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Level 2: Take 2

New and Improved

The principals behind the proposed project at 1905-1917 14th Street returned to meet with the Wallach Place neighbors last week. In front of a group of about a dozen neighbors, David Franco and John Kardon of Level 2, along with their architect Eric Colbert, brought the next iteration of plans for their building.

Level 2's first iteration

As Franco described the process, the latest set was revised a number of times from their first presentation, Franco saying it’s “an evolutionary process,” and these would be the set of plans they go back to the USNA, ANC and HPRB with, but the end design could also reflect additional tweaks.

Level 2, Take 2

Franco told the crowd that they “went back to the drawing board to incorporate comments (from the Wallach residents and HPRB, and)… more sensitive to massing and setbacks.”  Franco said they looked forward to continue working with the various stakeholders. Key changes include:

  • A four-story setback on the Wallach Place (North) elevation
  • A 4th floor cornice to establish a historic reference
  • A strong cornice line at the 6th floor
  • Entrance was moved which shifted the massing towards the south
  • Glazing patterns broken down into smaller elements

While the footprint and overall height remain the same, interior square footage was sacrificed to accommodate the changes. Franco now expect there will be a total of 144 units, down from 154, and nearly 4,000 sf less.

Franco said that both a traffic and shadow study could be conducted.  Wallah residents, mostly from the south side, were skeptical of the clearances the alley could allow for the anticipated 30 foot moving trucks. Those are some rather steep angles back there nd not a lot of space to swing even a medium-sized rig.

The consensus of the Wallach neighbors was that this set of plans was a marked improvement over the first set. All are thankful of the time and effort Franco, Kardon and Colbert gave to the block’s residents.

The complete set of renderings is here:

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On The Level

Our thanks to David Franco and Jon Kardon of Level 2 for reaching out to the Wallach Place and T Street families regarding their planned project at 1905-1919 14th Street, NW. 

They sent us this letter earlier in the week and are distributing to the neighbors.

They were gracious with their time last month and we welcome them back to hear their latest thoughts on the development. They also provided us with the calendar of upcoming neighborhood meetings that will look at and review their project.

We were thinking of having Yum’s cater the August 3 meeting, but that proposal never made it out of committee.  Matchbox?

Dear Neighbor: Level 2 Development is planning to develop a new mixed use apartment building with approximately 150 apartments and 6,000 square feet of ground floor retail at 1905 – 1919 14th Street, NW.

As the project is located within the Greater U Street Historic District, Level 2 Development is seeking community support for the project in advance of our next presentation to the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), tentatively planned for September 22, 2011. We invite you to join for the following planned community presentations of the drawings:

Wednesday, August 3, 7 pm
Presentation to Neighbors of 1300 Block of Wallach Place
Wallach Place, NW (Residence of Craig Brownstein and Doug Johnson)

Thursday, August 11, 7 pm
Presentation to the U Street Neighborhood Association
1835 14th Street, NW, Upstairs Community Room (Source Theater)

Monday, August 15, 6:30 pm
Presentation to ANC1B Design Review Committee
1816 12th Street, NW, Conference Room #1 (Thurgood Marshall Center)

Thursday, September 1, 7 pm
Presentation to ANC1B
2000 14th Street, NW, 2nd Floor Community Room (Reeves Center)

As the design continues to evolve, additional presentation dates may be added, and if so, advanced notice will be provided to all recipients of this letter. We hope that you can join us at these upcoming presentations.

Sincerely,
David Franco
Principal, Level 2 Development

CC:
Neighbors of 1300 Block of Wallach Place, NW
ANC1B Chairman Juan Lopez (1B07)
ANC1B Commissioner Aaron Spencer (1B02)
ANC1B Commissioner Tony Norman (ANC1B Design Committee Chair, 1B10)
Christine Szathmary, U Street Neighborhood Association President
Sheryl Walter, U Street Neighborhood Association Historic Preservation and Development Committee Chair
Ward One Councilmember Jim Graham
Steve Calcott, Historic Preservation Office Senior Preservation Planner
Catherine Buell, Historic Preservation Review Board Chair

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Brick and Glass, Sticks and Stones

Greater and Not-So Greater Washington Blogs

We’ve been lucky to get some attention and notice from a number of DC blogs – ones that cover the immediate neighborhood and others that focus more on DC real estate and development. 

Our sincere thanks go to Borderstan, UStreetGirl, 14thAndU, UStreetBeat, City Paper Housing Complex, DC Mud, and the DuPont Current. 

14th & U circa 1970 - Scurlock Studio

We’ve been in the blogging  business long enough to be able to distinguish fair and accurate commentary from that which is best characterized as irresponsible and biased. 

But having a combined thirty years of actual newsroom experience, much of those at C-SPAN, were what really honed our skills as bullshit detectors. And speaking of… We couldn’t help but be amused (yet slightly put off) by the screed published last week on what we once thought was a responsible online outlet – GreaterGreaterWashington

It seems that GGW’s Founder, Editor-in-Chief (and who knows what else), David Alpert, has a certain bug up his ass about a certain community’s efforts to maintain the sustainability, integrity and viability of their neighborhood.  According to his bio, Mr. Alpert, “…has had a lifelong interest in great cities and great communities.” That may be true, but we’ve learned that he has little or no interest in accurate reporting.

