Greater Greater Washington

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Make Capitol Hill's Hine project better, not smaller

Developers of the Hine school near Eastern Market unveiled the latest iteration of their plans last night. It's not the most beautiful Capitol Hill building, but historic review should improve the project as long as it doesn't also accede to some bad ideas from opponents to try to shrink the project and push it away from the street.

On the EMMCA blog, Larry Janezich posted some photos of the presentation:


Photos from EMMCA.

The project contains a number of sections that will be designed as individual buildings, some commercial, some residential. Some will have brick, to reflect brick on nearby buildings, while others will use slate or clay tile. Some portions will be taller than others to give a varied roofline and emphasize entrances.

Unfortunately, developer Stanton Eastbanc hasn't posted their presentation online, forcing people to judge the project based on lower-quality photos of projected slides that don't necessarily reflect the colors correctly. Even so, just a good sketch doesn't say everything about the materials used or really how a building will look when completed.


Jenkins Row. Photo by jsmjr on Flickr.
For a successful recent example, look to Jenkins Row, the apartment complex containing the Harris Teeter a few blocks away at the corner of Potomac and Pennsylvania Avenues, SE.

Jenkins Row takes up about half of a pretty large block, but it doesn't look like a huge building from the street. To avoid visual monotony, the building has a number of different facades that read like different buildings.

That tan brick section with the metal bays doesn't look bad in person. While it is clearly contemporary, it fits in fine with the nearby townhouses. It's just a reasonably well-done new building in a historic neighborhood. Its ground-floor retail addresses the street well, and the facades have a clear top, middle, and bottom.

Historic review will, and should, push to improve architectural quality. Being right at Eastern Market, perhaps a higher level of detail than Jenkins Row, and high-quality materials, are especially appropriate. What's not appropriate is efforts to push for a uniformly low building that stands away from, rather than engaging, the street.

Yesterday, EMMCA also listed a number of objections from a group called "Eyes on Hine." They object to a "monolithic" appearance, but primarily seek to address that by shrinking the building rather than breaking up the visual appearance architecturally.

One recommendation is to remove a 5-story section on the corner of 8th and D and a 5-story piece above the 8th Street entrance. But taller sections are one great way to reduce monotony. As for the height, an earlier presentation from the developer (PDF) shows that there are, and have been, similarly tall buildings in the area. 5 stories will not "destroy the neighborhood" in any way.

The EOH letter also criticizes the 4-story bays, which the architects added to meet resident requests that they make the building look more residential. Instead, it asks for more and varied setbacks on the building, and to create a recessed entrance on 8th.

However, on 14th Street, NW, the ARTS overlay review recently criticized recessed entrances, which zoning had encouraged. Those lead to dead spaces that take away from potential residents and stores without actually adding useful public space.

Reducing connections between the building and the street would not improve the project. 8th Street is the closest very close to the Metro, and ideal for the "quiet retail" Stanton Eastbanc is proposing, not wide buffers. More space could serve sidewalk cafes, but that probably would not constitute "quiet retail" or please residents across the street.

Ironically, many blocks of Capitol Hill have long, unbroken rows of townhouses, all with the same setback. Except for variations in color, often they are all nearly identical. On many blocks, there is little to no setback from the property line.

We've seen this same reaction over and over, from Ravenwood Park to Wheaton to Brookland to 14th and U. Anything that's even the same height as some neighboring buildings but taller than others will "destroy the neighborhood" and "choke off light and air." Everything is "too massive" unless it's virtually invisible.

Enough is enough. Buildings are a part of metropolitan areas. Some of them are taller than others. Blocking any reasonable, attractive buildings that are just a tiny bit taller than one's house should not be a right.

This project is very reasonable in size. It's hard to tell how good the architecture is from these limited drawings, but if community input and historic review can lead to a more attractive building occupying the same envelope, it will pay off in residents who can patronize area businesses, tax revenue for DC, eyes on the street to make the neighborhood safer, and an attractive building people can enjoy having in the center of this beautiful neighborhood.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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FWIW, the rowhouses you refer to aren't actually "identical" but are similar, using the same general architectural style, mass and height, with variations between buildings still connected to the style. If you look closely at the buildings, with the exception of blocks of Wardman style porch front rowhouses, there tends to be a great deal of variability between the buildings, even while they share certain broad characteristics within their style and form.

by Richard Layman on Mar 2, 2011 11:53 am • linkreport

"What's not appropriate is efforts to push for a uniformly low building that stands away from, rather than engaging, the street."

