April 05, 2010

1922 Third Street Inches Forward, ANC Notwithstanding

On Thursday evening, Mr. Grant Epstein of Community Three Development presented his latest revision for his concept for 1922 Third Street.  Some of the more notable changes include the reduction of the rear addition (above), the reconstruction of a demolished fence wall beside the carriage house (above), and a reduction of the massing of the side townhouse (below).

ANC1B’s Design Review Committee— of which I am a member— carefully reviewed the original concept and recommended several specific design revisions to the developer to reconcile the needs of historic preservation with the economic viability of redevelopment.  After the committee drafted its recommendations, Mr. Epstein alerted the committee and ANC of his latest revision, which the committee found satisfactorily addressed the historic context concerns.

Despite the committee’s recommendation for approval of the latest concept, ANC Commissioner Myla Moss (1B01 – LeDroit Park) said that she wholeheartedly applauded Mr. Epstein’s diligence, but would withhold her support because the design was “not totally there.”  Specifically Ms. Moss wanted to know about a rear-yard zoning issue and how the proposed side townhouse would obstruct the view from the indented side window of the adjacent Thompson property.

Mr. Epstein seemed frustrated and one of the other commissioners asked whether it was appropriate for the ANC to consider any matter beyond historic preservation.  The ANC voted to take no further action and to let its existing opposition stand.

In an email to us, Mr. Epstein wrote

We found it very odd that the Commission chose to oppose the ANC Design Committee’s recommendation of approval, especially when the resultant collaborative effort provided a holistic resolution to a very complicated set of constraints on this specific site. In our experience, the Historic Preservation Review Board is looking for the ANC to comment about conceptual historic compatibility and the remaining issues raised by the assenting Commissioners seemed very detail-oriented. There are typically thousands of detailed issues that arise when renovating a historic structure, some we know about at this stage, yet many that don’t surface until later stages in the project. This is specifically why the process is designed as such – concept review first, then detail refinement.

Despite the ANC’s official opposition, the Historic Preservation Review Board will hear the concept proposal on Thursday, April 22 at 10 am at One Judiciary Square (441 Fourth Street NW), Room 220 South and will decide whether the concept is historically acceptable.

In the meantime, browse the concept floor plans:



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16 Replies

  1. Ms Moss is concerned about obstructing a neighbor’s view of a dilapidated property so much that she opposes the development of said property? Incredible. the row of existing homes allows, even intends, by its design to continue. The blank face of the last row house indicates that the intent when build was to have at least one more building. That an owner at some point in history decided to add on to the house and add a window does not mean that someone cannot build next to it. I have had a couple of projects that involved filling in windows when neighboring building grow. Not only that, but by the way the drawings are noted, a townhouse is being built on an ‘unsubdivided townhouse lot’ so by definition is not only allowed, but intended.

    To me this represents and an astounding ability to not see the forest for the trees. Or the neighborhood for a window.

    I wish I had been able to attend this meeting. Did Ms Moss, or any other commissioner have any suggestions to move things forward? Did they have a suggestion as to what type of project would be better? How does the council want to use the property? Or would the prefer to keep it in derelict condition and allow the historic house fall to complete ruin?

    Again, I must reiterate that the community is probably much better off working with C3D as they are engaging the neighborhood and taking comments and concerns into their plans. If they are not careful Mr Epstein will take is efforts to a community that wants to see good development.

    Let’s not dump the baby with the bathwater.

    dano - April 5, 2010 @ 9:31 am
  2. Would be unbelievable if stories like this weren’t the norm nearly everywhere I’ve lived in DC. I’m amazed anything ever gets built.

    Neil - April 5, 2010 @ 11:31 am
  3. What’s the point of having a design review committee if our commissioner ignores them? Focusing on such a small detail at a conceptual review meeting seems misguided. Very disappointed in my 1b01 representative.

    3rdStreetDesign - April 5, 2010 @ 1:04 pm
  4. what a shame. ms. moss made it sound like she was willing to compromise on the ledroit park listserv, but it would appear that she was simply selling a bill of goods and has decided to go the full obstructionist route instead. i hope that the HPRB is able to see past the pettiness of the ANC and recognize the good in this plan.

    NIMBYs have held back the city for too long. hooray, you kept the freeways out of our neighborhoods. that doesn’t mean you need to continue to oppose everything on god’s green earth. it’s time to brush them aside.

    IMGoph - April 6, 2010 @ 10:39 am
  5. Myla Moss is full of her own power, not the best interests of the whole neighborhood.

    Caitlin Guarino - April 6, 2010 @ 12:33 pm
  6. Ms. Moss expressed that she really wanted to see the developer’s project move forward, but that she still had reservations on the window issue and a rear zoning issue. It’s an exaggeration to say she that doesn’t want anything to get built there. Though I disagree with her conclusion (I think the ANC should have supported the new concept), it’s unfair to characterize her position as total obstructionism.

    Eric Fidler - April 6, 2010 @ 12:49 pm
  7. it may not be total obstructionism, but it has the same effect.

    IMGoph - April 6, 2010 @ 1:06 pm
  8. Myla Moss has lost my vote over the way she is handling this.

    eric - April 6, 2010 @ 4:24 pm
  9. I applaud Ms. Moss’ decision. It is inaccurate to say that Ms. Moss does not want to see development at the site; like all of us in Ledroit Park, Ms. Moss has said that wants to see the property put back to good use. It is even more inaccurate, and grossly unfair, to say that Ms. Moss voted due to a power trip or on the basis of a single neighbor’s petty opposition to a minor detail like having her windows walled in. My impression was that Ms. Moss likes Grant Epstein, likes many things about his proposal, and struggled to balance all the interests involved. She did, however, acknowledge opposition to the design committee’s recommendation and to the “townhouse” concept in general from both the owner of the immediately adjacent property and from multiple other constitutents who reside in properties that are closely proximate to the site. In view of this opposition, Ms. Moss apparently decided that the revised concept should be tabled for “another five minutes” (her words) so it might be returned to the civic association for public debate and voting.

