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Federal review pushes the Kennedy Center's new buildings to dry land

The Kennedy Center has tweaked its plans for expansion. The small addition will still connect the Kennedy Center to the Potomac River, but none of it will be floating in the river.

The revised expansion scheme for the Kennedy Center. All images courtesy of the Kennedy Center and Steven Holl Architects.

When the arts center released plans for an expansion in 2013, they were looking for a way to reach out beyond big white box and white tie events. The 60,000 square foot expansion was to contain education rooms, informal performance venues, and a bridge to the Potomac River pathway.

The Kennedy Center's balcony has a gorgeous view of the river, but with no way for visitors to get to it, it's just the backdrop to the lobby. The center has tried to bridge the divide for decades with several schemes for grand staircases. But they had proved too costly for the Kennedy Center to do without federal help.

The designers the Kennedy Center hired, Steven Holl Architects, proposed something more clever than stairs. Their proposal featured three white pavilions: two sitting in a garden atop buried practice rooms and one across a bridge over the parkway, floating in the water. With arts activity in the nearby parkland, the Kennedy Center was not just visually connected to the green space, but rather was functionally mixing with it.

The expansion is still happening, but it's going to be more conventional

The new proposal features a shorter bridge across Rock Creek Parkway, ending at a sculptural ramp and staircase down to the riverfront trail. To keep the blend of park and arts space, the designers placed planters and benches along the route. Alternating solid and minimal railings extend, framing views of the river similarly to how the windows in the pavilions do.

View looking from across the bridge down to the Potomac and Rock Creek Trail.

The cafe and performance space that occupied the floating structure will now go in a third pavilion east of Rock Creek parkway. The multipurpose space will seat 160 people in a space with views of the river. Toward the land, the pavilion overlooks a reflecting pool through a retractable glass wall.

Moving that pavilion makes it harder to spontaneously drop into a show. On the other hand, the architects noted that it will make back-of-house activities like cooking and moving instruments easier since the new location sits atop the expansion's buried infrastructure.

The relocated river pavilion encloses the park area more.

The reorganization does change the the way the site connects to the city. The new location of the river pavilion may make the upper-level garden feel more enclosed and internal. On the other hand, since visitors won't have to pass through the floating pavilion to get to the upper-level park it may feel more public.

Interior of the new River Pavilion, configured as a cafe.

Opposition arose during the federal process

The Commission of Fine Arts and National Capital Planning Commission's professional staff supported the original design on the basis of extensive engineering studies. But at NCPC's December 2014 meeting, testimony from recreational boaters and Georgetown residents persuaded commissioners to rejected the staff report and give only partial approval.

Critics singled out the floating pavilion as a problem. The NCPC's chairman, Preston Bryant, who represents Virginia, said he believed the building went against federal directives not to build in flood-prone areas.

Boaters and Georgetown residents favored an alternate scheme that did not put any structures near the river, including the bridge across the parkway. This second design came from the project's environmental assessment, which requires federal agencies to study a few alternative solutions to their needs. For buildings of this size, the second or third designs are usually just a formality. Not here.

Top: The new design. Bottom: The environmental assessment's Alternative B.

The revised scheme uses the environmental assessment's Alternative B as a starting point, but adds the bridge and landscaped ramp. When the architects presented this design at the May 7th NCPC meeting, several commissioners who had criticized the design earlier reacted positively, indicating future approval.

View up the access ramp and toward Georgetown.

There's still a long road ahead of the project

The change in the design means delays. Peter May, the National Park Service's representative on the NCPC noted that the Park Service would have to re-do parts of its environmental assessment and cultural resource studies because the connection to the park is too different from any of the original alternatives to proceed.

May suggested that there could be a separate study for the bridge, allowing the Kennedy Center to proceed with construction. Still the Commission of Fine Arts will have to grant a second conceptual approval to the design, the architects will have to work out some of the design again. For this and other reasons, the Kennedy Center expansion won't open until 2018.