But what about green space? While I think having the building on the street makes sense along Pennsylvania Avenue or other places where there is expected ground-floor retail, but I think it would be nice to preserve more green space around the other sides of the building to make it blend nicely with the surrounding homes in the neighborhood. I think the lack of green space in places like Columbia Heights shouldn't be repeated in Eastern Market.

by Adam L on Mar 2, 2011 11:57 am • linkreport

@Adam L Why? The Eastern Market Plaza is green. And fairly dead. The Hine parking lot is a godawful blacktop and quite lively on the weekend. The space along C and 7th will be a much better spot for the market when it opens than what's currently there.

Do we want green space or public spaces? They're not the same thing.

by TimK on Mar 2, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

Yeah. This is pretty awful. I'm in favor of scaling up development, but there are places where it is ridiculously out of place.

Senate Square and the Loree Grand on the outskirts of NoMa both pop into mind as buildings that are 3x as tall as anything remotely near them. The Loree also tries to present multiple facades and mimic the surrounding rowhouse architecture, and generally fails to do so.

Ground-level setback from the road isn't a huge issue, although the building's massing can have a huge impact. NYC's zoning code got this right, and doesn't allow new buildings to "present" more than a few stories directly to the sidewalk. Setting back the upper floors (or designing something other than a completely flat facade) could go a long way toward making these buildings more appealing. Although the Loree is set quite far back from the street, it still gives the appearance of a huge, hulking building that is completely out of place in a neighborhood of 2-story rowhouses.

This project pretty much needs an entire redesign. Although there are some ugly-ass buildings on Penn Ave SE, we should not be using them as a crutch to allow mediocrity in any new development. Although I do like the general idea and execution of Jenkins Row, I'm still not a fan of the "Mid-2000s-expensive-condo-building" style of architecture. It's going to look very dated in a few years. Trust me.

Remember that the Victorian-era rowhouses also don't have perfectly-flat facades, which is one of the reasons why it's easy to tolerate long, identical rows of them.

by andrew on Mar 2, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

I agree. That rendering if fugly, but the problem isn't that the building is too big. If anything, it could look less boxy if it were a few stories taller.

by A on Mar 2, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

(Let me clarify that although I really don't like this project, I'm not horrified by it, nor do I think that it'll have an enormous negative impact on the neighborhood if it gets built as designed, like many in the linked blog post are claiming. Eastern Market's got a lot going for it, and this won't really detract from any of it.)

by andrew on Mar 2, 2011 12:22 pm • linkreport

"Do we want green space or public spaces? They're not the same thing."

Well, both. Public spaces that are partially green are ideal. For one, I believe green space melds more naturally with the surrounding neighborhood of row homes. Second, a blacktop is not really an ideal space to have a picnic, kick a soccer ball around, or walk the dog.

by Adam L on Mar 2, 2011 12:23 pm • linkreport

If only there were some triangular parks right across the street, or some squares ideal for dog walking or picnicking just a few blocks away.

A little berm of green, which is what more of a setback would mean, is not going to provide opportunities for kicking around a soccer ball. Capitol Hill has a nice number of trees, and continuing to improve the street trees is the best way to make it even greener.

by David Alpert on Mar 2, 2011 12:33 pm • linkreport

Great point, David. Adding to the building setback along 8th Street is a horrible idea. It won't add usable space.

Also, such a setback would ruin the very nice and mostly uniform pattern of Capitol Hill buildings coming right up to the lot line.

by Alex B. on Mar 2, 2011 12:48 pm • linkreport

Those are some ugly buildings. Pretty uninspiring presentation by the developers.

by Fritz on Mar 2, 2011 12:51 pm • linkreport

David put it well, already, but this isn't a building replacing a park. It's a building and plaza replacing another building and parking lot. Still plenty of parks on the Hill, which is a good thing overall.

by TimK on Mar 2, 2011 1:04 pm • linkreport

There is plenty of park space and green space within the neighborhood - residents will continue to flock to Lincoln Park for picnicking, etc. A far better green improvement is to ensure that street trees are plentiful. This space can bring some great new street-level amenities to the Hill. Apart from the look of the buildings, which is uninspiring but not awful, I'm all for it.

by Dave on Mar 2, 2011 1:17 pm • linkreport

andrew, click the links to view all of the renderings. These are more massings than realistic renderings, but the buildings fronting the Eastern Market Metro intersection look good. It isn't fair to compare this project to others around NoMa as this really is a project of several individual buildings, and it's within an already established neighborhood with retail, restaurants, and a market around back. I think these are responsible buildings of a realistic height along a street that needs more of them and adjacent to a Metro station that should be busier.

by Eric on Mar 2, 2011 1:18 pm • linkreport

I can't tell a thing from these renderings. It's impossible to tell what the buildings look like or how they interact with the spaces, because they're rendered using SketchUp, which makes everything look ugly, flat, and characterless. It's a terrible design tool and an even worse presentation tool.