In a nearly 700 word jumble of mistaken facts, misinformed opinions and baseless charges, Mr. Alpert vented on your humble editors and indirectly on our neighbors on Wallach Place.  No matter; we take it in stride.  But worse than him being ignorant of the facts, Alpert’s unconscionable sin was to violate a simple and sacred tenet of journalism – not reaching out to us ahead of time before he published (like many of the other journalists listed above did). 

Alpert appears neither bound by facts or common journalistic courtesies. We trawled through his online sandbox just long enough to correct the record as best we could in the comments section.  So for the purposes of setting the record straight, we republish our brief response:

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 public 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

It was the HBRB that called the Franco/Colbert project “a failure of imagination.” It’s the Wallach Place families that imagine something greater on that site, and it’s doubtful they’ll be deterred, dissuaded or distracted by failures of journalism.

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A Failure of Imagination

Last Thursday saw nearly a dozen Wallach Place neighbors (and one from as far away as V Street), gather at the DC Historic Preservation Review Board monthly meeting.  On the afternoon docket was discussion and a vote on the Level 2/Eric Colbert 1905-1917 14th Street project, a 7+ story, 160 unit apartment building that’s proposed for the corner of 14th and Wallach.

Despite the design team’s statements that they ran all the official notification and process traps, the first we’d heard of the project was in a May 16 City Paper story. 

Needless to say many were caught off guard, but a sizable group of residents from the surrounding area scrambled to get up to speed on it following a presentation the design team made at the June 1 USNA meeting.

Team Wallach has been through this fire drill once before with JBG’s proposed 10 story, 250 room ’boutique hotel’ around the corner at 13th and U – a different development, yet the same concerns: massing, scale, height, parking, traffic, trash and process.  Hardly NIMBYs, the residents welcome development on both sites – meaningful projects that would rid the immediate neighborhood of two eyesore, non-contributing bunkers.  Adding to our interest is the fact that two award-winning architects have signed onto the projects. 

Like we did with JBG and architect David Schwarz, we invited Level 2’s David Franco and Colbert to a block meeting to share our concerns and hopes.  It was a cordial meeting; Franco and Colbert were both generous with their time and receptive to our thoughts. Then it was up to HPRB to weigh in. Weigh in they did.

Wallachzilla?

Six of the eight Board members attended the meeting to see and hear Mr. Colbert’s presentation.  After he was done, 10 Wallach Place residents with anywhere from 10-50 years of hard time on the block addressed the Board with shared concerns.  Unaccustomed as we are to acting en masse during an official preceding, our points of contention dovetailed almost identically with the Board’s. Franco and Colbert were stiff-armed on the proposed plan. The Board was uniformly critical of the project as it now stands.  Whereas the neighbors’ comments focussed mostly the building’s physical characteristics and not aesthetics, Board members were wholly unimpressed with Mr. Colbert’s design:

Elinor Bacon (herself a resident of a Colbert residential building on 14th Street), wanted the ANC to take another look at the project and suggested, “it goes back for a full discussion.” She was curious about the height of other 14th street residential buildings and had a concern that the Level 2 project was, “a huge jump up.” Bacon called Colbert, “the architecture God of 14th Street…  (but the building) doesn’t have that Eric Colbert Magic…”  She suggested he look at the project anew and to come back his “particular magic for the street.”

Joseph Taylor, AIA, said the project is “a long way from being done…  too much height (on Wallach)… some restudy is required for compatibility.”  Taylor had concerns about the project’s windows [Ed. note: What we have here is a failure to fenestrate]. He said the building would look more at home on K Street than 14th.

Maria Casarella, AIA , had basic design issues with the plan and suggested the building have more uniformity with the other 14th street storefronts. “The height has to be studied in a more sensitive way…. (It has a) commercial appearance… looks more K Street than 14th…  reconsider the height and scale more carefully.  In concept, I’m on the fence about approval for it.”

Tersh Boasberg, asked for an audit on the buildings on 14th between P and W Streets, with data on heights and turning corners, “especially onto smaller streets.  He said, “The front as it presents itself is boxy and very ordinary… This one is a failure of imagination… The set backs are not sufficient and look pasted on… I have a lot of problems with the 6th and 7th floors… I would not vote to approve it as is.”

Chris Landis, AIA, was brief in his remarks telling Franco and Colbert to, “Reset and come back…” Landis said that not everyone was going to be “totally happy,” telling the Wallach residents that what ultimately goes up, “won’t be a 3 story building.”  [Disclosure: Chris Landis and his brother Ethan’s firm renovated our townhouse in 2001].

Catherine Buell, shared concerns with her colleagues and wanted to see the Wallach Place elevation clipped and  something “more creative.”  She admitted Colbert has a “tough job (ahead with) design problems.”  Buell motioned to recommend against approval in concept (Boasberg seconded).  The motion carried unanimously on a voice vote.  She asked the design team to bring in examples of other buildings in the area, restudy the 6th and 7th floors, the Wallach Place elevation and setbacks.

Yum's? Yuck!

The beautiful building on that site was razed in 1970 and the riot-proof pillbox that took its placein 1988 can’t go away soon enough.  We’re willing to help with demo.  Gladly.

There’s new optimism that the site will showcase a much improved building than what was first proposed.  Maybe NIMBY now stands for ‘Nicer In My Back Yard.’

L -> R: Steve Callcott, Staff Director and Board members Boasberg, Buell and Bacon listen to residents of Wallach Place

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