Washington's process is difficult. Still, this project's arc shows that it is possible to bring distinctive architecture and placemaking to the Monumental Core, with the right attitude. The designers and their client didn't simply do what critics asked, or fight back endlessly. They relied on their expertise to do it in a way that is true to the rest of the design. That is hard, and they deserve credit for it.

Public iterations of the expansion. Clockwise from top right: September 2013, December 2014, February 2015, May 2015.


Imagine a Kennedy Center that's part of downtown

The Kennedy Center is a marble island cut off from downtown by highways. What if instead, it was the heart of a new urban neighborhood linking Georgetown and the National Mall?

Watercolor perspective. All images from Aragon, Hensley, and Sponseller.

In 1997, Andrea Aragon, Jon Hensley, and Robert Sponseller created the above rendering for Capital Visions: Architects Revisit L'Enfant: New Plans for the Millennium, an exhibit at the National Building Museum whose projects considered how different values could reshape the historic Federal City in the 21st century.

Their plan contemplates a Foggy Bottom where urban fabric replaces a mish-mash of midcentury projects like I-66, the Watergate, and the State Department. The stub of I-66 and the Whitehurst Freeway are totally gone. A new Roosevelt Bridge runs directly onto Constitution Avenue, and the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway runs underground from the Pennsylvania Avenue Bridge to Constitution Avenue.

Public space diagram. The dashed line is an underground parkway. The dots are commemorative sites, like the Arts of War and Peace on the Memorial Bridge.

A restored version of the L'Enfant grid, with some additions, takes the place of what's there now. E Street, which is currently a trench, becomes a boulevard that runs to the Kennedy Center and down to the water. New buildings with new uses break up what are currently blocks and blocks of Federal offices. Beyond new activity on the street, the reclaimed blocks offer acres for new residential and commercial development.

In this vision, buildings define the outflow of Rock Creek. Washington Harbor is on the left.

In addition to the practical street grid, the designers connect three neighborhoods with major corridors, punctuated by landmarks and parks, not unlike Pierre L'Enfant did in 1791.

E Street extends to the Kennedy Center, and Georgetown is just a skip away. The plan also extends Virginia Avenue and K Street across Rock Creek, which itself pools at an artificial basin since the Whitehurst Freeway is gone. The basin joints the burbling creek, the still canal, and the powerful river.

The continuous waterfront extends Georgetown, DC's hottest neighborhood in 1997.

Along the Potomac, a boardwalk runs from Washington Harbor to the realigned Roosevelt Bridge. Buildings run right up to the edge of the waterfront. Kayakers and rowers move downstream from Thompson's Boathouse to a new wharf at the Kennedy Center.

The proposed new Kennedy Center. A glass atrium connects E Street with the river.

The designers make some rather extreme changes to the Kennedy Center itself. The venue's three main halls have to be structurally independent for acoustic reasons, so they strip off Edward Durrell Stone's critically reviled exterior and work their exteriors into the street design. They also demolish and move the Opera House so pedestrians can walk from the White House, along E Street and down steps to the Potomac.

Navy Hill fits neatly into the city. The telescope is not exactly where it's depicted.

The plan also integrates Navy Hill, which the General Services Administration is currently transforming it into State Department buildings. This was the original Naval Observatory and later housed the CIA. The designers could have left it as a semi-rural hill, but instead, the they integrated the historic buildings back into the grid and made one of the remaining telescopes into a local landmark.

It's worth mentioning that a few buildings need demolishing for the plan to work. To reconnect 22nd Street, the designers cut the State Department back to its prewar section, the "War Department Building." They also do away with better-liked 20th century projects, like the Pan American Health Organization and the Watergate complex.

A grid of normal urban blocks replaces highways and mega-developments.

What's great about speculative designs like this is that when politics and economics aren't an issue, designers are free to examine radical ideas that put our collective values up for debate. How that makes us think about pragmatic issues is important.

Should we preserve unloved buildings? How do we balance monuments and background buildings? Does recreation outweigh ecology? The project raises more questions than answers, and that's great.

Nolli map of the entire project.