The setback is not going to help, though.

by Neil Flanagan on Mar 2, 2011 1:25 pm • linkreport

Thanks Neil! I couldn't figure out what was wrong with the renderings. It made the current buildings look, as you put it "ugly, flat, and characterless", much less the new ones.

by TimK on Mar 2, 2011 1:44 pm • linkreport

Two things you might want to check for accuracy.

When I click through the link to http://emmcablog.org and look at the picture titled "View from Hill's Kitchen, Residential Building on the Right," I count six stories, not five, facing the 2-3 story residential townhouses across 8th Street SE. (The photo on the right, above in this post, is actually the corner of 7th and C Street SE, not 8th and D.) So I think the recommendation, One recommendation is to remove a 5-story section on the corner of 8th and D should actually reference a 6-story section the original poster would recommend taking down.

Also, when the original poster writes: 8th Street is the closest to the Metro, and ideal for the "quiet retail" Stanton Eastbanc is proposing, I wonder if he meant to say 7th Street is closest to the Metro. Which, of course, it is.

by Trulee Pist on Mar 2, 2011 1:52 pm • linkreport

In addition to David's comment about green space, I'll add that in a previous version, there were plans for a high percentage of Green Roof and public roof access. So there is some public "green" space. Not "dig for worms, lay under a tree" green space maybe, but the meeting the minimal requirement.

While I don't think we need more green space this close to the Metro station, I have always wished that they'd add a small play area at what will be the NE corner of C and 7th. Something like the two that are currently in Lincoln Park. This will make it easier for parents to go shopping at Eastern Market. One parent can shop while the other watches the kid(s) at the playground. And the area could probably use a play area anyway. They could also build a play area like this in the Metro Plaza's NE triangle, I suppose, but it's not as a good a location IMHO. Either way, a play area is not a dealbreaker for me, just something that would be nice.

by David C on Mar 2, 2011 1:57 pm • linkreport

Trulee,

The EMMCA post says it's 5 stories. I can change it to 6 but I'd be hesitant to do that based on just the rendering if the EOH letter says 5. Can you help shed some light on this?

Since Penn. is angled, the corner at 7th and Penn is pretty close to the same distance from the Metro as the corner at 8th and Penn on the north side. But measuring again it seems it might be a little closer. So I'll change it to just say "close" instead of "closest."

by David Alpert on Mar 2, 2011 1:59 pm • linkreport

@Adam. I live very close to Hine and I could care less about adding more underused "green space" just for the sake of having it. It adds nothing to the neighborhood and will only create dead zones.

by beatbox on Mar 2, 2011 2:06 pm • linkreport

David, you are right. I count six stories when I squint at the blurry photo of a SketchUp rendering. I might be wrong! (But I think the presenter last night did state the building at 8th and D is six stories.)

The EMMCA blog, of course, says, The major changes in the design since Stanton’s last public presentation February 3 include ...the addition of a sixth floor to the residential building on the Pennsylvania Avenue side to accommodate larger residential units. The "Eyes on Hine" letter might be referring to the earlier presentation in February, when that building was shown at five stories. If so, it just got bigger yet!

It's probably a waste of everybody's pixels to discuss height or setback for now, until we get all that information posted by the developers. The continuing absence of specific height and setback data is a source of frustration to the ANC and others who want to weigh in.

by Trulee Pist on Mar 2, 2011 2:21 pm • linkreport

RE green space, play areas, etc., Marion Park is at 6th and E and has a playground and such, there are other parks nearby too. Not to say there shouldn't be more, but a lotta people confine themselves to Barracks Row and the Eastern Market area when within about a two-block radius there is significantly more stuff to do.

by DCCT on Mar 2, 2011 2:38 pm • linkreport

The continuing absence of specific height and setback data is a source of frustration to the ANC and others who want to weigh in.

I'm sure it is.

Judging by these images, I'm also quite sure that the reason you don't have specifics is because specifics don't exist - the buildings are probably changing daily at this stage of the design process.

As Neil noted, you get crappy Sketch-up screenshots because there's no real reason to spend a lot of time on nice renderings for something that's going to change anyway.

