jane Jacobs.

    Reading the comments of Alex B. (et al) above, it is clear that, as the NY Times reported today, a new ideology has spread among the urban planning set: density. Just increase it. Increase it as much as you can, wherever you can, and especially near a Metro.

    Never mind that this has little to no bearing upon a historical district. Also put aside that any reasonable assessment of smart growth and urban revitalization (and I’m speaking here as someone who understands these concepts to stretch a little farther back than 5 years; let’s say the brownstowners of the 1970s) would dictate that this neighborhood–and property values in it–would be best served by a well-functioning public school. Let’s put that one aside because, inconveniently enough, the opportunity to have one is precisely what is precluded by this development.

    Let’s just all start to be slightly alarmed by the fact that, if these urban planners had their way, we’d all live in some version of Crystal City: towering mediocrity.

    Judged by its surroundings, this building is too high. But is also much too depressing. It is not in dialogue with its surroundings, and this is true in terms of both height and in terms of quality. The organic quality of city life–the neighborhood vitality that Jacobs sought to preserve and defend against the city planners of her day–is precisely what Capitol Hill residents have come to cherish, and now will have to defend against technocrats with blinkered vision and fanatical attachment to the current principles in vogue in their professional circles.

    I honestly believe Capitol Hill residents would have supported greater height at Hine, but only if it came with spectacular design and obvious community benefits. This development does neither, and so residents will resign themselves just to try to lower it.

    And what is so sad to me is that all the risks Capitol Hill residents have had to negotiate over the last 30 years, and all the admirable struggles they have waged to rebuild local primary schools and bring new life and energy to public parks, is being shortchanged by political leaders (Tommy Wells) and a city apparatus (DMPED; HPRB) that is quite content to settle for something that is just so astonishingly mediocre.

    To say that Capitol Hill deserves better is the understatement of the year.

  8. Kathleen

    p.s. Cabrini Green and Pruitt Igoe had a lot of density. But I don’t remember those working out too well, so maybe there’s more to the equation of urban life?

    • Actually, the didn’t. Don’t confuse height with density – they had tall buildings with very small lot occupancy – the ‘towers in the park’ concept popularized by Le Corbusier.

      This video has a great ‘density quiz’ on what density looks like. The answers are often counter-intuitive. And, likewise, common perceptions of what seems dense is actually influenced by other factors in the design.

      Likewise, the failures of Cabrini Green and Pruitt-Igoe have many complex and inter-related causes, of which density is a non-factor. In many cases, those towers were actually less dense than the urban fabric that was bulldozed to create them.

      • FYI, that above video link is just the ‘quiz’ portion of a longer talk by Dan Zack, a planner in Redwood City, CA. The full video can be seen here:

  9. Kathleen

    Hi Alex,
    Historic Cabrini Green was both tall and dense, and as someone who has spent time on the south side of Chicago, I can attest to the fact that what you say is absolutely true: the story of high-rise public housing failure is a complex one. The correlate supposition is just as true: there are no simple answers or keys to urban living. Not density, not highways, not traffic circles, not big parks or little ones. All of those things can be good, and all of them can be bad.
    Best to trust the “natural guardians,” as Jacobs puts it: the people who live there.
    Thanks for the lecture link.

  10. Kathleen,

    The point from the video I’ve posted is that Cabrini-Green (which is one of the questions on the density quiz) only checks in at 50 dwelling units per acre – which, assuming the accuracy of Brian’s calculations in the posts above, is the same as the residential portions of this proposed Hine project. In the larger context of urban densities, 50 units per acre is not that dense at all.

    I’d also note that the Cabrini-Green project had low-rise rowhouse portions as well (the Frances Cabrini homes), and they were just as crime-infested as the towers were. The Cabrini Extension and the Green Homes were the ones with the towers.

  11. Kathleen

    Yeah, Alex, it was both high rise and row houses (“historic Cabrini Green)–hence it was very dense. In fact, it had to be very dense, because owing to residential segregation, the city literally put all African-Americans in a very small space.
    And I just checked out your Redwood City friend; he names Capitol Hill explicitly as one high dense residential area that works well, and yet Hine comes in at denser (and taller). Maybe we shouldn’t mess with a successful model?
    Finally, if we limited the neighborhood’s consideration of the development to just the residences, as you do above, I assume few would have a problem with it.
    Let’s both go to sleep!

    • Yeah, Alex, it was both high rise and row houses (“historic Cabrini Green)–hence it was very dense

      You don’t measure density based on how tall the buildings are. The whole point of the quiz is to show you that height can be misleading. Your use of ‘hence’ implies support of the facts, yet you haven’t presented any. If you have other numbers, I’d love to see them.

      he names Capitol Hill explicitly as one high dense residential area that works well, and yet Hine comes in at denser (and taller). Maybe we shouldn’t mess with a successful model?

      The question isn’t if Capitol Hill is dense – and if it were, it’s not a yes/no question.

      The question is if we need more density, and the price data clearly shows that there’s a strong market for it.

      Finally, if we limited the neighborhood’s consideration of the development to just the residences, as you do above, I assume few would have a problem with it.

      I think the office portion of the project is one of the more exciting elements, actually. I only left it out of the above calculation because I wanted an apples to apples comparison of residential density numbers.

