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More residents won't make Wallach or U Street like Ballston

Despite support from the neighborhood ANC and historic staff, the Historic Preservation Review Board last month rejected designs for a 6-story building along the east side of 14th Street, agreeing with some neighbors who have organized to fight the proposal.

Latest proposal for the project. Image from Eric Colbert & Associates.

The opponents, Doug Johnson and Craig Brownstein, warn that this project will make the neighborhood become "like Ballston," claimed it will "hulk over the entire block, casting neighbors into constant shadow," and posted some pictures with the caption "Wallachzilla."

HPRB asked architect Eric Colbert to redesign the project, with particular attention to the Wallach Street setback. HPRB chair Catherine Buell told me that the board felt this "will change character of this narrow street in particular," and that the board "has consistently ruled that buildings have to be set back."

But there are plenty of buildings adjacent to narrow streets, not set back, that exist and more importantly don't ruin the character of the street. Here's one from right near my own house (and thus not the same historic district as the Wallach one):

The Wallach proposal has 6 stories adjacent to narrow Wallach Place, with the bottom one larger. This building has 6½ stories. Yet I've walked past this building countless times, and never thought, ugh, this building is so tall and imposing! If it does cast a shadow, I've either thought, "It's great there is shade on this hot day," or, "It's too bad this building has so many ugly air conditioners sticking out and dripping on the sidewalk."

And the feel of the street is just simply not ruined by the building. Yes, it helps that there are large trees, which hopefully Wallach can gain as well over time. But even without them, such a building can easily coexist with small row houses. These ones near the building are only 2½ stories above ground.

Johnson and Brownstein seem to hold a minority view among active residents in the neighborhood. The ANC and its design review committee both approved the project. The HPO staff report also endorsed it as consistent with preservation.

Johnson and Browstein say "nobody told us about" the project. But some other active residents have pushed back on that assertion, noting that it had come up in neighborhood meetings and on the neighborhood email list.

Their biggest concern seems to be parking. They write, "Traffic whizzing down Wallach will increase and street parking (which is to say what barely exists now) will evaporate; ... Residents on T and Wallach who share the same alley will face exponentially more trouble negotiating in and out of their off-street parking spots; ... What is in the developer's own terms "a building for interns" is being air-dropped into a neighborhood that's now more Sesame Street than Soho."

There are, as always, better solutions to parking. As they note, U Street already has scarce street parking because the neighborhood is popular. Keeping people out doesn't solve that. Besides, if the building is really for interns, and right by the Metro, how many will really bring cars to DC or even register cars here? Interns are probably the ideal neighbors if you're worried about on-street parking.

And as someone who lives near large apartment buildings, I can assure them that people don't park in the alleys unless they're allowed to. It's not harder to get in and out of an alley parking spot just because an apartment building is down the block. The only issues are how wide the alley is and who's parked at the houses on either side.

HPRB, and Johnson and Brownstein, did all agree that the building looks a lot like others in the neighborhood. If HPRB can push for the highest quality architectural work, great. But this is a side issue and not really a preservation one; buildings that look just like others in a historic district are, by definition, compatible.

ANCs are notoriously biased toward opposing projects. HPO staff tend to take expansive views of the historic preservation laws. It's too bad the HPRB is forcing reductions in a project which all of these groups support, one which is not that different from other buildings, and which won't really destroy anyone's neighborhood.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Is the problem with Ballston the buildings -- or the people? Or the insistence that the large buildings require some high profile national commercial tenants, which squeezes out anything interesting?

In any case, one would think there is more sympathy for Ballston as a model -- and not as a negative counteroffer.

by charlie on Jul 14, 2011 10:34 am • linkreport

It's hideous.

GGW, learn aesthetics, proportion. Please. Something.

by Jazzy on Jul 14, 2011 10:52 am • linkreport

buildings that look just like others in a historic district are, by definition, compatible

Not really. The others that it looks like aren't contributing buildings. And if the other ones went through without being compatible with the historic district's defining elements and contributing buildings, that's not a reason for allowing another building to do likewise. (And I don't know if this particular design, or those of the other 'like' buildings is compatible or not. I'm just making the point that one or more mistakes don't justify other mistakes.)

I like your analogy of the building on the corner near where you live. However, neither of us really know what it was like before that apartment house got built. I.e., We don't know if that adjacent street suffered any ill effects from the construction of that building because we don't know what it was like prior to its construction. Yes, we know it's still a very nice street, but we don't know if it was a better street before.

And btw, I agree that street parking shouldn't come into play as to whether this building can be built as is or not. If anything, the construction of this building should be viewed as an opportunity to provide more (underground) parking to the neighborhood for its residents ... thus reducing pressure on street parking for its visitors.

by Lance on Jul 14, 2011 10:53 am • linkreport

I'm all for density on 14th Street but that is one ugly building. The example you show from your own neighborhood is much more in keeping with the architecture of the nearby houses. The Wallach Place proposal's height is fine. It's the proportions and the details that are totally wrong.

by jimble on Jul 14, 2011 11:07 am • linkreport

There's nothing incompatible about this massing, especially with the step down. Since when did the HPRB get in to height issues, I thought that was the domain of zoning. As for the design, ughh! What the heck is holding this architect back from adding some detail? It looks so barren in the rendering that I can't imagine it will improve in reality. Just look at the building to the right in the rendering, which by the way is in the process of being demolished by neglect. The cornice, punched windows, and decorative panels are a "gift to the street" where the only gift this building will bestow is more eyes. Then again, HPRB's puritanical stance on "immitative" buildings would probably prohibit a building with a more harmonious aesthetic. What ever style though, just add somemore detail like you actually wanted it to look beautiful and my guess is more people would look favorably on it. Not every infill building needs to be an essay on "less is more".

by Thayer-D on Jul 14, 2011 11:11 am • linkreport

HPRB has long been in the business of zoning, despite saying they don't. I'd like their rule to be, if the zoning says you can build a building that's x stories high with y setback, then you can, but you have to make it look compatible with styling and so on.

But that's not necessarily the rule they use. They often force greater setbacks, step-downs, and even outright height reductions beyond what zoning says. That's what I disapprove of.

by David Alpert on Jul 14, 2011 11:14 am • linkreport

I agree about HPRB being in the zoning business, in effect down-zoning parcels on vague "compatibility" grounds. Many times various NIMBY opponents use HPRB as a defacto Zoning Commission/BZA to get their density/parking concerns addressed, in by-right development situations such as this.

by Paul on Jul 14, 2011 11:32 am • linkreport

It's hideous.

It's not pretty, but we're not the architecture fashion police. This aesthetic is what's popular for condo buildings these days, especially in the U Street Area. Its size is pretty much in line with the neighborhood, though, so I don't know where you're getting the idea that it's somehow out of place.

by JustMe on Jul 14, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

I'm kind of curious as to why Johnson and Brownstein used Ballston as a comparison. Those buildings aren't 6 stories high, they're closer to 12 (approximate guess on my part).

by Fitz157 on Jul 14, 2011 11:43 am • linkreport

Absolutely valid points and great example of another 'tall' building abutting a lower-scale neighborhood street.

My two cents (as a local architect):
STYLE, DENSITY, and INCLUSION are the fundamental issues here, as in any other urban design discussion, between all the lines. Style because there is a wide perception that ornament = value or brick = good while glass/steel = bad. Density because people are inherently defensive about the spaces they live in... but this is not always a good thing. Density is a great thing, when executed well. i.e. Why do suburbanites drive their Suburbans to the mall or the 'cute old downtown' area miles away? To park their car and walk! I am baffled by those who so fear density that a 6 story building becomes a monster. This is DC - a thriving city. It will and should get more dense with each passing year!

