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HPRB Opts Not to Vote on 60-Unit Project at Adams Morgan’s Central Intersection—Yet

  • June 24, 2016

by Nena Perry-Brown

HPRB Opts Not to Vote on 60-Unit Project at Adams Morgan's Central Intersection -- Yet: Figure 1
The most recent rendering of the planned development as seen from the intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Road NW

On Thursday morning, the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) got its first look at the much-debated and agonized-over redevelopment of the SunTrust bank building at the nexus of the Adams Morgan neighborhood.

After three hours of debate and testimony, the Board ultimately chose to defer a vote on the concept design until the PN Hoffman-led development team reconsiders various aspects of their proposal.

As UrbanTurf has reported, current plans will involve replacing the SunTrust building at 1800 Columbia Road NW (map) with a 70 foot-tall mixed-use building, delivering 60 apartments atop 8,375 square feet of ground floor retail. There would also be an underground parking garage with 33 spaces.

Although many in the neighborhood and on the local ANC find the height, massing and design of the building objectionable to varying extents, the most contentious part of the proposal is the loss of the public plaza that fronts the site, which has housed the neighborhood farmers’ market for the past four decades. The development team has suggested that the farmers market, which will be forced to relocate for at least 18 months during construction anyway, be relocated to either the public space on the opposite corner or a block away at Unity Park on Columbia Road.

HPRB opted not to delve too deep into the question of whether the public plaza should be considered historic or retained at its current size, but it was mentioned that the proposed design of the plaza should be made more inviting to the public regardless of its size rather than only being functional for the surrounding retail. Board chair Gretchen Pfaehler also suggested that the developers add signage to the plaza in homage to its recent importance as a public square.

Several HPRB members found the development’s design and scale to be incongruous with the adjacent buildings along 18th Street and felt that more design consideration should be given to make the new building harmonious with the neighborhood.

HPRB Opts Not to Vote on 60-Unit Project at Adams Morgan's Central Intersection -- Yet: Figure 2
The most recent rendering of the planned development as seen from Columbia Road NW

In terms of compatibility with the Washington Heights historic district, members opined that the facade was too disjointed and protruding compared to buildings along Columbia Road, window bays were too elongated, and the design of the street-level retail was out of proportion with other commercial space in the corridor. Additionally, the wide variation in building materials had the effect of making the design too busy despite clear attempts on the developers’ part to create something that evoked the design of other buildings in the historic district.

The Board’s decision was not an outright rejection of the Historic Preservation Office’s staff report, which recommended approval of the concept pending various design refinements. The Board and the staff report both emphasized that the developers need to resolve the design of the bays, retail storefronts and windows, and to further integrate the penthouse level into the design. However, the decision not to vote reflected the Board’s concerns that the concept and design changes they would like to see were too substantial to offer an approval of anything at this stage.

It was also noted that the delayed vote will give concerned citizens in the neighborhood more time to research the history of the site and its plaza. While the ANC would like to see another iteration of the design before it is presented to historic preservation staff again, September is likely the earliest that this will take place.

Potomac Investment Properties and architect Eric Colbert and Associates round out the development team on the project.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/hprb_opts_not_to_vote_on_adams_morgan_pnc_proposal_--_yet/11393

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