Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Last Night's 6A Zoning Meeting

I was unable to attend do to a school obligation, but I'm soliciting summaries/comments from any who did attend and there is at laest one summary if you click through to the comments. The following are some notes and photos from local resident David Klavitter (so of course, the copyright belongs to David):

During the monthly ANC6A Economic Development and Zoning Committee meeting, H Street NE community members got their first peek at preliminary ideas to redevelop the 800 and 900 blocks of H Street NE, current home to the H Street Connection. Drew Ronneberg chairs the committee.

Developer presented three very preliminary ideas for developing the property under the provisions of the planned unit development (PUD) process, which provides the community a much larger role in the planning phase.

The architects stressed the draft designs concepts were extremely "preliminary." The developer was reluctant to post the designs online until the architect had a chance to refine them.

The developer and attorney said the current property does very well financially. They said there are no pressing needs to re-develop it.

Initial concepts call for an eight-story, 90 foot tall building. This is about the same height of the Capitol Hill Towers building south of the H Street Connection.

The project will contain retail (with 14-foot ceilings) on the first floor and residential units above. No office space.

About 350 residential units are planned.

A decision whether to sell or rent the units will be made later.

Plans call for about 500 parking spaces, all below grade. About three spaces for every 1000 feet of retail, and about one space for each residential unit.

The parking and service entrances would be located in the 700 blocks of 8th St and 10th St NE. There would be no access point at the current 9th St NE traffic signal.

The building is planned to be a highly-rated LEED certified (environmentally-friendly) building.

The developer and H Street Main Street's Anwar Saleem said the H Street Corridor needs residential density. They said this project—including all eight stories—would help. The project doesn't conform to the H Street overlay, which they said may now possibly be "outdated."

Most everyone at the meeting agreed they'd like to see the property redeveloped. Most concerns were about the building's mass, particularly the project's height.

The ANC6A Economic Development and Zoning Committee voted unanimously to empower Drew Ronneberg, Rich Luna, Annie Swingen and Barbara Haleck to represent the community in the PUD process.

Gary Rappaport, president/CEO of Rappaport Companies.

H Street Connection owner and developer: Rappaport Companies, Gary Rappaport is CEO:

Developer's attorney: Chip Glasgow, attorney with Holland + Knight

Sarah Alexander (right), of Torti Gallas and Partners, stands with two of three "extremely preliminary" design concepts.
Preliminary designs for redevelopment of the H Street Connection.
Note the traffic will enter and exit onto 8th and 10th Streets NE.

The architect: Torti Gallas and Partners, Inc.

Projects by Torti Gallas:
The Ellington at 13th and U Streets NW

CityVista at 5th and K Streets NW

Columbia Heights Revitalization

ANC6A Economic Development and Zoning Committee members Rich Luna (left) and Drew Ronneberg question the developer's attorney, Chip Glasgow, attorney with Holland + Knight.


Anonymous said...

I did go, and I can give limited commentary on the events. The structure they propose is to include 3 levels of below grade parking for Residents and shopping. They are proposing 50,000 square feet of retail space and I believe approximately 350 units of residential space. The parking equates to 3 people per thousand square feet, and one space per unit. Garage entrances will be on 8th and 10th and may be segregated for residential parking, and one for retail. The alley behind will generally remain in tact, although they propose to make it one way from 8th to 10th.

Now to the point of contention...Design and massing. There were three separate renderings which I hope someone can make available. Some common themes were a "courtyard/pavilion" where the 9th street intersection is (which will be the main entrance for residents as well as the potential clustering of restaurants with Cafe style seating and all three would go directly to the street with a minimum of 16 feet of sidewalk space in front, with the exception of the 9th street pavilion. The current plan is approximately 8 stories with a stepping down affect towards the front and rear on 8th and 10th street. The first rendering was sort of boxy with the pavilion at 9th. The second had more "texture" with some areas recessing more than others. The third had a large structure on the corner of 8th, which appeared to be bowed back a bit to create more space at the 8th and h intersections, with the pavilion connecting in the center, and another distinct building toward 10th street. Some called the 8th and H structure "boat like," although I did not see it that way.