That's a double-edged sword, of course, because when you then present these work-in-progress images to the public, the first thing they do is attack them for being 'ugly' instead of trying to glean the information from them that the images are actually trying to show.

by Alex B. on Mar 2, 2011 2:42 pm • linkreport

DCCT, that play area is closer to 4th and E, putting EM about halfway between it and Lincoln Park.

I don't know what the proper density for play areas should be - so maybe that is too dense, but I think one on 7th would further diversify the kinds of activities going on there, and like I said, would allow people to take their kid to the Market knowing that they can take them to the play area if the wheels start to come off.

Whether it is worth the cost or not...is another question.

[Above, I should have said that one could be placed in the EM plaza "instead of" on 7th - not "and". I'm not pushing for two in this area]

by David C on Mar 2, 2011 2:46 pm • linkreport

Re adam l's comment:

The problem with the area around the Hine site isn't lack of green or openspace--which by the way, shouldn't be priortized at a 100% intersection/at a transit station--but of an abundance of green-open space that is improperly managed:

- 2 spaces at the Eastern Market Metro Plaza, the SW and NE corners, plus there is extra intersection space at the SE corner as well

-- Seward Square at the intersection of North Carolina and Pennsylvania Avenues between 4th and 6th Street, all four corners

-- the park across the street from Eastern Market, between North Carolina and Independence Ave. at 7th St.

-- the park space at 8th St. between between North Carolina and Independence Ave.

-- the plaza spaces adjacent to North Hall, the Natatorium, and the coffee shop around the intersection of 7th St. SE and North Carolina Ave.

-- + there is going to be a plaza space on the Hine site in the restored site

-- don't forget the Old Naval Hospital site, which is being restored as a community asset, as well as the SE branch of the library.

Even having the plaza space on the Hine site is likely a mistake. It doesn't make sense to have green/open space on the alley/C Street side of the site, nor on the 7th St. side as it abuts rowhouse commercial. And I don't see how having green space on the 8th St. side aids the extant rowhouse buildings on the other side of the street.

I made these comments btw early in the Hine site RFP process, but because the process was improperly framed in terms of green-environment issues, the points had little impact on reframing the outcry for more open space.

by Richard Layman on Mar 2, 2011 3:25 pm • linkreport

...you get crappy Sketch-up screenshots because there's no real reason to spend a lot of time on nice renderings for something that's going to change anyway.

That's right; Patience. March 24 is the date of the Historic Preservation Review Board hearing on this project. All the details, measurements and specifics on the project have to be delivered to the public and the ANC well before that date, so people can weigh in if they want to. It won't be long now before all those specifics are posted and available for everyone to review. Then we'll have more to talk about.

by Trulee Pist on Mar 2, 2011 3:31 pm • linkreport

one way to silence all of the boomers and NIMBYs and old people who drive on the Hill would be to just demolish Hines and leave the area as a giant surface parking lot. The merchants at EM & on 8th street would all love this. It would also make the "green space" or "open space" crazies all shut up. After all- do not most people who come to EM & 8th street on the weekends drive to get here?

by anti-NIMBY on Mar 2, 2011 3:59 pm • linkreport

Brian Furness of the CHRS was once quoted as saying
"anyone who thinks that they can live without a car on the Hill is living in a fantasy world".
This kind of sort of spells out who/whom we are dealing with .

by anti-NIMBY on Mar 2, 2011 4:02 pm • linkreport

Brian Furness of the CHRS was once quoted as saying
"anyone who thinks that they can live without a car on the Hill is living in a fantasy world".
This kind of sort of spells out who/whom we are dealing with.

Wow! I didn't know I was living in a fantasy world. That explains a lot.

by Alex B. on Mar 2, 2011 4:24 pm • linkreport

The logic in this community discussion is sometimes hard to follow. Worth bearing in mind - some number of objections being raised to the current design represent the views of neighbors on D Street between 7th and 8th who devoted time and treasure trying to kill a project that would have calmed traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue, and created a setting for more new green space.

by Read on Mar 2, 2011 5:02 pm • linkreport

Re: Height destroying the neighborhood.
You don't have to look to Wheaton or Brookland for that kind of rhetoric. The same things were said about the proposed building at 8th and H NE. Much like 8th and Penn SE, the location is a key transportation intersection and therefore warrants, in my opinion, more density than immediately adjacent areas.
Fortunately, the neighborhood asked on architectural emphasis on verticality rather than greatly shrinking the building. This was driven in part by the need for an "anchor" on the corridor and a credible threat from the developer that if he didn't get his way he'd leave the crummy status quo indefinitely.

