HPRB Staff Wants SB-Urban to Go Back to the Drawing Board on Blagden Alley Plan

by Lark Turner

Rendering of proposed Blagden Alley development.

An SB-Urban plan to build 125 small units on Blagden Alley hit a snag this week when a staff report from the Historic Preservation Review Board recommended against allowing the project to go forward as planned.

The staff report, which represents a recommendation to the larger board, objected to a design for a pedestrian walkway connecting two buildings in the development, as well as other design issues. The setback was first reported by District Source.

SB-Urban, which is working with architect Hickok Cole on the project, is planning to turn a portion of the alley into two separate buildings housing 125 units. The buildings, sitting mostly along the alley with facades on 9th and M Streets NW (map), would be connected by a glass-enclosed, industrial-style pedestrian walkway above the alley. The units would be small, even micro at about 400 square feet, and come fully furnished. SB-Urban has even considered providing breakfast as an amenity to its likely-millennial tenants.


For all that — and despite a total lack of parking on the project — ANC 2F has largely supported the plan. But the commission has expressed concerns in the past over the project’s facade on 9th Street. The ANC has said that facade should fit in better with the character of 9th Street, and excluded the design of that facade from its otherwise-enthusiastic support of the project.

But the HPRB staff report focused more on the project’s fit with the historical character of the alley. It calls the industrial-style walkway “the most prominent feature of the concept,” and says the walkway as a feature is the “most difficult to reconcile with the character of the historic district,” where there’s not much precedent for such a walkway.


HPRB also objected to SB-Urban’s plans to widen the alley and create a public gathering space for its residents on the alley — a key component of micro-unit design. (The idea is that with smaller units, developers should provide large public spaces for residents to hang out.)

“Blagden Alley became one of the most populated alleys in Washington because of its ample alleyways,” the report reads. “They were wide enough to provide access, light and air, but not so ample that they invited main stream development. The alley dimensions made living and working in them possible, but they were not public gathering places, which is the effect of a creating a piazza like space between the two buildings. The dimension of the alley is critical to the integrity of the historic district.”

The over-connection between the two buildings ultimately dominates the space, the HPRB staff report concludes, and just doesn’t fit with the historic nature of the alley. But the rest of the buildings’ design generally works. The report concluded by recommending SB-Urban return “after further development” of the plan. SB-Urban is scheduled to go before the full board for a decision on July 31.

See other articles related to: hprb, historic preservation review board, blagden alley

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/hprb_staff_want_sb-urban_to_go_back_to_the_drawing_board_on_blagden_alley_p/8768


  1. Lisa said at 8:52 pm on Tuesday July 22, 2014:

    Thank you from the depth of my heart HPRB. The BANCA and ANC 2F should be ashamed of themselves for approving it. But maybe they’re too busy nit-picking The American and The Colonel and this went right over their heads, so to speak.

  1. Nathaniel Martin said at 1:06 am on Thursday July 24, 2014:

    So the HPRB objects to the coolest part of the project.  No surprise there, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. . .

  1. Andrea Rosen said at 10:08 am on Wednesday August 6, 2014:

    I am surprised to see the HPRB do the right thing, given their conduct regarding McMillan Park.  It’s almost comical (in a tragi-comedic sense) how the analyst’s report angsts over the distinction between industrial buildings and one-person industrial shops in determining that an overhead walkway pertains to the former but not to the latter, and thus must be rejected—while somehow the analysts who repeatedly reviewed a City Beautiful-era 25-acre greensward on the National Register of Historic Places and the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites found VMP’s suburban office park effacement of McMillan Park and its underground vaults consistent with the historic nature of the site.  But I digress.  Kudos to the author of the Blagden Alley recommendations for the observation that widening of the alley into a piazza effaces the alley-ness and sense of place.  I walk that alley almost weekly to have coffee at La Colombe, and I visit Seasonal Pantry (on Ninth Street between M and N) for provisions and I concur with this evaluation.  However, I wonder why the preservationist is okay with a 9th Street facade that is so inconsistent with the buildings on the avenue.  The proposed micro-apartment building design brings the workplace architecture that was originally restricted to the alleys to the avenue where—as the surviving buildings show—the residences aspired to 19th century grandeur.  This inconsistency was rightly emphasized by the ANC, and the renderings make it painfully obvious.

Join the discussion

UrbanTurf now requires registration in order to post comments. Register here, or login below if you are already registered.