Finally (and most important in this case study) is inclusion. Whether or not neighbors have been notified via mandated, public channels, they did not feel included. While it's impossible to make everyone happy, developers and architects often underestimate the importance of this step in the process. It never hurts to allow residents the courtesy to weigh in - to listen to them, even if their concerns are not ultimately assuaged. There will never be more street parking on Wallach...

Despite the snafus this project is facing now, I earnestly believe the developer and the architect have gone to lengths to accommodate the community, be it a bit late in the game. That said, let's all keep looking forward to a more dense, more walkable, more livable DC, however we can get there!

by local architect on Jul 14, 2011 11:46 am • linkreport

@ Jazzy -- "It's hideous" -- compared to what, exactly?

Have you seen the one-story POS that it's to replace? That's *really* ugly.

Not saying there shouldn't be standards, but man, even as presented it's infinitely better than the cr*p that's there now.

by rnarnarna on Jul 14, 2011 11:47 am • linkreport

Are we voting? Because that is ugly. It looks stale and outdated and boring and it hasn't even been built yet.

by mtp on Jul 14, 2011 11:55 am • linkreport

Does anyone stop to examine the enormous sense of entitlement one has when you think that moving to a neighborhood gives you veto power over what other people want to do with their private property? I'm as big a liberal as there is, but even I think that government doesn't exist to enforce aesthetic standards. Johnson and Browstein should recognize that it's because of people like them that DC is so unaffordable.

by John Cain on Jul 14, 2011 12:05 pm • linkreport

@David I'd like their rule to be, if the zoning says you can build a building that's x stories high with y setback, then you can, but you have to make it look compatible with styling and so on.

While this would be nice, it would first require a massive rezoning effort. Much of the zoning we're living with today was established before the historic districts were established and reflected a desire to turn the inner part of the city into a modernist 'towers in the park' area with elevated freeways interspersed. Since the zoning doesn't conform with the goal to have new buildings be compatible with the contributing structures (and with the defining elements of the HD), the HPO and HPRB have to basically ignore the current zoning height limits and do instead what is appropriate in keeping with the aims of the historic district. Now if the Office of Planning could put some time into getting the zoning heights to match the compatible heights, then you could have your wish. But as it stands, HPO and HPRB --- with the help of the neighborhood historic associations --- have to carry that burden.

by Lance on Jul 14, 2011 12:07 pm • linkreport

Ugly building. Looks like Ballston because of the bad recycled architecture and overall cheapo look.

Yes, and much of 14th Street in Columbia Heights unfortunately looks like Ballston, too. Love the buzzing streetlife in Col Hts (which by the way is the same as 20 years ago before they demo'd everything to make way for the new construction; its just a new demographic now) but the aesthetic hurts my eyes. Let's avoid repeating that mistake.

And btw, the development on 14th below U Street is generally WAY better - some beautiful new construction mixed in with the old, with one or two bad apples thrown in.

by nwdc4life on Jul 14, 2011 12:30 pm • linkreport

I must be blind. I don't find anything inappropriate about that building aesthetically. I'd happily live there (if I could afford it!) In terms of massing and use, it appears to be in keeping with what's already happening on 14th Street. I know there's a bias against modern architecture, but are there better descriptors for the building's aesthetic flaws other than "cheapo" or "dated"? What makes it so visually offensive?

And what are examples of less-terrible new buildings that we should seek to emulate? Dan Malouff at BeyondDC posted a photo this Art Deco-ish building in Clarendon, which would presumably appease people like the traditional style, but it's in Arlington, which apparently is a terrible place where no one would ever want to live.

by dan reed! on Jul 14, 2011 12:36 pm • linkreport

these anti-density people are enemies of the United States and their crazy car-centric policies encourage the development of sprawl- which in and of itself is one of the driving forces behind at least 2 wars. The USA needs to transform itself into less of a suburban car centric country and get away from oil dependence and the costly wars that it makes necessary. Anti density results in a low denisty city which means all of the taller buildings are built away from transit and far from cities. This is not the sane way to plan or to build. Those in favor of suburban sprawl and "preservationist" people against more compact and walkable and transit oriented cities are not patriotic. They are SPIES and fifth columnists and they should be hounded out of our country, or arrested and shot .

by anti-NIMBY on Jul 14, 2011 12:41 pm • linkreport

The building looks fine to me, and I'll echo the earlier comments that it's waaaaaaaay better than the dingy, rundown crap that's currently in that location. I'm also really uncomfortable with the idea that a building's design can be vetoed by neighbors. Rather than keep people out of the neighborhood, we should welcome the benefits that density brings.

by Dean on Jul 14, 2011 12:44 pm • linkreport

Let's just do away with the historic preservation board. DC will always be historic and always changing. That's what a city is.

Let DC be DC. Let the historic preservationists go live in Wichita.

by Redline SOS on Jul 14, 2011 12:49 pm • linkreport

I've defended HPRB in the past but if this building is compliant with zoning, then they're overstepping their bounds. Instead of the ad-hoc approach, zoning should designate EXACTLY what is allowed in terms of height, setback etc. so Architects don't go through a dog-and-pony show that affects the mass of the building. If HPRB wants to comment on style, materials, etc. then fine, that's all they should do. However, if they want to affect what's allowed by zoning, they should then create a set of zoning standards, get them written into the zoning regulations for historic areas, and that way there's a defined set of rules to design by (height, setback, step down here, etc.), so people don't waste their time and money trying to achieve an undefined goal.

This back and forth trying to please a board who operate with subjective rules about items that really are up to a different department is obscene. Affecting the massing affects the number of units which can affect the financing, and pushing back a projected drawing completion date affects the construction scheduling. On and on. I think the HPO office realizes this, but the HPRB apparently don't.

At the permit office I don't expect the electrical reviewer to comment on the structure, that's up to...the structural reviewer. But that's what's happening here.

by Bob See on Jul 14, 2011 12:50 pm • linkreport

That building is slated to replace a one story run down row that includes a flooring store, a foul tasting take away restaurant, and easily the most horrendous post office in the United States.

Ever side street that empties onto 14th Street will eventually have a tower at it's corner. It'll make the side street cutesy and self contained, and 14th Street bustle.

by Rico on Jul 14, 2011 12:53 pm • linkreport

I personally can't see using google street view any rhyme or reason or even a common theme to the current architecture in and around the 1900 block of 14th St

by Kolohe on Jul 14, 2011 12:54 pm • linkreport

Comparing 14th & U - with it's zero trees and 6 lanes to 17th and Church is quite a fruitloop comparison. Church is not W or V Streets, and the houses do not compare.

@nwdc4life agreed. Columbia Heights is atrocious, 14th below S has worked out very nicely.

However, 14th between U and Florida is awful, and it looks like GGW wants to make 14th from Florida to S Streets be a cavern of big multi-story hideously ugly buldings ala the horrid size and architecture of the developments at 14th @ V & W.

I would pretend I am surprised, but that would be a lie.

by greent on Jul 14, 2011 12:54 pm • linkreport

I don't think anybody would complain about the architecture of the new construction in Columbia heights if not for DCUSA.

