More Details on 1922 Third Street
At Thursday’s monthly meeting of ANC1B, Grant Epstein, president of Capitol Hill-based Community Three Development, presented his proposal for 1922 Third Street, a project we wrote about a few days ago.
His proposal calls for renovating the main house (top right) and carriage house (bottom right) and for constructing a connecting section as well as a new townhouse. Because the lot is 13,600 square feet, the R-4 zoning code permits multi-unit apartments with the maximum number of units set to the lot area divided by 900. Although Mr. Epstein proposes 14 units, the zoning code actually permits 15 units by right (13,600 / 900 = 15.1).
Since LeDroit Park is a historic district, most exterior renovations and all new construction within the district’s boundaries must undergo a review process that begins with the Historic Preservation Office (HPO), which is tasked with ensuring that such projects preserve, match, or enhance the historic character of the neighborhood. Ay, there’s the rub: historic character means different things to different people.
Even if the standards for historic preservation are themselves nebulous, the process itself is designed with a good deal of transparency. Mr. Epstein’s proposal must be approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board, which holds a public hearing during which the applicant presents the plan, the HPO staff present their report, and ANC representatives, community groups, and interested citizens may testify either way on the plan. The board then approves the project, rejects it, or approves it with conditions.
Mr. Epstein stated that he has consulted with HPO staff to refine his proposal to satisfy their interpretation of historic preservation suitable for LeDroit Park. We say “their interpretation” not to be snarky, but rather to remind readers that what constitutes historically appropriate is often a subjective matter of taste and judgment. The past, much like the present, is a collection of different stories, styles, and attitudes. Sometimes there is no one right answer in preservation matters, especially in a neighborhood featuring the Victorian, Queen Anne, Italianate, Second Empire, Gothic Revival, and Spanish Colonial styles among others.
At the ANC meeting and in discussions with residents, we have gleaned the following concerns in addition to many thumbs-up.
Commissioner Myla Moss (ANC1B01 – LeDroit Park), expressed concern that the proposed townhouse (the middle building in the drawing above) was too tall for the row of neighboring townhouses. Mr. Epstein replied that the added height of the building was in fact the suggestion of HPO staff. Their reasoning, Mr. Espstein stated, is that in Washington, end-unit rowhouses have typically been more prominent than the intervening houses. The prominence was typically marked by extra size, extra height, and extra ornamentation. The added height, Mr. Epstein asserted, is in keeping with an end-unit rowhouse. He also noted that many other buildings on the street are taller than what he proposes.
Others expressed concern that the addition of 14 homes on the site would overwhelm the adjacent streets with parked cars since the proposal includes only four parking spaces (one in the carriage house and three in the new adjacent structure pictured above). Mr. Epstein replied that he originally proposed five spaces, but HPO staff suggested that he reduce the number to four so as not to overwhelm a historic structure with an abundance of car parking. Since fewer people owned cars back then, historic architecture is less car-obsessed than today’s buildings— notice how few driveways and garages you’ll find in Georgetown compared to any neighborhood built in the last 60 years.
Mr. Epstein stated that a way to discourage new residents from owning cars was to reduce the amount of available on-site parking. There was at least one skeptical guffaw from the audience, though the reality will likely depend on a variety of factors. Mr. Epstein suspects the project will attract residents more inclined to live car-less.
Commissioner Thomas Smith (ANC1B09), an architect, asked what features besides reduced on-site parking Mr. Epstein would incorporate to discourage car ownership. Mr. Epstein had none, but was open to considering bike storage and car-sharing.
One resident expressed concern that converting what was once a single-family house (before it became a rooming house in the 1970s) into a multi-unit condo building could itself contradict LeDroit Park’s original intent as a country suburb of single-family homes.
In response to our question, Mr. Epstein stated that he intended to follow the city’s new inclusionary zoning regulations, which would translate to one of the fourteen units being set aside for a buyer of modest means.
We also noted to Mr. Epstein that though the rowhouse is intended to be an ornamental end-unit— an “exclamation mark” at the end of a row, as he put it— the side of the townhouse, as illustrated in his drawing above, lacks the adornment typical of end-unit rowhouses. Mr. Epstein stated that there was some debate on the issue, still unresolved, as to whether the side of the rowhouse should fully serve as the “exclamation mark” or serve as “canvas” upon which to view the original 1880s structure.
Mr. Epstein also explained the dire condition of the house and carriage house. The main house was entirely gutted of its original interior and years of neglect have left a damaged foundation and ample mold. The carriage house (pictured at the top of this post) is itself crumbling from the weight of the recent replacement roof. Both structures require a significant investment of money to rehabilitate. The investment of money required as well as the uncertain historic review process both make the project something that Mr. Epstein says few developers would touch.
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As a tactical measure to postpone the HPRB’s review of the proposal, the ANC voted to oppose the concept until the developer could present his proposal to the LeDroit Park Civic Association and the ANC’s newly formed design review committee. The ANC will likely address the matter again at the April meeting.
If you’re interested in learning more about the proposal or expressing your concerns or support, feel free to attend any of the following meetings:
- ANC1B Design Committee – Tuesday, March 16 at 6:30 pm at 733 Euclid Street NW.
- LeDroit Park Civic Association – Tuesday, March 23 at 7 pm at the Florida Avenue Baptist Church, 6th & Bohrer Streets.
- ANC1B – Thursday, April 1 at 7 pm on the second floor of the Reeves Building, 14th & U Streets.