The Kennedy Center is isolated from the rest of DC, but it can't fix the problem by itself

The Kennedy Center is getting a great addition, but the design throws a spotlight on the institution's physical isolation from the rest of the city.

Proposal seen from the Roosevelt Bridge. Image by the Kennedy Center/Steven Holl Architects.

The new 60,000-square foot building will include a large base tucked under an intensive green roof and three house-sized pavilions made of glass and ultra-white concrete. Two pavilions would sit on land, while the third would literally float in the Potomac.

The new design cuts the Kennedy Center off from the rest of the city

If I were to pick a word to describe the project, it'd be "islands." To me, the project creates a string of beautiful islands near the Kennedy Center.

Unfortunately, my word choice is also an appropriate metaphor for the Center's relationship with DC's fabric.

In J. G. Ballard's novel Concrete Island, an architect crashes on a London highway, stranding himself alone on a median. Penned in by speeding traffic, he can't leave. Unable to get anyone's attention, he watches as the city hum along without him. He ends up realizing he can't get out and makes do with his tiny domain.

Ballard's story is satire, but it's not that far from what has happened at the Kennedy Center.

On one side of the building, the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway's flow keeps the Potomac in sight but out of reach. On the other, a vast highway trench stands between the Center, downtown, and the national memorials. A visitor could spend an evening at the Kennedy Center and come away feeling more tied to Rosslyn than the District.

A beautiful plan proves too expensive

When Congress created the Kennedy Center, federal leaders had a bold vision to disperse the city and rebuild it around a series of highways. The I-66 trench is one of the few parts of that project that ever got built, a small piece of the inner beltway.

Even before the Kennedy Center opened in 1971, writers were fighting for a less dislocated site. The New York Times architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, went after the Center's car-dependent design in a 1965 column. After its construction, proposals to make a connection other than an off-ramp came from every direction for years.

The closest DC has come to bridging the gap between the arts center and downtown came in a 2003 plan designed by Rafael Viñoly. It proposed extending E Street out to a monumental plaza on a deck, with I-66 below. Buildings on each side of the connection would have served two of the Center's most cramped activities: arts education and rehearsal.

But decks over transportation infrastructure are hugely expensive, even for the modest buildings proposed. The plan required $400M in federal funding to reconstruct the intersection, and it would cover only a fraction of the I-66 spaghetti. After the Iraq War, the money dried up and the Kennedy Center decided to make do.

The two land pavilions frame the Lincoln Memorial, but how do you get there? Image by the Kennedy Center/Steven Holl Architects.

A more pragmatic design

In 2012, the Center asked New York architect Steven Holl to design a scheme that would at least fulfill its needs for practice facilities, multipurpose rooms, bus parking, and offices. Atop the building, a new park would pull do double-duty as an amphitheater for free simulcasts of performances inside. In general, the spaces support the more diverse cultural offerings that have become the norm for arts institutions since the 1960s.

Plan of the proposed design, oriented so the top part of the map is east. Image from the Kennedy Center.

To connect the Center to the river, a bridge would cross the parkway to the floating pavilion, which would house a cafe and an informal event space. Pedestrians could walk from the Kennedy Center to the trail below, while people walking by could stop in for a show. It's not the grand steps Viñoly's plan imagined, but adding activity to a relatively isolated stretch of the trail might actually be better than building a big bridge that suffocates the trail below.

I think the new building's design would quickly earn it a place among DC's great landmarks. Holl's architecture focuses visitors' attention onto experiences of aspects of the physical world, particularly the ground, sky, water and light. For years, his designs have toyed with how they sit on the ground and how spending time in a particular place changes the one's perception of it. The floating pavilion, with views subject to the tide as much as sunlight, will be a world-class extension of Holl's history.

Model of the main "Glissando" pavilion interior. Image from the Kennedy Center.

It's a good project, and it's great that it doesn't get in the way of bigger plans.

An institution can only be as urban as its site.

At the National Capital Planning Commission's December meeting, members criticized the addition for only making a visual connection and nothing more. "It does nothing to tell you that there's an entire city on the other side of that gap," DC's acting director of planning, Ellen McCarthy, said bluntly.