Most of the other buildings are quite handsome, and one or two even have some neat Art Deco touches -- the cornice on the building with the Potbelly is fantastic, even though the rest of the building is somewhat blah. The building with the Chipotle is absolutely fantastic all around, and picks up lots of subtle architectural cues from the surrounding historic rowhouses. Really underscores the value of a detailed facade. (I don't like that "recycled" look seen in Rosslyn-Ballston either.)

And, seriously. I hadn't actually realized that Wallach is essentially 14th & U. This building is ugly, but much less ugly than what surrounds it. It's not even that tall. I'd like them to rethink their facade, consider adding some more height variation along the the 14th Street side, and leave more room for trees. However, I'm certainly not opposed to this project being built on a blighted block in an otherwise vibrant neighborhood.

14th & U should be a monumental intersection. Right now, it's kind of depressing.

We don't want 14th Street to become a "canyon" a la K Street. I don't think that this project threatens that.

by andrew on Jul 14, 2011 1:13 pm • linkreport

The Wallach side probably *feels* more massive to some residents because of the lack of design details on that face. It's kind of a massive slab. Changing the setback probably isn't going to help that, though.

by KT on Jul 14, 2011 1:19 pm • linkreport

However, 14th between U and Florida is awful, and it looks like GGW wants to make 14th from Florida to S Streets be a cavern of big multi-story hideously ugly buldings ala the horrid size and architecture of the developments at 14th @ V & W.

I think anything--be it modern, glass or brick, would be an improvement over much of the rundown and empty/abandoned buildings and space that are still sprinkled throughout most of the surrounding area. Most of the worst offenses are north of V street for sure, but the area where the Wallach bldg is, is not much better as already noted.

If you just got a few blocks north, there's the old rundown (now out of business) Latin Car store on the corner of 14th and Florida, there's the horrible entire block between Florida and W, with the Judy Restaurant (how is that still open?), the Dynasty Ethiopian restaurant, the hideous liquor store on the corner, the random men's urban clothing store that looks empty 100% of the time, the government building (food stamps pick up?), the closed down George's lunch place, that was behind 2 layers of bulletproof plexiglass(!!) that still got shot at, and the lovely Mercadito Ramos, which has drunk hobos in front of it 24/7 and for the longest time had a big cracked glass facade. I've seen nicer neighborhoods in South Central L.A. or even in the slums of Rio. And we are arguing over the aesthetics of 1 new building?

Honestly, that whole block could be turned into 6 story glass buildings just like the one we are discussing, and some are objecting to in this thread, and it would be a 150% improvement. Let's get real.

My view is--ANYTHING will be better than the stuff that's there now..which is not only ugly aesthetically, it's useless, rundown, closed and attracting vagrants, drug dealers and criminals. I welcome any new projects, be they glass, brick, and heck, even ugly, to replace them.

There's also (thankfully), a new YMCA project that has already begun construction on the corner of 14th and W I believe. I seriously hope that project will help the area and it seems taller and just as "glassy" as the one we are discussing--so why no objection to that? Does it depend where?

The 14th and Wallach bldg seems fine to's not my favorite type of building, but it seems to have room for retail below which hopefully will help bring some better customers to the area (like Busboys and Poets and Eatonville and the Yes!Market have further south).

These 2 blocks I am describing are really important in my view, because they are major connecting blocks from the U St developments into lower CoHe.

The new development that's going into the entire block between Belmont and Chapin hopefully will help too once it's finished.

So I welcome the new bldg, whatever it looks like and however tall it is. As someone who is always walking up and down that area, and often fearing for my life, particularly at night, it's desperately needed!

by LuvDusty on Jul 14, 2011 1:38 pm • linkreport

Boring and ugly. It's not an exercise in "Less Is More," it's exercise in "Less is, well not that little, and no it needs to look like less, but not in that way, and it should look a little traditional, but not so much that they think we're fuddy-duddies, and ugh, it's midnight already."

But the basic point that the height is compatible stands.

by Neil Flanagan on Jul 14, 2011 2:07 pm • linkreport

Yep the building is pretty damn boring, not ugly, but not anything special, I wonder if the design had been interesting and good, or even classic like the building in the 2nd photo above if there would have been a different reaction.

by Richard Layman on Jul 14, 2011 2:09 pm • linkreport

"Honestly, that whole block could be turned into 6 story glass buildings just like the one we are discussing, and some are objecting to in this thread, and it would be a 150% improvement. Let's get real"

I understand the need for development in these areas, but there are many safe areas in DC that wil never have the promise of 14th street. Look at some of the new condos below R street built 5-10 years ago, or the Metropole on 15th and P. They are modernist in style and yet have a similar flair and level of detail as the older buildings. I guess back then you neded a higher level of design to entice people accross 16th street.
This is just a mediocre building that while servicable won't add to the overall character of Logan Circle, but given the choice, I'd much rather see it than what's there. I just think this area deserves to have the bar set a bit higher than Ballston.

by Thayer-D on Jul 14, 2011 2:13 pm • linkreport

I agree with everything that Bob See has written. We need for the various boards, commissions, etc. to stick to their intended role and stop the delays which negatively impact all of us.

This whole fear-based opposition was created by two gentleman who have blogged on this and other subjects before. Their tactic is to stick to the concern over the design of the building but it's obvious in their writing and opinions that they are fearful of new residents of different economic and racial backgrounds coming into what they feel is their private neighborhood.

by Logan Res on Jul 14, 2011 2:17 pm • linkreport

I don't get the comparisons to Ballston. Perhaps some examples are in order?

The worst thing about Ballston has nothing to do with height or even the aesthetics of specific buildings, but the urban design of Ballston. The buildings do not all front the street, the streewalls along sidewalks are incomplete, the buildings do not frame the public spaces in the same way as you find in DC.

The same critique (this will turn DC into Crystal City!) is equally invalid for these reasons - just about anything built in DC will front the street and will be part of an appropriate urban design. This case is no exception - the height, mass, and density are all perfectly appropriate for the site and the historic district.

by Alex B. on Jul 14, 2011 2:18 pm • linkreport

@ Alex B
You're right that from an urban design stand point that there's no comparison. My objection is from an artistic point of view. If you look at a typical Ballston building, it has some vague design stretched over 14+ stories, so it dosen't call for the level of detail a 6 story building would need, especially in such a pedestrian environment as Logan Circle. This building seems to have that canned design that is ok for a Hong Kongesque or Vancouver apartment building. IMHO, this area is special, but will surely survive this building.

by Thayer-D on Jul 14, 2011 2:54 pm • linkreport

+1 on Alex's comment re: Ballston.

My parents live in Ballston and it's actually turning into a very nice neighborhood with a lot of places to eat, shop, etc, within walking distance and lots of public transportation.

Sure, there are high rises, but stretches of Glebe and Fairfax Dr. and Wilson are all starting to gain some character.

by LuvDusty on Jul 14, 2011 2:54 pm • linkreport

Many people considered the Chrysler Building a gawdy eyesore in it's day, but it's now world-famous and considered a beautiful and historic example of our art deco period and the idea of demolishing it and replacing it with anything else would cause riots. Many people thought Logan Circle's huge Victorian townhomes along Rhode Island and Vermont Avenues to be pretentious, excessive, and ugly at the time, but those are now so beloved they are protected from being changed.

The point is, regardless of if you think this building is pretty or not, assuming it gets built and survives for 51 years, it too will become "contributing" to the historic environment. Maybe as a testament to lackluster architecture of the 90's and the early 2000s, maybe as an example of beauty compared to whatever ugly architectural trend is in fashion 50 years from now. But at the end of the day, this is a CITY, not a farm (though, that area at one point did look an awful lot like a farm...) and there will be buildings here and there will be density here and that's just the way it goes.