by Lance Brown on Mar 2, 2011 8:08 pm • linkreport

@David C: I have always wished that they'd add a small play area...
As RL wrote there are a lot of pocket parks. But the one on 7th & NC, across the street from the North Market, has a nice little play area. I have taken my kids there quite a few times. It even has a one of those concrete turtles that is also in Marion Park.

by goldfish on Mar 2, 2011 8:12 pm • linkreport

goldfish, you mean Turtle Park? It's got those concrete turtles, but not a real play area with slides and such.

by David C on Mar 2, 2011 9:35 pm • linkreport

Add me to those living in a "fantasy world" on Capitol Hill. Who knew? All those years it all seemed so real.....

On a more serious note, we should always remember that back in the 90s, some CHRS members favored rezoning 8th Street SE south of PA Avenue SE from commercial to residential. They argued that 8th Street would never be a successful commercial street and that the best course forward was to throw in the towel and make those blocks just another stretch of residential rowhouses. The cynical part of me thinks that the people making that argument were actually afraid that 8th Street would succeed as a commercial district. Well, their worst fears have come true and now even more people want to come to the neighborhood.

Also remember that when the addition of several floors to the building (it used to be a single-story building) at 7th Street & PA Avenue SE (home of Pain Quotidien) was first proposed way back in the day, the antis all screamed bloody murder. It will ruin the neighborhood, create traffic, block light, lead to blight, etc. etc. etc. I challenge anyone to go stand at the corner of 7th & Pennsylvania and argue with a straight face that the extra floors on that building have ruined the neighborhood. (Indeed, if anything mars that intersection, it is the plain one-story buildings on the opposite corner that house CVS and a bar -- they are completely inappropriate for such a wide street and square.)

Regardless of the architectural merits of the buildings proposed for the Hine site, their size is not a problem. I think that in the end the antis would only be OK with 2-story, non-commercial rowhouses for the whole site, nevermind that it faces a wide square on a major thoroughfare and sits on top of a Metro Station.

by rg on Mar 3, 2011 11:47 am • linkreport

That's right --- post stoopid ideas about something people care about and which Dave Alpert is eminently unqualified to talk about and now we have a conversation. This is embarrassing and uninformative. Alpert please find something productive to do or just grab a tin can and some pencils -- there is a street corner out there waiting for you.

by IdiotSavants on Mar 3, 2011 11:03 pm • linkreport

Considering the increasing number of people on the Hill who are enrolling their children in area elementary schools, I wonder if the closing of this middle school will be seen as a mistake in enrollment planning ten years from now.

by Alan Page on Mar 6, 2011 4:55 am • linkreport

@Alan Page, Not in ten years, sooner than that, we'll need this middle school. Somehow, Capitol Hill found a place for a school on this site from 1862 to 2007, but now there's no room on this site for the kids. Oh, well, we'll always have Jefferson Middle School.

by Trulee Pist on Mar 6, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

One of the reasons we have so many excess schools is that, until recently we used to build two everywhere that we really needed one. One school was for the white kids and one school was for the black kids (think Adams and Morgan). So, unless you think we're going to re-segregate the school system, it makes sense that we'll need fewer school buildings than we used to.

by David C on Mar 6, 2011 2:48 pm • linkreport


As a Capitol Hill resident I read with interest Mr. David Alpert’s comments about the Hine Development. It is shame he left Google and now has the time to pontificate about something he knows very little about. This comment is sparked in part by his comparison of the Hine project to Jenkins Row. Mr. Alpert, Jenkins Row is not in a neighborhood that is classified as historic. Also Jenkins Row in Mr. Alpert’s words “takes up about half of a pretty large block.” Hine takes up the whole of a very large block.”

For a start, both future city planners and generations of Capitol Hill residents will see the loss of a middle school as a grave mistake in planning.
Be that as it may, I am all for the development of the Hine site provided it achieves a proper balance between a residential and historically appropriate development and one that meets the local business community’s commercial interest, and financial return to the developers and the city. A challenging balance. And guess what. So far money rules with a monolith designed to maximize financial gain with a pretty mundane design to boot.
Unlike Mr. Alpert and many who get entangled with the specifics of the proposed design, the design’s assessment should be guided by the basic principles as set out by the Historic Preservation Guidelines of the District Government’s Office of Planning relating to new construction in historic areas and I quote.

