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Blagden Alley Micro-Unit Development Gains HPRB Support

by Lark Turner

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Rendering of proposed Blagden Alley development.

Despite a staff report that criticized the development and recommended its rejection, SB-Urban’s proposed 125-unit building in Shaw’s Blagden Alley received support from the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) on Thursday, contingent on the developer making some changes to the design and perhaps coming back before the board for a cursory look at those design changes to win final support.

(Whether or not the board recommended the developer return for final approval was unclear even to staffers at HPRB on Thursday afternoon.)

The project, which includes two buildings fronting 9th and M Streets (map), is linked by a pedestrian bridge. The development combines very small, furnished rentals with generous amenity spaces for socializing. The amenities are located in the larger M Street building, so the pedestrian bridge gives the 9th Street building’s occupants easier access to the amenities. SB-Urban is working with architect Hickok Cole on the project.

Brendan Meyer, the staff reviewer who had recommended the project be changed significantly, said the design departed “from the pattern of the alley architecture” and would “incompatibly change the scale of this historic district.” But Meyer said the design of the buildings overall were compatible with their context on 9th and M Streets.

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But HPRB Chair Gretchen Pfaehler praised the developer’s community outreach — no one showed up to oppose the project — and the overall design. Board member Maria Casarella called the project “delightful.”

The board’s recommended changes did not include the elimination of the pedestrian bridge or eliminating building setbacks the developer proposed to widen the alley and make it more pedestrian-friendly. But board members did vote to require the bridge to be more of a catwalk, open to the elements rather than enclosed by glass. That may make things a little less comfortable for the building’s tenants come winter.

Nancy Metzger, a board member who voted against the design and opposed the bridge, said the building’s occupants could easily walk from one end of the narrow alley to the other.

“It takes me 10 seconds to walk from one side of the alley to the other,” Metzger said. “These hardy millennials, it’s nothing to them. Ten seconds doesn’t strike me as an overwhelming task.”

A resolution to approve the project, with some changes to the design, passed narrowly, 4-3. Metzger, Joseph Taylor and Charles Wilson voted against the project, while Pfaehler, Casarella, Andrew Aurbach and Rauzia Ally voted in favor of it, with Pfaehler’s proposed modifications to the bridge and some other, smaller design elements.

Steve Callcott of the Historic Preservation Office called the outcome a compromise typical of the board.

“We took a position and made a decision in a very close vote, and accepted a middle-of-the-road approach to changing the design,” he told UrbanTurf. “It’s more a matter of degree than it is a fundamental disagreement.”

See other articles related to: sb-urban, micro-units, hprb, historic, blagden alley

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/sb-urbans_blagden_alley_development_gets_historic_support_with_some_change/8809

1 Comment

  1. Alley Cat said at 7:00 am on Tuesday August 5, 2014:

    What a shame.  One of the true gems in DC succumbs.

    The only thing the Historical Preservation Board has preserved is the maximized profits of the developer.

    Cohen Development, or whatever they are calling themselves now, are going to ruin this alley.  They have apparently decided the alley is too alley-like, so they are going to widen it to accommodate vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  You know.  Like a street. 

    They are going to cram 125 units into this small area without providing a single parking space, maximizing their profits while sticking us with the consequences.

    The tiny micro-units—essentially, dorm rooms—will be made more bearable for residents by the provision of large common areas, which includes the new wider alleyway between the buildings.  In other words, Cohen Development gets to ruin and exploit a public alley for their own enrichment.  And Maria Casarella calls this outrage “delightful”? 

    Even worse, Chair Gretchen Pfaehler praised the developer’s “community outreach” because no one showed up to oppose the project.  What does she think she is there for?  Does “historic district” even mean anything at all?  Does she feel her board can betray those who have entrusted it to preserve our heritage as long as no one is paying attention?

    Pfaehler, Casarella, Andrew Aurbach and Rauzia Ally should be ashamed of themselves, and our whole city should be ashamed at the greed-fuelled vulgarity we’ve embraced.

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