If you build it, they will come. More importantly, if you build enough of it, the people who don't like it will cash out and move :)

by hill_guy on Jul 14, 2011 5:44 pm • linkreport

"So I welcome the new bldg, whatever it looks like and however tall it is. As someone who is always walking up and down that area, and often fearing for my life, particularly at night, it's desperately needed!"

And there is the GGW hippie white kid cry! Bring more development so I feel safer, even though I am actually quite safe. The Garfield Terrace is still there... how safe are you?

A building does not make you safe. But the implication is noted.

I lived at 14th & W for 5 years, before so many of you even decided DC was a place you could live. Northern Shaw/U St had it's issues, but it was a fine place to live. Suburban fantasy - no, no it wasn't.

But hey, let's put in skyscapers on every corner - and yes, the buildings on 14th btwn Fla and U are HUGE compared to the surrounding buildings/homes. The house I lived in is now in shadows for hours a day, because of the lovely new buildings that tower over the 3 story house.

Density is not always wonderful, and not always beneficial. Growth for growths sake is not smart. But this is GGW. Expect nothing less but "Build it and richer people will come." Cuz that always makes a neighborhood better. Dupont can attest to that. Yeech.

by greent on Jul 14, 2011 5:57 pm • linkreport much could you get wrong here.
#1: "Johnson and Brownstein" - did you even bother to note how many residents showed up at the HPRG meeting AND and U Street Neighborhood meeting, only after we all heard about any of this?
#2: Did you ask anyone on Wallach, or anywhere near, what they think? We have, and it's been almost universal condemnation of a poor design/
#3: Did you ever even reach out to us, the supposed troublemakers? Not once.
Take it from me.
Journalism Fail.

by Doug on Jul 14, 2011 10:10 pm • linkreport

@Logan Res We need for the various boards, commissions, etc. to stick to their intended role

And THAT is precisely what HPRB is doing here. If the building as designed (inclusive of its height) is not compatible with that historic district, then the HPRB has a duty to carry out its responsibilities and say 'this is not compatible, try this out and let's see if this works instead'. And that is precisely what they did.

I think the problem is that there are too many people, including yourself, who do not understand the HPRB's responsibilites. And their responsibilities are enourmous. As the saying goes 'In a historic district NOTHING is of right.' ... I.e., They're essentially responsible for the de facto defining of a lot of what makes this city 'one of the best in the world' as I saw the former DDOT director twittering today back for a visit from his new home, Chicago.

by Lance on Jul 14, 2011 10:10 pm • linkreport

Your opinions are tiresome. You can't get out of your small box to see the nuances of each neighborhood. Your version of 'smart growth' is actually stupid: density at all costs, even if it ruins the place.

by manny on Jul 14, 2011 10:32 pm • linkreport

Ballston had 20+ story apartment buildings and how many do DC have.... Zero.... no reason to compare the two. They have 6 story building in Loudon county. No reason to bring Ballston into this story

by Steve on Jul 14, 2011 11:43 pm • linkreport

Lance: "If the building as designed (inclusive of its height) is not compatible with that historic district"

"compatible" could mean anything. Define it if you're able. Else it just boils down to "what I like". Builders resign themselves to HPRB overstepping their bounds by scaling down, simply because HPRB in a position to stall them, nothing more, and they need to get their project started. Because of this, HPRB uses this as a precedent to empower themselves further. They refer to past decisions almost as law.

"As the saying goes 'In a historic district NOTHING is of right.' "

Which contradicts the HPRB's assertions that they don't get involved in zoning. Historic districts are an overlay, not a zone.

by Bob See on Jul 15, 2011 9:25 am • linkreport

Ballston is in the middle of an amazing transformation from suburban blight (empty gas stations and used car lots) to a bright urban cluster of mixed-used towers bordering a major subway station. The new buildings keep getting better and more savvy. (The curvy 800 North Glebe tower currently under construction will rock the DC area!) The soon-to-rise Founders Square with its recycled glass sidewalks lit from below is not appropriate for 14th and U. Ballston is doing its own thing QUITE WELL and shouldn't be compared to U Street. Apples and oranges, why are people knocking Ballston here? One homely six-storey reject does not Ballston make.

by TJLinBallston on Jul 15, 2011 9:35 am • linkreport

I don't think anybody would complain about the architecture of the new construction in Columbia heights if not for DCUSA.

Columbia Heights (and Chinatown) looks like Ballston vomitted.

by Jazzy on Jul 15, 2011 12:06 pm • linkreport

I not knocking Ballston but the article shouldn't compare Ballston and DC. Ballston has taller buildings than DC. Ballston is beautiful but Pentagon City is better.....

by Steve85 on Jul 15, 2011 12:35 pm • linkreport


Columbia Heights (and Chinatown) looks like Ballston vomitted.

Can you expand on that? When these U Street Dirt guys define what they want as "NOT Ballston," they haven't articulated what that means at all. Your comment doesn't articulate it any better, frankly.

Describe what you're talking about - is it the architecture? The aesthetic? The urban design of the place? The uses? The people? The character? The age of a building (or lack thereof)? The prices? What?

by Alex B. on Jul 15, 2011 12:50 pm • linkreport

@AlexB; let's be honest. It is the real estate valuations of Ballston -- as compared to U st.

There are positive things to be said about Ballston, which is why I find it strange that DA is using it as a red headed stepchild.

But I think AlexB is wrong is pretending the architecture of Ballston is not partially responsible for the dead, hotel zone feel. I like Ballston, but it doesn't inspire passion. I suspect in 40 years it may be a ghetto and a future GGW will be talking about tearing it down an replacing it with, well, whatever.*

* A constant problem in Arlington. The place screams cheapness, and I don't think it will last.

by charlie on Jul 15, 2011 12:57 pm • linkreport

I'm not using it as a red-headed stepchild or anything. The comparison was from the 2 critics of the plan.

by David Alpert on Jul 15, 2011 1:11 pm • linkreport


There's a fuzzy line between architecture and urban design. The urban design (that is - the way that the buildings shape and frame the public spaces between them) of Ballston is a definite negative in my book. That is mostly due to the height, massing, and orientation of the individual buildings. Some of it deals with aesthetics and how a building addresses the street - but little of it would deal with what I'd call the 'style' of the architecture (style being slightly different than overall aesthetics).

I'll agree that some parts of Ballston do indeed fall short on architecture and style. And yes, some buildings there do indeed feel cheap. That said, I think the more recent additions do a far better job in both urban design and in aesthetics. If I had to assign blame between architecture/aesthetics and urban design, I'd say Ballston's shortcomings are 75% urban design and 25% architecture.

I don't think my experience is unique, therefore when I hear people make comments about new buildings in Chinatown being just like Ballston, I'd love for them to expound on that further - because I think they might be conflating a couple of related, yet separate issues.

Getting back to this 14th and U example, I think the urban design aspect is completely appropriate. High lot coverage, building built to the lot line, street level retail, height massed to face a wide 14th St, the general rhythym of the facade 'reads' like a residential building to me, etc. I can quibble over the style and some of the aesthetics, but it seems right on the money to me on all of the core issues.

by Alex B. on Jul 15, 2011 1:37 pm • linkreport

@alexb; thanks for the thoughtful response. I'd say -- as an very nonexpert outsider -- that a lot of the details can make a building look cheap. I'd imagine the professional dogma of architects is against detail work, but for the rest of us it makes a difference. And that cheapness is prevalent throughout Ballston.