“New construction in historic districts should follow the same general principles as additions to historic buildings. New buildings in historic districts should be compatible with the character of the district and neighboring buildings.”

“A new building should be compatible with the established rhythm of existing buildings and the street”.

“The massing of a new building should be compatible with the massing of existing buildings”.

“A new building built in a street of existing buildings with varied heights should not be significantly higher or lower than its neighbors”.

“The proportions of a new building should be compatible with those of its neighbors”.

There are others but you get the drift and I would be interested to learn how your readers and the Historic Preservation Review Board see the current proposal fitting within these principles.

I am not an architect and do not claim any authority on design and again have to turn to basic principles to assess the plan that has been submitted.

Stanton Eastbanc own vision for the development as stated on their website is “When completed, the project will feel like a part of the neighborhood that has been there forever”.

And once again we see a design that falls short on principle.

And where to from here?

Better to either conform to the guidelines for historic development as set out by the Planning Office or go for a world beating design that sets a new standard in urban architecture. Norman Foster’s Gerkin in the middle of historic City of London, Pei’s glass tower in the Louvre’s courtyard and the Pompidou Center are some examples of excellence and fresh new thinking.

But please spare us from a design that is neither historically appropriate nor revolutionary.

Oh by the way, I live opposite the Hine development and I am a member of Eyes on Hine group.

Derek Farwagi

by Derek Farwagi on Mar 6, 2011 6:57 pm • linkreport

@Derek

The Stanton team has put together extensive documentation to show exactly how their basic design and massing respects the existing and historic building heights, massing, setbacks, rhythm and character of the existing neighborhood.

http://hineschool.com/sites/default/files/2011-03-02%20%20Community%20Presentation%20%282%29.pdf

There's a lot of good background work in there, documenting the history of the site and compatibility with the neighborhood and with DC's historic preservation laws.

I would also note that all of the guidelines you cite deal with the basics of massing and conceptual design, not the specific details of facades and more aesthetic concerns.

by Alex B. on Mar 6, 2011 7:26 pm • linkreport

@David C, interesting theory, although DC was quick to embrace integration 57 years ago. In 57 years, some of that duplication has been handled through school mergers and closings. Rather than Adams and Morgan, think Stuart and Hobson.

On this topic, however, we are talking about the 2011 demographics of Ward 6 schools, where preK is booming, and a rebuilt, right-sized Hine Jr. High might have better situated than Jefferson Middle School to absorb that growth, before Hine was closed and merged with Eliot Jr. High. But that's water under the bridge, not a decision to be reversed at this late date....onward and upward from here.

by Trulee Pist on Mar 6, 2011 10:29 pm • linkreport

Alex,

I attended all of Amy's presentations and maybe I did not make my point clear.

All the examples used in her presentations show buildings that are large compared to their surroundings but are still of an acceptable scale e.g. the old Hine School buildings, the Naval Hospital currently being restored and the numerous condo apartment buildings scattered around the neighborhood.

But none compare to the monolith that is being proposed covering an entire block of a historic neighborhood. And putting aside specific details of facades and other aesthetic concerns, I would be interesetd to learn if that scale and massing are within the guidelines as stated?

I will continue to follow the process with interest.

by Derek Farwagi on Mar 7, 2011 11:08 am • linkreport

Derek,

I sure think the scale is appropriate. Continuous street walls are a key element of the Capitol Hill historic district. The new building absolutely should cover the entire site, with buildings right up to the property line.

Regarding the 'monolithic' facade, I'm not sure what you mean. Rowhouse blocks are equally monolithic, are they not? Perhaps you could argue for a more variegated design, but that doesn't change the fact that you already have block-long stretches of housing massed right at the property line all throughout the area. This is no different. Nor should it be.

I'm also not sure what you mean when arguing against 'covering the whole block.' One of the defining characteristics of the Capitol Hill area is precisely the fact that the blocks are completely covered with development. The parts that are not are either street-side public space (i.e. front yards) or rear-side private space (i.e. back yards or courtyards). This proposal has the same pattern.

by Alex B. on Mar 7, 2011 11:24 am • linkreport

Derek,

Let's just say that you're right. That we have never built a building as large as this in the Capitol Hill Historic District before (though the Madison Building comes to mind). How is that relevant? Are we unable to do anything we've never done before. We didn't have a subway in the area until recently. Is breaking new ground unallowed?

This is a unique piece of land. It is on top of a Metro station, at the junction of several commercial areas, and it has three non-historic buildings and a parking lot covering the block - all of which are available at the same time. We've probably never had a situation like that on Capitol Hill, within a historic district, before.