Mina Wright of the US General Services Administration went further, calling the proposal an "opportunity lost to fix some ill-conceived traffic patterns, which will be fixed one day." She brought up her agency's ongoing redesign of the Potomac Hill complex which sits directly across I-66 from the Kennedy Center. To her, the design means giving up on a grander vision and limiting what the GSA can do with its site.

I-66 interchange dwarfs DC's biggest buildings and cultural centers. Image from Bing with edits by the author.

But maybe it's wrong to expect the Kennedy Center to put forth a grand vision for the site. The Viñoly plan offered yet another grand plaza, with swooping roads enabled by even more grade separation. It only solved connectivity issues that were within the Kennedy Center complex; it didn't provide ways for the Kennedy Center to be one point in a richer fabric.

Relying on a prestige project to patch up basic infrastructure, whether it's an arts institution or the Olympics, places a lot of trust in an organization that has narrow goals. The design process would never be as inclusive as it could be if it focused on restoring a lost neighborhood.

Image of the 2009 Framework Plan by CFA/NCPC.

Repairing the fabric is already the long-term goal, set by NCPC and the Commission of Fine Arts in 2010. The problem is that their plan still assumed a massive deck over a sprawling highway even though the exorbitant costs of a smaller deck sank the last project.

The highway was the problem in 1958, it was the problem in 1971, and it's still the problem. The solution is to replace it with surface streets.

Freeway removal is not the radical idea it was in 2003. There are multiple examples of traffic dissipating into the grid at speeds safer for everyone. That's particularly true if transit substitutes capacity is replaced in a plan like Metro Forward, which would ease Virginia's capacity crunch.

A city-led infill project is the most promising way to put the Kennedy Center back into Washington. There's more potential in the site than just a grand entry. It would give DC a much richer public realm in a neighborhood trying to break out of its beige boxes. The proposed design fits well into a future that corrects the mistakes that got the Kennedy Center stuck on a freeway island.

Holl's watercolor suggests a future bridge across the highway. Can't we do better? Image by the Kennedy Center.


Kennedy Center addition tries to connect with the audience

The Kennedy Center yesterday unveiled an expansion plan to build 3 new pavilions, including one in the Potomac River, along with pedestrian bridges across Rock Creek Parkway and to the east. The project would partly alleviate some of the Kennedy Center's 1960s urban design errors.

Rendering from Roosevelt Island

It connects the 1.5 million-square-foot arts center to the river, as its designers originally imagined, and as many have proposed since. The addition will principally house the center's extensive music education classes, although it includes rehearsal space and some smaller performing spaces.

Designed by the office of New York architect Steven Holl, the $100 million plan consists of 3 pavilions. Two rest on top of a 3-story plinth, and the other one sits on a floating platform in the Potomac. Bridges will span Rock Creek Parkway to connect the landside and riverside sections, finally connecting the massive balcony of the Kennedy Center to the ground.

Overhead view showing the three pavilions on a low plinth. Image from Steven Holl Architects.

The plinth is the key to the project, allowing the architects to connect the addition to the new building without degrading Edward Durell Stone's marble box. Holl used a similar scheme to add a large addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. Blending this plinth into the onramps of the Roosevelt Bridge creates the appearance that it is part of the landscape, with small objects on top of it. The plinth is stepped down on the land side, to let light in to the rehearsal spaces and create privacy amid the highway mess.

Down the ramps, the riverside pavilion will house a stage for small performances. Located right on the Rock Creek multi-use trail, it would break up a loud, boring stretch of the trail. Passers-by might find a show to linger at. Parents could bring kids to music classes by bike, then enjoy time to themselves without getting back into cars. Importantly, it connects the project to the Georgetown waterfront, meaning that a night at the opera might be more pedestrian.

It does not, by any means, eliminate the Kennedy Center's isolation, which comes from the I-66 spur that cuts a deadening trench into Foggy Bottom. However, lightly noted in one of Holl's watercolors is a pedestrian bridge to an unspecified destination. This might be the missing piece that would make the expense worth it.