My major beef -- and this is ancetodal -- is the lack of decent food or retail options. Even the new Rustico feels cheap. I suspect there is a correlation between larger buildings, higher rents, and the need for a higher grade of tenant.

@Alpert; now why are picking on red-headed stepchildren! And Ballston! And you damn endorsement of Grey! And you lousy mid 1990s mountain bike. Go find some hole and hide yourself in!

(sarcarm mode off -- better format this time)

I just find it amusing that when urban in DC types want to criticize an urban design, they pick on Arlington. A bit of bridge and tunnelitis. Arlington does suck, at times, put it the premier model of TOD in the area. It's probably telling that a lot of people, however, don't want to live there.

by charlie on Jul 15, 2011 2:05 pm • linkreport

@ Charlie,
As an expert insider (sarcasm), I can tell you that many times, a lot of detail does indeed make a building look cheap becasue of the dogma you so accuratley point out. When you teach architects to abhore decorative details and only validate "architectonic" details, you end up with untrained architects, at least in the pre-modernist "gift to the street" sense. As I noted before, this doesn't mean you can't have very attractive and urbane modernist buildings, but you must rely on exceptionally talanted architects rather than really compenent run of the mill architects. To say nothing of the fact that architectonic (highlighting an element of construction) are decorative anyway.

Alex is exactly right about Ballston's urbanism though. The density and mixed use is there but the street wall leaves something to be desired. The Ballston reference is purely aesthetic, but again, that's to do with "the professional dogma of architects".

by Thayer-D on Jul 15, 2011 3:21 pm • linkreport

But there are plenty of buildings adjacent to narrow streets, not set back, that exist and more importantly don't ruin the character of the street.

Not only do they not ruin the character, they improve it by framing the space. Moreover Wallach is NOT a narrow street, it is over 50 feet wide. It is only narrow compared to 14th St's vast 100' right of way. A six story building establishes a height-to-width ratio of only slightly more than 1:1, not very high for a good enclosed urban space. Ironic that the "preservation" board wants to achieve its aims by altering the historic setback line that has served the street for over a century.

by RTA on Jul 15, 2011 3:24 pm • linkreport

Architects very much like details, but as Thayer says, the current trend of run-of-the-mill architects is to express the architectonic details of joints and surfaces in detail. As for Eric Colbert, who knows.

This is generally not the case of high-end architects, other than the neomodern High-Tech starchitects like Rogers, Foster, and Piano.

by Neil Flanagan on Jul 15, 2011 3:36 pm • linkreport


You write your story without knowledge of the project or its potential neighbors. Nobody is anti-development but rather would like to preserve the historic nature of our area. We'd hope that developers looking to build something as big as the proposed development would at the very least make an attempt to fit in with the surrounding neighborhood. Please do more research on this before writing about it again. Craig and others on Wallach have expressed the sentiment of many neighbors, many of whom have been here their entire adult life (and in some cases, since they were kids).

by Alex on Jul 15, 2011 3:49 pm • linkreport

Funny, I just had to drive to Ballston.

On Fairfax and Wilson, a pretty successful streetscape. Again, the individual retailers suck, but it is what it is.

On Glebe, it is really starting to look like Tysons. I don't drive there often, but I see what AlexB means by "wall of glass."

Two attractive buildings: the nature conservancy and the one by Macys (Ted's Montana Grill)

Much like the size of an acre, I tend to defer to AlexB on this one. But that cheapness does bother me. Contrast it to the new building with Circa in Clarendon.

by charlie on Jul 15, 2011 3:53 pm • linkreport

Rob Goodspeed had a nice analysis of Ballston's urban design back in 2007:

Compare the figure/ground relationship Rob highlights in his second figure to this one of the District from BeyondDC:

That's the big difference in urban design - you can see DC's streets clearly by looking at nothing but the buildings.

It's not like Ballston is a completely incoherent suburban office park, but it's not nearly as strong of an urban design as DC.

by Alex B. on Jul 15, 2011 4:19 pm • linkreport

I live on 14th above U and was disappointed to read the inaccurate opinions expressed in this blog. I am not a regular reader and I know now not to trust the opinions here. If I had not been at the meeting, I would be inclined to fall for this reporting the way Rush Limbaugh's ditto puppets believe him! In my opinion, the facts expressed here were just as twisted!

This is not a NIMBY situation, quite the contrary; the residents want and have anxiously waited for a new structure to replace the awful one-story building that currently exists, which replaced the older, and yes a much taller than a one-story historic building at the time! This was done apparently without the careful input and review of a Historic Board back then. Thankfully we have a Historic Preservation Board with some sense!

This part of 14th is not K-St or Conn. Ave. It is adjacent to 2 and 3 story buildings. This area, even on the commercial strip of 14th is mostly 1-4 story buildings. Anything larger is an exception. If this were below the Circle or above U-St among other tall building where I live, it would be much more appropriate.

DC is not Boston, San Francisco or New York--all favorite and beautiful cities in my opinion. I have loved living in or around DC since 1971 and plan to stay here till I drop, hopefully with many visits to the other cities, but hope DC is not transformed into a skyscraper city. Yes, continue the wonderful revitalization, but in scale and proportion.

By the way, the ANC vote on this occasion was apparently representative of only one vote because the representative did not hear any objections--I understand he travels a lot with his job and did not solicit--or inform his constituents closest to the building about the project, so the vote did not should have been an abstention.

by Stewart Bunn on Jul 15, 2011 6:26 pm • linkreport

but hope DC is not transformed into a skyscraper city.

Maybe you can go find a proposed skyscraper in DC to complain about. Because this isn't one.

by JustMe on Jul 15, 2011 9:58 pm • linkreport

Eric Colbert does the same crap design over and over again. Level 2 are little more than tax dollar ghetto hustler developers who basically did 2 failed projects in Columbia Heights. Neither should be given the benefit of the doubt. GGW going bat for them, speaks to GGW's credibility gap.

by W Jordan on Jul 16, 2011 10:03 am • linkreport

I'm a resident of a large building nearby on U Street. For me the debate has nothing to do with scale and development (and certainly not the availability of free on-street parking!) I just think that we shouldn't replace a small ugly building with a big ugly one. It's bad for the neighborhood, and more importantly it's bad for business.

by Dan on Jul 16, 2011 3:14 pm • linkreport

Why in the world do developers of properties on 14th Street hire Eric Colbert? You'd think that they'd want better design.

by ben on Jul 17, 2011 9:28 am • linkreport

The dicussion of Ballston brings to mind Robert Hughes' book "The Shock of the New." The comments here reflect a pre-disposition by the writers to live in turn-of-the-century Victorian brick neighborhoods. To each their own. Why does their choice of living in "old" neighborhoods prevent them for seeing the beauty and vitality of the "new?" Say what you will, Ballston is new. To the uber-urban, Ballston looks strange, even foreign. From the architecturally progressive point of view, it's exciting and dynamic. Your posters may be politically progressive but they are also deeply conservative and resist change. They fight the future as if they could prevent it. They can't and they won't. Fifty years ago, This type of mentality hissed at Jackson Pollack and Mark Rothko. Abstract art was shocking! Now they are be-deviled by Ballston / Clarendon/ Rosslyn as these communities embrace the 21st Century in a handsome, LEEDS-certified way. The buildings are tall and robust but there are dozens of shady, vestpocket parks between to read a book or watch children play in Ballston's many fountains. Life is good here. It is DIFFERENT than downtown. It's new.

by TJLinBallston on Jul 17, 2011 9:50 am • linkreport

Developers hire Colbert because it's a business who has a experience getting projects done in this community. Given, that Ward 1 has lower design, civic and moral standards in exchange for any kind of development that is what we get. Cheap lofts with a luxury tag.