So if the design is unique, isn't that because the opportunity is unique? And is it bad that the design is unique? Other than the fact that you can apply bad-sounding words like hulking and monolithic to this structure (as I can to your house, btw, should I choose to do so), what is wrong with the idea of filling the block with one, large building? Would 56 smaller buildings that fill the same area be better? How tall should the building be and what is the appropriate FAR?

Do note that the larger the building is, the more people it will bring and serve. The more people it brings, the more it will support existing businesses in the area, and the more it will allow people to live near transit. So the smaller you force it to be, the more the hurt the businesses in your neighborhood and the more you increase average commute times.

by David C on Mar 7, 2011 11:32 am • linkreport

Anyway, this isn't one building. It's 3 buildings. Each will be smaller than Jenkins Row, which really is one building even though it's dressed up to look like a bunch of buildings.

But many of the row house blocks were built as one, or as big chunks. When a developer took an entire block and filled it with townhouses, people didn't complain that there was "one building" being put up, even though at least in some neighborhoods, the houses structurally share walls and are therefore in a physical sense all one building.

by David Alpert on Mar 7, 2011 11:41 am • linkreport

@ David C.

This is a unique piece of land, as you say. This is probably the most significant plot of land in the District when it comes to the history of public education in DC. Site of the first school building built anywhere in DC, during the Civil War. A school site, through thick and thin, segregation and integration, neighborhood real estate booms and busts, from 1862 - 2007. Ours is the generation that ends that string of 150 years of service to children at this site?

HPRB/HPO describes its own role as follows, "Historic preservation safeguards the District of Columbia’s cultural heritage, supports the local economy, and fosters civic pride in the city’s beauty and history." I'd interpret that to mean the new development ought to include some element designed to serve the neighborhood youth. It will alter the cultural heritage to have no sights or sounds of children on this site from now on, and that's not a change for the better, IMHO.

Or is HPRB/HPO only about buildings, not people?

by Trulee Pist on Mar 7, 2011 11:44 am • linkreport

Ours is the generation that ends that string of 150 years of service to children at this site?

Yes. What is wrong with that?

I'd interpret that to mean the new development ought to include some element designed to serve the neighborhood youth.

I would not.

by David C on Mar 7, 2011 12:05 pm • linkreport

Yes. What is wrong with that?

"Historic preservation safeguards the District of Columbia’s cultural heritage...and history."

Also, on a more practical note:

http://www.thehillishome.com/2011/03/the-results-are-in-and-dcps-will-need-to-find-more-classrooms-on-the-hill/

by Trulee Pist on Mar 7, 2011 12:13 pm • linkreport

"Historic preservation safeguards the District of Columbia’s cultural heritage...and history."

Well you elipsed out an important part, but I'll fight on your terms. The only way to preserve the heritage and history here is if it always remains a school? No matter what? Do we need to add a slave market to the Archives since that's what used to go on there?

There are a lot of younger kids coming up through the system, but I'm confident we can handle them without Hine. We could either rebuild Hine or add to other schools. Adding to other schools allows us to monetize this site. Excess schools were a burden on the district. Now they're a source of money.

by David C on Mar 7, 2011 12:19 pm • linkreport

If not a school, a place that serves the needs (especially the education needs) of children ought to be at this site.

That confidence that we can handle them without Hine...is that data based? Because I have been struggling to get that demographic data since 2006, with no luck. Please share.

The decision to close Hine may have been mistaken, or not, but it is not a decision DCPS is going to reconsider, so let's just let that issue pass and look forward to what can go on at this site.

...monetize this site. Thanks for that! In three words, you summarize my point much better than I ever could. Monetize the site is one side of the debate. Safeguard the cultural heritage...and history is the other. People have to ask themselves which side they are on.

Don't be shy about grappling with the "elipsed out" part, either....supports the local economy. Does the influx of young families throughout all of Ward 6, who demand adequate space and excellent education services for their dumpling darlings, actually improve the local economy, or not?

by Trulee Pist on Mar 7, 2011 12:45 pm • linkreport

Does the influx of young families throughout all of Ward 6, who demand adequate space and excellent education services for their dumpling darlings, actually improve the local economy, or not?

Generally speaking, young families in Ward 6 are generally two-income, so pay a boatload of DC income tax. Most own their houses, so pay a boatload of property tax. Generally speaking, young middle class households have smaller family sizes, so they pay more per child even after adjusting for household income. And they're incredibly involved with their children's schools--both with their time and financially--which strengthens the system as a whole.