There was some discussion, and a bit of tension, between the developer/architect and some attendees about the intended size and design in general. There was some discussion about the overlay, which apparently calls for a 3-4 story building. Clearly the neighborhood wants sensitivity to toward the homeowners. But some in attendance as well as a representative from the Deputy Mayor’s office relayed a desire to have some critical mass to the project, and to use this development opportunity as a catalyst for greater change on the strip. There was also a sentiment expressed to have the architecture reflect that of the neighborhood; which was responded to by the architect in a way that called out so many different styles in the area, that to adhere to one in particular wouldn't necessarily be reflective of the neighborhood as a whole. Some attendees mentioned a fear that such a large project would further stymie the current owners of blighted properties desire to renovate, and would increase their willingness to hold off for a big pay day.

While the architects stressed the rendering were preliminary, the general sense of the project was a desire to build approximately 8 stories, with mixed residential and retail. The firm expressed a deep desire to work with the community, and stressed their experience with such projects in the district. If anyone would like to view the architect firms work, buildings of interest would be City Vista at 5th and K (NW, I believe), The Ellington at 13th and U st NW, and generally all of the new buildings around the Columbia Heights metro.

inked said...

Thanks, that's a very useful summary. I have a feeling we'll have plenty of chances to hear about this project and see renderings.

DG said...

so the architect was Torti Gallas?
I love how they are becoming a default DC urban infill architect. They are redoing Skyland in SE (east of the river), which will be amazing.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone give a timeline as to when this project might get started and/or be completed?

Anonymous said...

If it's true that Torti Gallas is the firm, then it may be worthwhile to look at some of their buildings. Here are examples of their work in DC:

Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg


Columbia Heights Revitalization

Georgia Avenue / Petworth

The Jefferson @ Logan Circle

Stanton and Frederick Douglass Dwellings

Alban Towers Revitalization

Alan Kimber, Commissioner, ANC 6c05 said...

They are also the architects for the Steuart development at 3rd & H Street NE, which generally complies quite well with the H Street Design Guidelines and the surrounding fabric (other than being higher, of course).

Ignoring the height issue for the moment, which will be very contentious...

As a very early stage design goes, it seems like the boxier one is more in keeping with the surrounding architecture--the curved, glass-heavy part in the other design seems very out-of-place.

These architects did a pretty good job on the 3rd & H Street project design in visually breaking up one large building so that it appears to be several separate buildings, all of which fit pretty well with the existing context. It would be nice to see them look at doing something similar for this project.

As I recall, they are not due to go before the Zoning Commission until April, so it is good that they are coming to the community for comments so early--hopefully this means there will be a good back-and-forth process to refine the project.

ANC 6C will be weighing in on the project as well, since it is only a block from where my district ends (8th & H Street on the south side).

Alan Kimber
ANC Commissioner, 6C05

Anonymous said...

Why should height be an issue? It will not be any higher than the building behind it.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in Anwar Saleem's comment that the Overlay is "outdated." Can anyone provide more detail as to what was meant by that? Any sign that the ANC6A or 6C economic development committees agree with this assessment?

Anonymous said...

I didn't go last night and didn't see the plans, but I think height is an issue as it relates to the vista of the street. Somehow having a 2 block building that is of a mass and height that is larger than others on the street does not seem like it will work. That being said, I would welcome the residential aspect of the development and am not against density. There must be some way to mass in the front to blend with the H Street vista(imagine standing at 4th or 5th and looking east) and step back with the height.

Ryan said...

Thanks for the great summary.

As Chair of ANC 6C's Committee on Planning, Zoning and the Environment, I wouldn't go as far as to say the Overlay is outdated. In the absence of a historic district, it's the best tool we have to preserve the corridors historic structures. That said, any good planning process, and plan developed as a result, should include a cycle for community review, to assess and make adjustments reflecting realities off paper.

I think we saw last night a cross section of opinion one doesn't typically see at many ANC meetings--which means fresh perspectives. Encouraging, and then sustaining the participation of new voices at community forums is always hard. I think the assumption is correct---most folks want to see development on the site and won't be lamenting the disappearance of this anti-urban strip mall. Also expressed by a community member was that a new building should not replicate historic forms (I happen to think that, in some instances, replication of historic form is a valid approach). With H Street, I think there is some room for experimentation (such as the Cook + Fox design for the 200 block of H) to the extent it doesn't deviate from the tempo set by the early 20th-Century facades.