Click here if you forgot your password.


Richard Seaton

TTR Sotheby's International Realty



Logan Circle

Chevy Chase

AU Park


DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We’ve collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!

Northern Virginia

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods across Northern Virginia

Looking to Give People A Reason to Stay Past 6pm
Happily Straddling the Line Between City and Suburb
Columbia Pike
Arlington’s Neglected Stepchild is Getting a Makeover
Crystal City
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Lyon Village
Developing An Air of Exclusivity?
Hitting Its Growth Spurt
An Urban Village Hitting Its Stride
Del Ray
Virginia’s Small Town Near the Big City
Eisenhower Avenue
The Vibrancy Might Take a Few Years
The Quiet Neighborhood By the Beltway
Old Town
Mayberry By The Potomac
132 Commerical-Free Acres
Downtown Falls Church
Staying the Same in the Midst of Change
Tysons Corner
Radical Change Could Be On The Way

See more Northern Virginia »


Profiles of 14 neighborhoods in suburban Maryland

Small-Town Living in the State Capital
Bedroom Community Gets Buzzing Cache
Cabin John
In With The New While Maintaining the Old
Chevy Chase
Affluence, Green Lawns and Pricey Homes
Downtown Silver Spring
Experiencing a Resurgence After a Bumpy History
A Suburb on Steroids
Rockville Town Square
Despite the Dynamism, Still Somewhat Generic
Takoma Park
More Than a Little Bit Quirky
A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change
Capitol Heights
Kudzu, Front Porches and Crime
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Mount Rainier
Artists, Affordable Homes and A Silo Full of Corn
National Harbor
A Development Rises Next to the Potomac
Riverdale Park
A Town Looking For Its Identity

See more Maryland »

Northwest DC

30+ neighborhood profiles for the city's biggest quadrant

16th Street Heights
DC's Sleeper Neighborhood
Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name
AU Park
One of DC’s Last Frontiers Before the Suburbs
DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp
DC’s 535 House Neighborhood
Cathedral Heights
Do You Know Where That Is?
Chevy Chase DC
Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase
Cleveland Park
Coming Back After A Rough Year
Columbia Heights
DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?
An Island of Serenity East of the Park
Dupont Circle
The Best of DC (For a Price)
Foggy Bottom & West End
Where the Institutional Meets the International
Forest Hills
Ambassadors and Adventurous Architecture
Fort Totten
Five Years Could Make a Big Difference
Foxhall Village
350 Homes Just West of Georgetown
Friendship Heights
A Shopping Mecca With a Few Places to Live
History, Hoyas and H&M
Glover Park
One of DC’s Preppier and More Family-Friendly Neighborhoods
A Posh View From Embassy Row
LeDroit Park
A Quiet Enclave in the Middle of the City
Logan Circle
Trendy Now, But Not By Accident
Mount Pleasant
Sought-After Homes Surround Main Street in Transition
Mount Vernon Triangle
From Seedy to Sought-After
The Long, Skinny Neighborhood at the City’s Northwest Edge
Park View
It’s Not Petworth
Penn Quarter/Chinatown
DC’s Go-Go-Go Neighborhood
Getting a Vibrancy of Its Own
The Duke’s Former Stomping Ground
Shepherd Park
DC’s Garden of Diversity
Spring Valley
A Suburb With a DC Zip Code
Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park
Not Quite Like Its Neighbors
U Street Corridor
The Difference a Decade Makes
Woodley Park
Deceptively Residential
Adams Morgan
No Longer DC’s Hippest Neighborhood, But Still Loved by Residents

See more Northwest DC »

Southwest DC

The little quadrant that could

Southwest Waterfront
A Neighborhood Where A Change Is Gonna Come

See more Southwest DC »

Northeast DC

Profiles of 10 neighborhoods in NE

New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace
A Little Bit of Country Just Inside the District’s Borders
Not to Be Confused With Bloomingdale
H Street
A Place To Party, and To Settle Down
The Northeast Neighborhood That Few Know About
Michigan Park
A Newsletter-On-Your-Doorstep Community
Evolving from a Brand to a Neighborhood
Ripe for Investment Right About Now
The Difference 5 Years Makes
Big Houses, A Dusty Commercial Strip and Potential

See more Northeast DC »

Southeast DC

6 neighborhoods from Capitol Hill to East of the River

Capitol Riverfront
Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

See more Southeast DC »

Upcoming Seminars ▾