In terms of Ballston, I think that's the point U St does not have to look and feel Ballston to be architecturally progressive.

by W Jordan on Jul 17, 2011 10:58 am • linkreport

The need to find an "other" to disparage is disappointing, but not surprising, in the greater field of NIMBY complaints.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Jul 17, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

TJL in Ballston is a very close friend, and an admirable defender of his neighborhood. As a frequent guest of ours at Wallach, I'm surprised he has forgotten our obvious embrace of good modern design - including a fine piece of art gracing our walls.
To his, and other's, straw-man argument that we oppose development, that's absurd. How many other new buildings that have gone up in the last ten years has he or anyone heard us cry foul about? The answer is none, as we (as noted before) embrace good modern design - that includes our neighborhood we share.
The was little good about this design. We - and our neighbors - did not 'stop' anything. We have simply asked the architect to be a bit more responsive to the local setting, which is exactly what HPRB has asked.
So enough with NIMBY. Anyone invoking that argument clearly has none. That's why we welcome genuine engagement and debate.
And TJL: we're glad you like Ballston. So there's no need to question that we like Wallach.

by Doug on Jul 17, 2011 1:52 pm • linkreport

Mr. Alpert, We were going to fire off a quick response to your piece earlier this week, but it took us far more time than we’d thought to catalog your litany of factual errors, misrepresentations and baseless accusations.

1. Despite your fanciful and uninformed inference, my partner Doug and I hardly orchestrated the block’s solid opposition to the current Level 2/Colbert plan. Nearly a dozen residents with anywhere from 10 – 50 years of hard time on Wallach Place turned out to voice concerns at the HPRB meeting three weeks ago. We’re hardly the puppet-masters you make us out to be - rather we launched a blog to serve as a public forum to track the development on a number of towering projects that are slated to rise quite literally over our backyards.

2. Your basic arithmetic is wrong. This planned project is not a six story building as you wrote. Go back and count or take a closer look at the plans and renderings. The Level 2 proposal is seven stories plus a penthouse, roof deck and mechanicals – planned to top out at over 90 feet. That would make this project only slightly shorter than the Ellington – a building with significant multiple setbacks that’s situated on a much deeper and expansive lot. And in the case of the Ellington, where it does abut the shorter townhouses on 13th Street, that elevation is only four stories.

3. Your choice to use 17th and Church as a point of comparison is wholly misleading. The apartment building you feature is more consistent of the period and the townhouses on that block are considerably taller than ours - many of them being 3.5 stories. Also, Church boasts a large green space at 18th. Better blocks to compare Wallach to would be our sister streets of Caroline and Willard.

4. We maintain that while Level 2 may have conducted the requisite notifications to ANC and other neighborhood groups, the fact that an entire block of active and informed residents was caught off guard by this project – one on the drawing board for over a year probably – speaks poorly to the design team’s lack of interest in being good neighbors at the onset. They could have easily engaged the residents most affected by this project, but they chose not to.

They failed at the most rudimentary elements of pubic relations. No one wants the Yums bunker gone like the residents of Wallach Place and we’re ready to partner with any developer who wants to replace that eyesore, but Level 2 chose to conduct their affairs in stealth mode. They didn’t even reach out to the owner of the townhouse that will directly abut their project, and tower nearly 100 feet over it. Rather than lazily rely upon a single anonymous comment from borderstan, you could’ve done some basic research, or even actual journalism.

5. Had you spent the time doing that basic research on our positions, you’d know that our chief concerns about the project are not parking but rather the building’s scale, massing, and setbacks. And the HPRB felt the same – voting unanimously to send David Franco and Eric Colbert back to the drawing board to have them restudy those exact aspects, in addition to fixing the “K Street” look of the project.

Each of your factual errors could’ve been averted had you had operated with a simple and fundamental element of journalistic integrity - one that dictates that you reach out to us for comment before publishing. So in the spirit of your lazy, sloppy and inaccurate drive-by shooting, we’ll cut and paste something from your comments section: “GGW going bat for them (Level 2), speaks to GGW's credibility gap.”

We concur. Maybe it’s time to consider a name change to your site – “Not So Greater Washington.” Regards, Doug Johnson and Craig Brownstein

by Doug Johnson & Craig Brownstein on Jul 17, 2011 2:13 pm • linkreport

Doug and Craig -

If you'd like to avoid the NIMBY tag, then why bring up NIMBY arguments about parking and density?

For the criticisms of the design, I see lots of assertions that it's not very good, but little constructive feedback on how it could be better.

by Alex B. on Jul 17, 2011 2:39 pm • linkreport

Alex B: Too bad you weren't at our open community meeting with Mr. Franco and Colbert, with at least 25 residents attending. You would have heard dozens.

by Doug on Jul 17, 2011 2:56 pm • linkreport

The interior of Doug and Craig's home is a celebration of mid-Century modern. My personal admiration for them doesn't stop me from addressing anti-Ballston sentiment. My ox has been gored in both U Street-oriented blogs. Although they are in the eye of the hurricane here over their concern about 14th and Wallach, my comments are focused more on other postings here; the dude who thought Ballston looked cheap. I've watched these $100 million puppies rise one at time. They are not cheap and they are not without their urban context. It's tough building a new downtown from scratch. Soon the Defense Advanced Research and Planning Agency (DARPA) will unveil an edgy steel and glass tower -- 14 storeys with penthouse -- setback 60 feet for security purposes. Next year, glass 20 storey towers will wrap around it. None of this booming building is appropriate for 14th and U. Where would they put it? I love to stroll old city streets and its layers of Victorian gingerbread but I inhale a breath of fresh air when I turn to Ballston. The homely, semi-Modernist apartment building that Doug and Craig oppose doesn't not, and would not, turn their 'hood into Ballston. It would take a couple of billon dollars in new construction to do that. I just wish their blog hadn't made a "low-blow" comparsion, followed by very unsophisticated comments on both Borderstan and GGW blogs. Boasting an underground metro stations within the original "square" that was D.C. until the land was returned to Virginia, I'm not sure Ballston/Clarendon/Rosslyn even qualifies as suburban!

by TJL on Jul 17, 2011 2:56 pm • linkreport

Alex - We are NIMBYs. In this case it means 'Nicer In My Backyard." If we were opposed to density, we wouldn't have moved into this neighborhood two decades ago begging for development.

The views of nearly a dozen Wallach residents on how to improve the project were presented to the HPRB and are part of the public record. The Board stiff-armed Franco and Colbert, ridiculing the design's aesthetics, something we chose not to highlight because architecture criticism is wholly subjective. It was two members of the HPRB who said the project looked more at home on K Street than 14th, but most importantly, they said the size isn't consistent with the immediate neighborhood.

Our main beef with Alpert is that he didn't make the effort to reach out to us to learn the larger story. Why let facts get in the way? Regards, Craig and Doug

by Doug Johnson and Craig Brownstein on Jul 17, 2011 2:57 pm • linkreport

Dudes -- Your blog article tries to dictate what is and what is not a part of the urban experience. Boutique furniture stores are okay apparently. Big box stores are not. Interns are not okay. Bar Pilar is.