DC will succeed economically to the extent that it can attract young families, because that's the only way the schools will improve.

So, yes, they do actually improve the local economy. Without question.

by oboe on Mar 7, 2011 1:01 pm • linkreport

young families throughout all of Ward 6, who demand adequate space and excellent education services for their dumpling darlings

And what's this with "dumpling darlings", anyway? Kind of an odd characterization, no?

by oboe on Mar 7, 2011 1:06 pm • linkreport

Handle them without Hine It's not data based in that I've seen the data, but I have some faith in other people to do smart things. And I know that if we do find ourselves short on classroom space, that is a pretty easy problem to solve, one we've been solving for hundreds of years. It involves building more classroom space.

Monetize the site is one side of the debate. Safeguard the cultural heritage...and history is the other.

I don't see it that way. The buildings are not historical. We agree on that. You're trying to make the claim that the use is historical AND that the new site has to continue that use lest we destroy that part of our culture and history. I think that is a pile of bunk. I think land changes use all the time, and we can certainly remember and incorporate the historic use of this land into the new building without requiring that it somehow educate kids. Trying to claim that a piece of land carries some historic use that must be preserved is quite a stretch. Has that been a HPRB ruling anywhere else?

Does the influx of young families throughout all of Ward 6, who demand adequate space and excellent education services for their dumpling darlings, actually improve the local economy, or not?

Yes, it does (are you asking me to defend that statement?). And this project will as well. As David A put it "it will pay off in residents who can patronize area businesses, tax revenue for DC, eyes on the street to make the neighborhood safer..." And it will add businesses to the area, which will be good for the current residents, like myself.

by David C on Mar 7, 2011 1:14 pm • linkreport

And what's this with "dumpling darlings", anyway?

Worst AAA baseball team mascot ever.

by David C on Mar 7, 2011 1:16 pm • linkreport

I read the first 150-200 words on the HPRB/HPO site, its goals and mission statement, and see no reference to "buildings" or "architecture."

The strategic goals expressed refer to cultural heritage and history. Controlling architecture and cornices are merely tactics. So yes, a unique plot of land, unique in the whole District for its heritage as a site used for education, is a strategic goal HPRB ought to pursue or defend.

We'll see what ANC6B and HPRB say about it.

PS: I categorically refuse to defend dumpling darlings, the term of affection my family has been using to describe people's precious children since our ancestors got off the boat from Shamrock. Having all the cultural and architectural and educational and governmental signs point to this being a neighborhood that prizes children very highly attracts those valuable young two-income families. That's a good thing.

by Trulee Pist on Mar 7, 2011 2:07 pm • linkreport

Trulee, the land has been a school site for a long time, and the HPRB preserves our cultural heritage and history. You have not yet connected the two as it relates to this site. In fact you're not even arguing that the use can't change because you're saying that it could be something other than a school, but it MUST have something to do with kids or else we are destroying out past. Again, I'll ask, has that ever been the case anywhere else? It seems like quite a stretch to me.

by David C on Mar 7, 2011 2:20 pm • linkreport

Honestly, I don't know what to add. I think I'm right, and a number of others will testify at ANC6B and potentially at HPRB on that point. We'll see what ANC6B and HPRB say about it.

by Trulee Pist on Mar 7, 2011 2:37 pm • linkreport

Interesting take on the generational divide. A lot of the push-back coming from such diverse sources as the C100, and east of the river, and DC's black churches point to a generational divide more than anything else:

http://streetsblog.net/2011/03/07/is-generational-turnover-necessary-for-the-return-of-cities/

by oboe on Mar 7, 2011 3:45 pm • linkreport

Dear David C,

Again I'm afraid you miss the point. It is not about attracting more or less business or growing the local economy or even to have or not have "smart growth" which is today's catch phrase.

It is a question of balance between that and what is best for the residents' quality of life (beyond more restaurants and shops) all within the historical context of the neighborhood. A balance that is beyond my pay grade to achieve, but what we have seen so far ain't it.

And if you are to build a monolith, make it of a world beating design. This is a unique site in the middle our nation's capital and it deserves more than a superior version of a Jenkins Row.

by Derek Farwagi on Mar 7, 2011 4:40 pm • linkreport

@Derek

I'm curious what counter-proposal (from a design perspective) you would make that would be less 'monolithic'.

by Alex B. on Mar 7, 2011 4:49 pm • linkreport

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