Such a bridge would make the Kennedy Center accessible by foot from both sides. But it would have to be executed as well as the river-side connectors. If the bridge is not kept busy with activity somehow, like the floating pavilion does, it will not be well-used.

Rafael Viñoly's plan to create a public square was cancelled in 2005. Courtesy Rafael Viñoly Architects.

The plan is considerably more modest than the previous expansion plan by Rafael Viñoly, which would have cost $650 million but patched together the urban fabric on E Street. Although this plan does not preclude that more ambitious project in the future, it fulfills some of aims of that design.

Therefore, this plan also opens the site up to more audacious rethinking of the Center's location in the city. For example, replacing the highway to nowhere with a high-capacity boulevard and filling in blocks recovered from the project would reduce the need for a multi-million dollar deck and expensive structural systems.

This new building looks to positively alter the riverbank, aesthetically and functionally. It is a positive step forward that avoids the pitfalls of a grandiose scheme. However Holl's design evolves, by the intended completion in 2018, could be the first phase of rethinking Foggy Bottom as a more human-scale environment and reconnecting DC's arts center to the rest of the city.

Public Spaces

Relive a pretty afternoon on the ballpark ferry

Washington's growing fleet of water taxis are useful as transportation, but they're also a fun and unique way to see the city. I used an American River Taxi to travel to a Nationals game a few weeks ago, and photographed the trip for posterity.

ART ferries sailing to the ballpark pick up passengers at Washington Harbor, in Georgetown. Boats pull directly up to the boardwalk, and passengers simply walk straight on.

All photos by the author.

Inside, the boats have a double row of seats and a crew of 2 or 3. There are no bathrooms, and no vending.

Shortly after casting off from Washington Harbor there are great views of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom.

Washington Harbor.

Georgetown Waterfront Park.


Kennedy Center.

Thanks to calm water and shoreline trails, the river and its banks are multi-modal.

Boats, bikes, cars, and joggers.

The Roosevelt Bridge is the first of many that the ferry passes under.

Roosevelt Bridge, with Arlington Memorial Bridge behind.

Roosevelt Bridge.

Between Roosevelt and Memorial bridges, the monuments of the National Mall are visible.

Washington Monument.

Washington and Lincoln.

Washington and Lincoln, perfectly aligned.

Memorial Bridge is the most ornate of Washington's Potomac bridges.

Memorial Bridge.

Memorial Bridge.

Memorial Bridge.

Monuments continue to be visible as the ferry passes West Potomac Park.

Washington Monument.

Jefferson Monument.

The 14th Street Bridge looks very plain.

14th Street Bridge.

14th Street Bridge.

14th Street Bridge.

Metrorail's Yellow Line bridge is even plainer.

Metrorail Bridge.

Last and oldest of the 14th Street Bridge cluster, the Long Bridge looks ancient compared to any other on the river.

Long Bridge (right), with Metrorail Bridge (left).

Long Bridge.

After crossing below Long Bridge, East Potomac Park becomes visible on the east bank, while Crystal City and National Airport dominate the west bank.

US Capitol visible behind East Potomac Park.

National Airport, with Alexandria's Masonic Washington Monument in the background.

Crystal City.

Looking back upstream, Rosslyn, the National Cathedral, and the Washington Monument are prominent.

Rosslyn, the National Cathedral, and the Washington Monument.


At Hains Point the ferry turns to go up the Anacostia River.

Hains Point.

Looking up the Anacostia, the Frederick Douglass Bridge rises, and the baseball stadium comes into view.

Douglass Bridge.

Nats park and US Capitol.

Yards Park becomes visible beneath Douglass Bridge.

Douglass Bridge, with Yards Park.

The stadium looms large above the river.

Nats Park.

Nats Park.

Finally, the ferry docks at Diamond Teague Park, just downstream from Navy Yard.

Diamond Teague Park docks.

For even more photos of the ride, view the complete Flickr set.


Kennedy Center guard bullies patron for parking a bike

Last week, a guard at the Kennedy Center threatened to steal my bike if I dared to park it on the sidewalk.