    If Ms. Moss’ sensitivity to due process and constituent views requires the developer to delay his presentation to HPRB by a month and request an extension of certain contingencies in the contract of sale, then so be it. The historic integrity of LeDroit Park’s original McGill homes is a rare public asset. A community decision to sacrifice that asset for the sake of development warrants deliberateness as to both substance and process. Ms. Moss deserves praise for insisting upon that.

    1922 neighbor - April 6, 2010 @ 6:48 pm
  10. To those commenters who question why the ANC would form a design committee and then decline to adopt its recommendations: Keep in mind that the design committee is not an elected body and is not directly accountable to Ledroit Park residents; in contrast, the Civic Association is. Moreover, in this particular case, the design committee made a behind-closed-doors, last minute decision to recommend Community Three’s revised design without input from the community at large. Personally, I think the design committee is valuable as a source of technical recommendations during the design process. However, the views of the design committee are not a substitute for the views of the community at large.

    To the commenter identified as “Dano”: Keep in mind that the land on which the “townhouse” would stand is characterized as an “unsubdivided townhouse lot” only on the developer’s concept plan, and not in any plat or other public record. Historically, this land was intended to be occupied by a private garden, as was characteristic of all the original McGill homes. Further, the rear of the immediately adjacent townhouse is not an addition constructed by a past owner at his own risk; it is part of the original, circa 1907 structure and is mirrored by the home on the other end of that block. In fact, this entire block of rowhomes was built with rear extensions that were slightly more narrow than the front of the homes for the specific purpose of allowing side windows. (Historic Preservation Office documents evidence the original developer’s great concern with ensuring superior light and air to all residences). Finally, the fact that there are no side windows on the front end of the adjacent rowhome does not indicate, as you suggest, that an additional rowhouse was always intended to be built at the end of the block. The rowhouse at the other end of the block abuts an alley and also lacks side windows along the widest portion of the home. According to past opinions of the HPRB, windows were often omitted on the side of townhomes to slow the spread of fires from one property to another.

    1922 neighbor - April 6, 2010 @ 6:53 pm
  11. 1922 Neighbor: Saying that the design committee is not accountable to the electorate of the ANC is like saying that the Supreme Court is not accountable to the people of the US. It is structured as an appointed body because its would be too tedious to have the people of the neighborhood vote for these members and the council is better able to choose qualified members who will act in the ANC’s interest. The ANC should appoint the committee members they feel will act in the interest of the neighborhood and follow their recommendations. It just makes the ANC look bad to go against their own committee. Why form a committee if you are going to go against them? Not only does the council look foolish, but why would developers consult them if the council doesn’t respect their suggestions? And just like the congress or city council, the ANC and their committees are not a substitute for all of the community, but they are elected by those active in the community to act in the best interest of the community at large. There is a spectrum of views and its their job to find the best middle ground. As the neighbor of the property involved you may feel that they should be interested in what you want, but they should be looking out for the entire community. Obstructionism is not in the community’s best interest. Especially when C3D has engaged the community, listened to the concerns, and changed their designs based on the input. Its petty and insulting to then reject the proposal wholesale after they worked with the community to get to a good design.

    If the bump out on the house is original, that doesn’t really change the point. The neighbors in the house next to you have a similar house and look directly at your house. I am assuming here that you are in fact the neighbor to the south of 1922. The point is that as a neighbor, you only have so much control over your neighbors and their property.

    Hanging on to the fact that a hundred years ago someone had designed a farm house to have a garden totally ignores the fact that the city has grown around 1922. When it was built is was outside the city. Bloomingdale and LeDroit were formerly farms and orchards. That is obviously not the case. Time has not been frozen. Preservation is tricky, as everyone has a different idea as to what and how much should be preserved. The neighborhood will evolve, and it should be shaped in such a way that benefits the community the most, not in a way that preserves one neighbor’s view. Would you suggest that the community would be better of to have preserved the former baseball stadium instead of having HUH?

    As far as the party wall is concerned, they are constructed as an obstruction to the spread of fire. But end units on streets and many alleys have windows for superior light light and air, if I may use your phrasing. Windowless walls are used where structures are placed so close that the risk of spreading fire is too great to allow for windows. Had the neighboring house been designed as an end unit with its only neighbor being the existing farm house, the builders would have included some windows and decoration. That its a blank face with no ornamentation or windows built on the lot line suggest that the builders expected another building to be built at some point in the future directly adjacent.

    The developers have been very engaging with the community. They have been very interested in preserving the house and carriage house with their original designs. Going so far as to find out that the original porch had different detailing and changing their plan to incorporate that. The LeDroit community is lucky in that respect. That they are not proposing something like the derelict building to the south of Slowe Hall shows that they care about design and the community. With eyesores like that, its hard to believe the opposition to this project.

    After C3D revised their plans, I have not heard a good argument against. Nor have I heard of a better proposal. Unless allowing the property to fall to ruin is better.

    dano - April 7, 2010 @ 8:49 am
  12. I noticed a for sale sign with an open house on Sunday on my way home yesterday… wonder if that has any significance?

    dano - April 9, 2010 @ 8:01 am
  13. 1922 3rd St NW will be held open on Sunday. I represent Community Three Development, who currently has the property under contract. Neighbors may be interested to see firsthand the current condition of the property, which will require extensive and expensive reconstruction. Bill Jackson from Long and Foster will be holding the property open from 1-4pm.

    Suzanne Des Marais - April 10, 2010 @ 3:42 pm
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