Guess what -- telling people what goes and what stays in a neighborhood is not part of the urban experience. That is the suburban experience. Maybe it is time to move to Bethesda.

by aaa on Jul 17, 2011 3:17 pm • linkreport

Architecturally progressive...

"Why does their choice of living in "old" neighborhoods prevent them for seeing the beauty and vitality of the "new?" Say what you will, Ballston is new. To the uber-urban, Ballston looks strange, even foreign. From the architecturally progressive point of view, it's exciting and dynamic. Your posters may be politically progressive but they are also deeply conservative and resist change. They fight the future as if they could prevent it. They can't and they won't"

Does progressive here mean the 1970's apartment towers of Friendship Heights or the Urban Renewal of 1960's SW? Is it the 1950's of Rome's periphery, or the urban infill of 1990's Vancouver? There's absolutley nothing wrong with Ballston's urbanism, if that's what you like, but there's nothing new about it.. Bigger, glassier, and more abstract doesn't necessarily translate to progressive architecture.

While transit oriented development and new urbanism might borrow from the pre-modernist past, they do so becasue we have thankfully moved beyond modernist dogma that stresses the superficial aspects that defined "modernism" into a more results based paradigm, ie. the origins of the term "progressive". We have a new appreciation for the "sustainable" way in which we used to develope cities becasue our reliance on first world status doesn't seem as secure in an increasingly volitile and multi-polar world.

To assert the readers here are "deeply conservative" and "resist the future" is fundamentaly wrong and shows an almost wilful ignorance of our recent history. These readers in fact build on the legacy of the truly progressive pioneers who moved into these painfully dysfunctional but beautiful inner city neighborhoods of the 1970's when the only "urbanism" beilg built was tall towers set apart in sterile streets.

I appreciate that Ballston is a vast improvement from Rockville Pike and that on balance, we are better off with more Ballstons than not. But if you're going to make this about who's more progressive and who's afraid of the future is ignorant, thin skinned, and unneccesarry.
Sory about the spelling!

by Thayer-D on Jul 17, 2011 4:06 pm • linkreport

Doug & Craig:

Let's have a discussion. It's your time to speak. In fact, I bet you could ask David to publish a rebuttal. He's done it before.

First, let me reiterate Alex's point: If the fight is over design, why bring up parking and density like you do?

As I understand it the only topic up for debate is how the building fits into the context of the historic district. Your problems about density and parking (or what kind of retail goes in) are not germane to the HPRB's decision, and are baseless opposition to the as-of-right permissions it has.

In the years I have been following developments, the three arguments every single opponent harnesses are: context, parking, and process. Any time a building has to go before a panel, opponents will raise these issues, with the same pitch you've employed on this blog and your own.

I have heard the "we weren't told about this meeting" so many times. I've heard people demand mailbox notification for as-of-right developments and also for followup meetings that were announced at meetings they attended. So, please forgive us if we mistake you for NIMBYs.

Plus, if you want to complain about design, look at what you said about the nearby Furioso development:

Great Wall will be getting a new neighbor in the form of a seven-floor non-residential unit from Furioso Development (only after the Frank Geary-like condo proposal was squashed)

And opponents not unlike you and the HPRB beat Furioso into picking a safe, charmless Eric Colbert design instead of making Suman Sorg step her game up. Also, it's Frank Gehry. And there are apartment buildings on Sesame Street.

Do we want another $10-dollar martini, or a vet our dogs can walk to?/em>

I don't know how to respond to this. I think most people who live in DC would like lower rents and cheaper homes. It's not going to happen when people are constantly opposing new developments by throwing the whole toolbox at a project to preserve the very recent and very artificial mid-mod in antico charm of 14th street.

by Neil Flanagan on Jul 17, 2011 4:08 pm • linkreport

Thanks Neil - We're not sure if the Franco/Colbert dormitory that features 375sf units at $1400/month could be characterized as "lower rents," but that's besides the point. We all want lower housing costs, but as the saying goes, "People in Hell want ice water."

We're less interested in retractions than we are with accuracy the first time around. There are a host of issues at play here so please drop us a line if you'd like so we can have a more thorough discussion. PS: Thanks for the spellcheck.

by Doug and Craig on Jul 17, 2011 7:29 pm • linkreport

Dear Doug and Craig,

I'm planning on moving back to DC after graduate school next year, and I'm not sure if I could afford a $1400/month studio on an entry-level salary. I would, however, welcome the construction of buildings like that, because they increase the supply of housing, lowering prices for everyone. If you're willing to be so flippant about affordable housing (which, unlike the need for cold water in Hell, is not just a turn of phrase) then you should expect me at your doorstep come May 2012. I'll have a blanket and a pillow, and I'll be sleeping on your couch until I can afford otherwise.

Thanks for your help!

by dan reed! on Jul 17, 2011 9:54 pm • linkreport

"Good luck parking anywhere in the area now – once these, and all the other potential developments start coming on line, what will we have?"

is that pro-development? I guess a Gehry building would be less dense than a Colbert building becasue of all those cool angles, or is it curves?

by Thayer-D on Jul 17, 2011 10:07 pm • linkreport

The addition of new luxury housing to a market that has a high demand for high-rent housing means that this new supply will ease the pressure on existing affordable units from 'filtering up' to higher rents.

by Alex B. on Jul 17, 2011 10:53 pm • linkreport

Look, if you're not willing to engage in a debate, then what are we supposed to do? Getting a post right the first time is a virtue. But the real topic is what's getting built. A blog post becomes dust in a matter of days. A building costs millions of dollars and lasts for decades, affecting the neighborhood and the region in its small part. This is a serious issue, and you are welcome to participate.

So, if you really want to be trusted on this site, please answer Alex and my question: If the fight is over design, why bring up parking and density?

by Neil Flanagan on Jul 18, 2011 1:11 am • linkreport

DC old city business corridors, including 14th Street, are turning into Crystal City's (not Ballstons).

Design matters.

by Tom Coumaris on Jul 18, 2011 11:17 am • linkreport

@Tom Coumaris

Comparing 14th Street to Crystal City is an even worse and more innacurate comparison than Ballston.

The defining characteristic of those three areas (14th St, Ballston, and Crystal City) is their urban design, and the three are nothing alike. Likewise, small-scale infill development along 14th Street will not suddenly make 14th street anything like Crystal City.

Yes, design matters - but if you're making the claim that a project like this on 14th means replication of Crystal City, I can't help but question your comparison. Rampant hyperbole doesn't help move the conversation forward, either.

by Alex B. on Jul 18, 2011 11:30 am • linkreport

@Thayer -- as an example of progressive architecture in Ballston, look at the Washington Capitals' practice rink, built on-top of parking garage, recycling new functions on an old footprint. Most of Ballston's newer towers are LEEDS certified, thus built to endure. You use the term "sustainable," which is a catch-all complaint phrase with no true meaning in the grand scheme of things. Only tongue-tied Lefties use it when they want to disparge society and shut-down discussion. Ballston is far more "sustainable" than old 14th and U, but let's leave it out if the discussion. I appreciate your reference to Rome/Vancouver/Rockville Pike but none of them did or are doing what Ballston is doing. These aren't just modern buildings tossed-up willy-nilly. Ballston is also greenways and in-fill parks, buildings cosntructed to the street line, abundant underground parking in every tower; buried power lines and, soon you shall see, remarkable new entities such a Mosaic Park. In all of this, we are enhancing a very liveable neighborhood.