The guard. Photo by the author.

I had arrived by bike to see a show, and found that the rack on F St was already crowded, and didn't look especially sturdy. I walked nearby to a sign post and began to lock it up.

A guard (pictured right) approached me, yelling at me that I could not park my bike there. I insisted that I could since it is a public sidewalk. I was ready to clasp my lock around the post when he shoved his hand against mine to prevent me from continuing. He insisted that the sidewalk was Kennedy Center property and no bikes could be locked there.

This is a common misconception. Street sidewalks in DC almost always fall within the public space that includes the roadway; in fact, many front yards of buildings also fall in public spaces instead of private property. The DC Atlas confirms that the sidewalks on F Street adjacent to the Kennedy Center are in public space outside the property lot lines.

Image from DC Atlas. The Kennedy Center is labeled 0806. F Street is to the north.

The guard said that if I left my bike attached to the street sign pole he would cut the lock and remove the bike as he said he had already done 3 or 4 times that day. I reluctantly relented and moved to a different rack up the hill and across from the main entrance.

The sidewalk along F St is public property and it would be a bad precedent to let anyone dictate how a public sidewalk may be used simply because their property fronts it. As anyone who has been to a sidewalk cafe knows, the District and other jurisdictions permit some private appropriation of public space with permits but there is no permit to allow private property owners to steal bikes attached to public sign posts.

Claiming that a public street sign between a public sidewalk and a public roadway is in fact private property is bullying. Furthermore, to physically menace someone by pushing them away is battery. If the Kennedy Center is in fact routinely destroying locks and confiscating bikes, they should first consult their legal counsel as they are probably destroying and stealing private property.

It was just a month ago that a similar event occurred. This time it was on the sidewalk of Lafayette Park, and I suspect the man in a black uniform was an actual law enforcement officer rather than a rent-a-cop.

I like to think that the legal authority that comes with a badge and a gun limits the officer to carefully enforcing actual laws, not their own made-up, capricious rules that have no basis in law.

Public Spaces

Students fix Foggy Bottom's waterfront problems

Lydia DePillis's constant attendance at community meetings turned up a fascinating plan from the Catholic University Urban Design Studio to improve some of Foggy Bottom's biggest flaws: the mess of freeways between the neighborhood and the waterfront.

A professor and team of students came up with the vision, which has no funding but which DePillis reports they hope the Office of Planning will incorporate into the DC Comprehensive Plan.

Left: Area around 27th and K now. Image from Google Maps.
Right: The same area in the plan. Images via Housing Complex.

The "ramp spaghetti" in front of the Kennedy Center, the freeway under Juarez Circle, the ramps to the Whitehurst, and Rock Creek create a big barrier between Foggy Bottom and the waterfront, and many small park segments many of which are inaccessible or underutilized.

The plan includes new pedestrian connections across Rock Creek and the Potomac, and suggests decking some of the freeway ramps to the Whitehurst to build better parks. It also resurrects the Kennedy Center's ideas to cover the ramps between it and E Street to connect it to the neighborhood.

Of course, covering freeways is expensive, or we'd do it all the time. That freeway is also wider than it needs to be, since it was originally built to continue up along Florida Avenue or K Street. Some of the ramps could probably come down instead of being decked over.

Besides improving the waterfront access, DePillis reports that the plan includes a new entrance to Foggy Bottom Metro, benches at Juarez Circle, a Native American cultural center, and another performing arts center near the Kennedy Center. DePillis couldn't post the entire plan, but we look forward to seeing more!


1959 alternate Kennedy Center design

Nathaniel Kelso sent over these 50-year-old renderings of an alternate design for the Kennedy Center. It looks a bit like a UFO landed on the banks of the Potomac.

What do you think? Better or worse than what we got?

Click for larger version.

Public Spaces

A busy day for NCPC

This morning, the National Capital Planning Commission (the federal government's planning body for the DC area) released a great proposal for the future of the Federal area of the city. It calls for decking over not only the E Street Expressway but almost all of the "ramp spaghetti", creating space for new buildings east and northeast or the Kennedy Center and a park to the southeast connecting to the Lincoln Memorial.