  12. Kathleen

    It’s exciting to you Alex, and dense to others. And, to quote your Redwood City friend, “the problem with Cabrini Green wasn’t just density.” I would agree with him on that, and I would also agree with him that there is no argument over its density.
    Good morning!

    • Ah, I think I’ve hit on the disconnect:

      It’s exciting to you Alex, and dense to others.

      You’re talking about the emotional response to density. Which, like most emotions is very personal and varies quite a bit from individual to individual.

      I’m talking about the mathematical definition. Objective numbers, verifiable and universal. How dense Cabrini-Green is does not vary – it is a single mathematical fact: X units/acre.

      I think there are obvious reasons why policy matters should focus on the latter. That’s not to say that the former aren’t important, but merely they are not the kinds of metrics you can apply in different contexts.

  13. goldfish

    Can we get back to discussing the specifics of THIS project? It has turned into a disaster.

    Has anybody notice how it has morphed into a large office building? It got taller, and it lost all of the tenants that would provide street life. There once was a hotel — gone. Shakespeare practice — gone. What is left is strictly an office building. It is twice as tall as the next tallest building on this square; it will stick out. The area devoted to the flea market, about 1/3 of that presently, coupled with the great inconvenience the vendors will suffer because the parking, will cripple the most successful and bustling aspect of the site. What is left is an office building that nobody will go to after 5 PM.

    • How would Shakespeare practices contribute to street life? The existing practice facility on 8th St is, from the pedestrian’s perspective, one of the deadest buildings on Barracks Row. The project will still contain retail, yes? That’s what will enliven the street.

      And no, what’s left is not an office building – if you want to get back to discussing this project, our previous diversion discussing residential densities should at least be illustrative, since there will be a substantial number of residential units in this project.

      The Flea Market isn’t a great example of a lively street, either. Most of the time it’s just an empty parking lot.

      • goldfish

        What retail? No anchors. Nothing has been put forth on who or what they will attract. Which makes me think they will go for restaurants, of which there are already way too many. The neighborhood needs other services, such as a dentist, a clothing store, a luggage store, a shoe store, etc. Plus it needs rentable common space like the North market building, for community events. None of that will be in this project.

        The flea market is everything. Try to park around there on Saturday or Sunday — all spaced taken by visitors flocking to the neighborhood. After they the flea market, they move on to the food in the building itself. They linger at the coffeeshops. Etc.

        What this project will do is demote the flea market to insignificance. Given the new vendor parking problems, will be no kiosks selling large items like pictures and used furniture. No farmers will come to sell vegetables. No art. The only viable thing will be small trinkets, like wallets, cheap jewelry, and switch plate covers. The loss of weekend foot traffic will hurt the food vendors in the main market, that will not be made up by the minor increase in daytime office workers, making it less viable. The inside vendors will have less to sell, and less variety; some may even leave. This will hurt the neighborhood.

        Actually the wide open space of the former temporary building is rather inviting. I see kids there playing there. It will be replaced by condos.

      • Surely you could understand the challenges of retail leasing. You can’t promise the community something when you haven’t been able to negotiate a lease.

        As for your suggestions – a luggage store? How often do you buy luggage? I can tell you how often I eat at local restaurants, and it’s certainly far more frequent than my luggage purchases. A dentist? Isn’t there a dentist one block south on 8th St? Dentists don’t need street-level retail anyway. I would love clothing and shoe stores, but they aren’t really local – those kinds of stores need to draw on a larger market area, since (like luggage) people don’t buy clothes as often as they eat out.

        As for the Flea Market, I also think it’s great – but it’s not worth keeping a parking lot for. The nice thing about it is that all it really needs is some open space and it can work. So, perhaps we close off some other streets for market days. How about using the vastly under-used Metro plaza?

        I think your prediction about the dire consequences are well off the mark.

      • goldfish

        My suggestions are examples of what is needed, and are not intended to be all-inclusive. We need everyday services — an electrical wholesaler; plumbing supply; an auto parts store. Frager’s is packed every weekend, because there is no where else to go. Don’t be dismissive of what is clearly not available. If the retail here was well rounded, there would be no need to travel to the Virginia Malls for a necktie, for example. How often do you go there? Capitol Hill is quite short on medical services. Compare the number of physicians in Spring Valley to here; when I changed dentists for my children, there were far fewer to choose from than there were in Arlington.

        Capitol Hill has gobs, probably too many, restaurants, yet I get the sense that it the only kind of retail that can afford the rents here.

        My predictions for the flea market are not exaggerated. The cumbersome set-up for vendors due to remote parking, and the much smaller area will cripple it. During the (two-year?) construction, the difficulties will be far worse. Customers will come and find nothing, repeatedly, and finally give up. If and when they do come back, they will find a much smaller market with less interesting things to buy, and will not return again.

        Consider the economic incentives in place here. Apart from the superficial considerations necessary to get the bid, the developer has no reason to support the flea market. The vendors inside the market have tight relations with the residents, the support of the building management, and ear of the city government; who is looking out for the interests of the flea market, supported mostly by tourists? The flea market does not contribute to the bottom line of the developer; on the contrary, if it fails, that relieves the developer of a costly, long commitment, and what will probably be an irritation for its other tenants. It is consequently getting token support, despite the fact that the flea market is the engine that is in large part responsible for the neighborhood character and retail success.