Aesthetics aside, we need to think about appropriate density on this site. The fact remains, retail demands people and extra density above that called for in the Overlay requires the developer to kick in some REAL community amenities as part of the PUD process. We aren't going to get the diverse, small businesses we want to see on this corridor until we attract more residents to the area. Parking is an issue, and we should negotiate an agreement to provide public parking on the site. At the same time, issues of parking shouldn't be weighted the same as, say, quality architecture, place making or community serving retail in a decision making process. Many of us have made a conscience decision to live in an urban environment. I've resigned myself to the fact that, on some days, I'm not going to be able to park in front of my building, or within 2 blocks.

Now it's time to establish a dialogue between community and architect, similar to what we saw in 200 H.

ANC 6C looks forward to adding its voice to that discussion. I'd be interested in hearing from the community. What do you think based on what you've heard/seen so far?

Ryan Velasco, ANC 6C07

Klav said...


I interpreted Anwar's comment to mean perhaps H Street needs more density than envisioned in the overlay to bolster H Street businesses--due in part to soaring property taxes.

I think his reference was more about being adaptable to the changing environment.

Rich Luna did emphasize that a great deal of community input, time and work went into the overlay. As a result, there exists certain community expectations about development on H Street.

I do not recall any ANC6A committee members agreeing with Anwar's assessment.

Anyone else come away with a different perspective?

Anonymous said...

I support the project, like what I see in the architect's previous work, but I do have some concerns.

Yes, the 90 ft Capitol Hill Towers building is behind the H Street Connection. But the tower is set very far back from the sidewalk, street and 2-story row houses.

I want density, but I'm concerned about the massive structure. I think their should be some balance.

500 parking spaces will greatly help H Street, but all that traffic will traverse 8th and 10th Streets. I assume all deliveries and trucks driver there, too. I'd like to see a traffic study, also.

Drew Ronneberg said...

The post and the first anonymous comment give an accurate assessment of the proposed development and some of the issues that were brought up last night.

Many residents felt that the height and density of the proposed development was out of scale with existing buildings on H Street and the neighboring townhouses. Capitol Hill Towers was cited by Mr. Chip Glasgow as the primary justification for building an 8 story structure on the site.

I don't consider Capitol Hill Towers a valid reference point for the proposed development because:

1) the 2-3 story buildings across H, 8th and 10th Streets are much closer to the proposed structure than Capitol Hill Towers, which is separated by an expansive parking lot.

2) Capitol Hill Towers is outside the boundaries of the H Street Zoning Overlay


3) It is a very anomalous structure in terms of height, density and design for the H Street/Capitol Hill Neighborhood and an example that few would want replicated.

Concerns were also raised at the meeting that the proposed development doesn't conform to the H Street Strategic Development Plan. The plan calls for a 3-4 story structure on this site which is closer to the scale of existing buildings in the Retail District. The process that created the H Street Strategic Development Plan was very comprehensive and had extensive community participation. The plan is also less than 5 years old. Many residents (myself included), thought that once the City adopted the plan, it would serve as the guide for the development of the Corridor.

If the City and the Office of Planning intend to develop H Street more densely than what is called for in the H Street Strategic Development Plan, I hope they reopen the planning process rather than ignore the current plan. Until that happens, the Office of Planning should try to implement the current plan.

Drew Ronneberg

Richard Layman said...

I do think that Torti Gallas does good work. But in terms of context sensitive buildings, they seem to be doing a better job in Columbia Heights or on 14th Street NW, than in NE or at City Vista.

There is a big debate about context sensitive buildings vs. "new" in the field right now and the context sensitive "school" I think is winning in terms of the architectural arguments, that connection and place and overall program are more important than the expression of the architect, and that "time" as a dimension is more important as a continuum than a specific moment (for the most part anyway).

I think a taller building is acceptable for many reasons, but that doesn't necessarily mean 8 stories. Being that it's at the 100% intersection is one of the justifications for a taller building.

The buildings that were on these 2 blocks before the riots were all three stories,.

But if there is any height greater than what is approved in the SDP/Overlay, then there should be massive community benefits in return.

Re: Drew's point about Capitol Towers. I think he's right. It's not part of the overlay area and it is definitely anomalous, the product of the old post riot Urban Renewal Plan--most all the projects, in terms of height or quality or automobile orientation, were out of character for the neighborhood.