The study area for the National Capital Framework Plan. Image from NCPC.

In the Federal Triangle area, the report also suggests a "Federal walk" guiding tourists to notable works of art among the federal office buildings, a more usable public space at the currently-barren, raised Freedom Plaza around 13th and Pennsylvania, and redevelopment of the FBI building to include street-level retail and restaurants, matching the livelier streets around it.

It also repeats and extends some past NCPC ideas for Southwest, including decking over part of the Southwest Freeway near the Banneker Overlook and creating a new 10th Street Overlook nearby, burying the VRE tracks to restore Maryland Avenue, a canal across East Potomac Park, and redeveloping some of the less historic concrete buildings, especially the Forrestal Building which blocks a view from the Smithsonian Castle down to the Potomac River.

Here's the complete report. I'll analyze its recommendations in more detail next week. Meanwhile, you can read today's Post article.

NCPC also discussed the Armed Forces Retirement Home, which proposes to develop some parcels on the edge of its property to raise an endowment allowing it to provide for its retired veterans in the future. The plan is substantially the same as the one I reviewed previously, with a few small improvements.

They have reduced the number of parking spaces at DDOT's request from the enormously high 6,500 to a slightly less enormous but still very high 5,155. If DC or WMATA improves bus service to the site, the number of spaces will decrease further. In the meantime, the plan calls for a shuttle bus to Columbia Heights and Brookland/CUA Metro stations, but those shuttles will only run 30 minutes outside rush hour, making them unlikely to seriously reduce car ownership or usage by residents or employees.

The plan also shifted some retail to Irving Street, on the exterior of the development, from the interior. The Office of Planning (and I) had criticized the way the plan "turns its back" to Irving Street; this change ameliorates that, though there will still be blank walls from parking garages on several of the blocks, albeit attractively concealed garages.

The biggest controversy at the NCPC meeting concerned open space. A small parcel on the west side, Zone C, was designated for possible future development of low-density (and suburban-esquely arranged) townhouses, but AFRH had always emphasized its desire to always leave this parcel forested. It abuts Petworth, and many residents and officials had advocated for creating a public park in Zone C and possibly Zone B, perhaps with some money from the National Park Service or the District of Columbia, perhaps partly as a condition for approval of the other zones.

The staff recommended NCPC approve the other zones with the condition that AFRH agree to negotiate for the next two years. AFRH argued against this idea because they don't want to decide what to do with C in the next two years; they use it currently, and hadn't planned to touch C for at least fifteen years. They want to keep it for the private use of their residents at least that long, ideally indefinitely as long as their finances remain sound.

Several board members objected to any conditions that would further delay financing which would help this needy institution. Ultimately, NCPC approved only Zone A, leaving Zones B and C as part of AFRH, requiring future debate and NCPC action before they can become buildings, a public park, or anything else.

After further discussing the proposed MLK Jr. National Memorial on the Tidal Basin and Georgetown Waterfront Park, NCPC dove into minutiae with a debate about 20 feet of height. Basically, the Height Act allows buildings on commercial streets to be 20 feet higher than the width of a nearby street, up to a maximum of 130 feet; a mixed-use building on M Street at Capper-Carrollsburg in Southeast fronts a 250-foot wide right-of-way bisected by a parking lot that will become Canal Park.

The street on the west is 2nd Street, 90 feet wide; on the east is 2nd Place, 70 feet wide. Once, 2nd Place was also called 2nd Street. Should we consider this a 250-foot wide single street with green space in its center, like E Street in Foggy Bottom, or two separate streets separated by a park? One would allow a 130-foot-high building, another only 110 feet.

The zoning administrator has ruled the former; the NCPC staff takes the opposite view. Harriet Tregoning made a good case for why nitpicking 20 feet is beneath NCPC and not especially vital to the federal interest, but by a narrow 5 to 4 vote, NCPC voted to oppose the extra 20 feet.

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