People hare very neighborhood-centric. Residents of Georgetown looks down on 14 & U; Cleveland Park dwellers look down on Georgetown; Spring Valley folks look down on Cleveland Park; and from a ridge overlooking the city, Foxhall looks down on everybody. I can't believe that the denizens of Wallach don't subtly look down on Shaw to the east; who's homeowners in turn poo-poo Anacostia. It is hardly shocking that voices here knock Ballston. But that doesn't mean their unknowledgeable comments don't deserve correction.

by TJLinBallston on Jul 18, 2011 11:33 am • linkreport

Doug and Craig wrote:
Our main beef with Alpert is that he didn't make the effort to reach out to us to learn the larger story. Why let facts get in the way? Regards, Craig and Doug
I don't agree that for some reason I had to talk with you before formulating an opinion.

I know what your opinion is. You posted several detailed posts about your views on your blog. You are clearly trying to persuade people about your point of view about the buildings based on that information.

I read it. I disagree. It's perfectly reasonable to then post why I disagree on a blog as well. You're of course welcome to disagree with me, and post to that effect in the comments or on your own blog.

This is how blog debates work. People try to articulate an argument, and others agree or disagree and some post those reactions on blogs.

If someone writes an op-ed in the Post, do you think nobody should disagree with their conclusions unless they sit down and meet with the writer? If the President makes a speech, should nobody disagree unless they sit down in the Oval Office to talk about it?

I watched testimony of the HPRB hearing live using the stream (and it's available archived now). The HPRB reached a conclusion based on only a few minutes from each person. Is that enough time or should they instead have to meet with everyone one on one for a detailed chat?

Civic engagement is very important, but it doesn't mean that nobody can make a decision without talking to every single person to their satisfaction. Most people I talked to in the neighborhood seem to feel that they had ample notice via community groups and the email list about this project.

I think you made your point of view very clear. I don't agree. If you post things on a blog, you need to expect that people will judge them positively or negatively based on the arguments themselves.

by David Alpert on Jul 18, 2011 11:37 am • linkreport

I wrote: "So I welcome the new bldg, whatever it looks like and however tall it is. As someone who is always walking up and down that area, and often fearing for my life, particularly at night, it's desperately needed!"

@greent replied: And there is the GGW hippie white kid cry! Bring more development so I feel safer, even though I am actually quite safe. The Garfield Terrace is still there... how safe are you?

A building does not make you safe. But the implication is noted.

Just fyi, I'm not white. My mother is from Uruguay and I was raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I also find your tone patronizing, rude and not conducive to a mature, adult discussion on this topic.

During my upbringing, in Brazil, I went to school not too far from the largest slum in South America ("Rocinha") for 12 years, where I also did volunteer work at a local day care inside the slum. Many of the buildings did not have running water, electricity, or windows for that matter.

That being said, I still felt safer there than I do walking down those 2 blocks I described on 14th street. I never said a building would make me safe. What I meant was, having buildings and commerce that is positive (not liquor stores and abandoned store fronts) and brings good growth, not bums and drug traffickers.


by LuvDusty on Jul 18, 2011 1:45 pm • linkreport

@ Alex B.

Recognizing that these are all Crystal City clone buildings isn't hyperbole. Everyone notices they're the same bland inner suburb buildings. Since the height limit is what it is in these areas it means buildings get no taller than Crystal City which is limited by the flight path. Hence we get clones of the same buildings.

Mid-rise concrete block-long buildings are not exactly "in-fill" and need to be designed carefully not to destroy the feel of an area. Once the local bars and cafes start getting closed for more of these clones there will be an outcry. And the hundreds of new below-ground parking spaces these bring will not make the area any more walkable.

by Tom Coumaris on Jul 18, 2011 8:26 pm • linkreport

@Tom Coumaris

Recognizing that these are all Crystal City clone buildings isn't hyperbole. Everyone notices they're the same bland inner suburb buildings. Since the height limit is what it is in these areas it means buildings get no taller than Crystal City which is limited by the flight path. Hence we get clones of the same buildings.

I don't even know where to begin with the logical disconnects in this statement.

Crystal City is different from downtown, yes? Both have height limits, yes? Then why do you single out Crystal City as the boogeyman here?

That height limit does not dictate urban design. It does not require ground floor retail, or a building that has zero setback from the property line.

If you want to call the proposal bland, just do it. Don't twist logic to make your point, just say it.

Mid-rise concrete block-long buildings are not exactly "in-fill" and need to be designed carefully not to destroy the feel of an area. Once the local bars and cafes start getting closed for more of these clones there will be an outcry. And the hundreds of new below-ground parking spaces these bring will not make the area any more walkable.

Sure they are. No 'feel' is being destroyed here - there are plenty of tall historic buildings along the corridor, too.

I'm not sure what you're talking about with walkability - walkability is a product of density and design. From what I can see, any underground parking entrance here is off of the alley, there is no degradation of walkability at all. In fact, an active storefront and the addition of new residents living in a transit-oriented location is an increase in walkability.

Don't try to use the slippery slope fallacy here, either. I'd also note that local bars and cafes are business establishments. There are lots of them around town that inhabit old and new buildings alike.

by Alex B. on Jul 18, 2011 9:46 pm • linkreport

Alex B

Crystal City and most DC main corridors have about the same height limit. Mostly the same developers build in both and not surprisingly they look alike. Yes, DC is becoming another Crystal City and that's not necessary. Good design is what is missing. And too many garage spaces in the foundations of these cubes is a problem.

I don't agree with the protesters here at all. In no way. But neither do I like to see this suburban blandness taking over. So long as it under-used land and the neighborhood favorites stay all's fine. But the next step is removal of places like the Black Cat, St. Ex, Beer Garden, etc. and replacement by more clone cubes (with historic facades preserved) probably with chain stores on first floor. That's not what people enjoy about living in the city.

by Tom Coumaris on Jul 18, 2011 11:33 pm • linkreport

Several commenters ask why parking came up in Doug and Craig's blog. The reason it became an issue is that Level2 asked for a variance to decrease the amount of parking spaces they would otherwise have to build. It is not a Hprb issue.

by Ltr on Jul 19, 2011 4:57 pm • linkreport

Tom Coumaris ominously warns that the "next step" is removal of St. Ex and "replacement by more clone cubes."

What nonsense. St. Ex is an historic bldg, it's protected.

by LB on Jul 22, 2011 12:29 pm • linkreport

@LB What nonsense. St. Ex is an historic bldg, it's protected.

So were the buildings down by the Verizon Center that are now only facades. Unfortunately, while the historic preservation laws in the District are supposed to protect historic buildings, because they focus on what can be seen from public space AND because that further gets watered down as visible from a street, sometimes all that gets saved is the facade unfortunately. And Tom is correct, if the St. Ex building facade became part of a larger building (or even if the building itself got incorporated into the building) there's no guarantee that the restaurant itself would get incorporated. And something like the Black Cat has even less of a chance of making it through any such transition. Tom has definitely brought to light the irony that exists in that those wanting bigger and more don't realize that down the road is the inevitable destruction of the very 'small and livable' that brought them to the area.

by Lance on Jul 24, 2011 4:53 pm • linkreport

Another vote for the hideous comment here, surely a more intricate design could have been created?

by Postins on Aug 12, 2011 1:06 pm • linkreport

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