I think converting 10th St. into an auto thruway changes signficantly the character of that block.

PLUS, TDM SHOULD BE AN ABSOLUTE REQUIREMENT FOR THIS BLOCK, including the provision of shared, public parking. Glasgow opposes that every time it's mentioned.

Richard Layman said...

speaking of shared parking, maybe one community benefit would be a joint venture with the developer, an H St. Transportation Management District, and Capitol Towers to build structured underground parking on the Capitol Towers site, and remove that surface parking lot.

Anonymous said...

How about an iconic giant "H" atop the building, lit from below and angled out so it'd be a defining icon for the strip?

I can understand the developer being leery of providing public parking, but this is something that would greatly benefit the neighborhood. And, of course, it'd benefit the actual residents of the development as well, as it would aid in making H Street a destination.

This is a rare chance to talk about parking in an environment where two entire blocks are being demolished. Chances like this don't come along often.

Anonymous said...

Hello, and many thanks to all for the updates and commentary on this proposal. The more debate on it the better the chance we end up with a project with which we're relatively happy. I can certainly understand the need for population density along H Street for retail to thrive, especially given our lack of a Metro stop on the eastern reaches (sorry, but the trolley will have limited effect in bringing people to the corridor unless it's part of a more extensive network). Allowing the developer to go beyond the overlay gives the community leverage to demand more benefits, and in my view, the parking proposed is inadequate. Only one space per residential unit means that two-car couples and roommates will be parking vehicles on our surrounding streets, which are already choked with cars. Certainly, there are tradeoffs between a "happening" urban neighborhood and convenience/tranquility, and as the H Street corridor develops, parking will become more precious.

But now is the time to demand that the developer go above and beyond the normal standards for things like parking per unit/square foot, design aesthetics and affordable housing. I also believe the design concept with no ingress/egress on H Street itself puts too much pressure on 8th and 10th Streets. Sacrificing 20 feet of frontage for a garage entrance should not hurt the overall design -- the Whole Foods on P St. NW does not suffer for it.

Was there any discussion about the type of retail Rappaport was trying to attract? A proper grocery store would be a huge benefit for the community. Please, NO STARBUCKS!

David Lawder
Pickfor Pl NE

Anonymous said...


You raise some great points.

But I disagree about the ingress/egress on H Street. Slapping an entrance down on H Street would inevitably cause traffic backups on H, since as we all know people will cross all lanes of traffic to get into a residential development. That's why you so seldom see a major development entrance on the main four road entrance.

Yes, traffic backing up on side streets sucks. But it's actually a lot better than bringing traffic on H to a standstill to accomodate one development.

And I think one parking space per apartment is fine. I think the code requirement may only be 1 space for every two apartments (I could be wrong about that). But I guarantee you that if you require a lot more they will go unused, as most apartments are 1 vehicle or less.

It'd be much better to designate that more public parking space be included.

Anonymous said...

H Street Connection already has an egress onto H Street--complete with traffic light.

Anonymous said...

You are right. There is an egress there now. This is a perfect time to get rid of it.

Anonymous said...

There should definitely be a traffic study to determine how this project would impact traffic flows, especially with the trolleys sharing the right lanes on H Street. As for parking, I think the key is that ultimately, we're going to need as much as we can possibly get, whether it's designated as public or occupant parking.

Richard Layman said...

The more parking you require, the more driving and parking you induce. The only good research on this is from Seattle, which finds that as the number of units in a building increases, the number of cars used overall and per capita significantly decreases. This proposed building would generate less than one car per unit, based on the Seattle results. Not every drives but if you zone as if everyone does, and note that about 40% of people in the H St. census tracts don't have cars, then you will bring about the conditions you purport to not want.

I do think it's important to add parking, even though I don't like it. And I agree with Hillman that chances like these are quite rare.

Anonymous said...

Indeed more parking induces more driving (and thus more traffic). Maybe the developer could donate a space or two to car-sharing. This would reduce tenants' need for cars while giving neighbors more car-sharing options.

Justin from ReadysetDC said...

I agree with the statement about more spaces= more driving. I disagree that the streetcar will have a limited affect. People have a very different perspective of streetcars than they do buses. In addition to the fact that it will run to and from Union Station and eventually to the West End and Georgetown. Including Zipcars is a great idea. Why not require bicycle parking? This should be for all developments this size.