Sunday, March 15, 2009

More on Proposed U Street Hotel

Images courtesy JBG Cos.

Thursday evening, representatives from the JBG Cos., developers of the planned U Street hotel at 13th and U streets, were on hand to present an overview of the project and answer questions from neighborhood residents.

Although preliminary, the plans for the hotel are impressive. Designed in a style meant to emulate "traditional" DC architecture, the hotel will top out at ten stories and include something in the neighborhood of 250 guest rooms. Other features of the hotel will include:

  • street-level retail, including a locally owned restaurant, a Rite-Aid (which owns a ground lease for the location through 2026), a BB&T bank and other commercial options;
  • an art gallery on the second floor of the hotel devoted entirely to local artists; and
  • a rooftop bar/cafe and fitness club, featuring a swimming pool, both of which will be open to the public.

The presentation by JBG was well-designed, beginning with images of U Street in the early years of the 20th century which showed the history of hotels in the neighborhood, focusing on the since-demolished Dunbar and the (now) apartment building Whitelaw, on 13th Street.

The plan, however preliminary, was not without its detractors. Audience members, when given a chance to comment, voiced concerns ranging from the common and expected (parking) to the odd (the placement of a swimming pool ont he roof). Parking may not be a significant issue, what with the hotel being located dirctly across the street from two Metro lines and JBG's innovative plans for so-called "stacked parking" in the underground garage. It is likely, however, that their plans for the handling of deliveries and service vehicles--through a narrow alleyway entrance--will be problematic and will not doubt be revisit during the permitting phase.

One audience member protested the plans for the hotel by reading from a letter; whether the letter was authored by the reader or someone else was not clear. What WAS clear was this particular member's belief that the hotel, with its planned height of 110 feet (which the audience member deemed would make the structure a "colossus" that would "harm" the neighborhood), should not be allowed to exceed the current by-right allowance of 65 feet.

Some back-and-forth between the audience member and JBG's Matt Valentini ensued, with Valentini asserting that the project would not be "economically feasible" if constrained to the 65 foot limit (it would also significantly detract from the aesthetic integrity of the building, at least in our opinion), and the audience member berating JBG for what he deemed to be pure money-driven "opportunism" in creating a building he felt to be out of proportion for the neighborhood.

The most effective rebuttal to the height argument came when Valentini and architect David Schwarz unveiled a scaled model of the hotel as it would appear along with other currently existing neighborhood buildings. After studying the model for several moments, one audience member asked "which one is the hotel?" A better argument could not be made that the planned structure is not disproportionate--at least from our perspective.

As was noted previously, the current plans at this point are very preliminary, and it was noted that the D.C. Planning Office had not yet received anything with regards to the project. With the anticipated time needed to secure the proper variances and permits for the construction of the hotel, the timelines discussed for completion was construction commencing in 2011, with completion by 2014.

Community residents and other interested parties who wish to view more about the project or make comments are encouraged to visit the CSNA's "U Street Hotel" page, which has links to JBG's presentation as well as numerous images, information and more.

3 comments:

CSNA said...

It would be nice if you mentioned that the presentation took place during the March meeting of the Cardozo Shaw Neighborhood Association (CSNA).

Lots more info online at ustreethotel.csnadc.org

Thank You.

CSNA

SCR said...

The letter represented the combined opinions of the Wallach Place association, a nearby neighborhood group.

And to be clear, the current zoning allowance for that corner is 50 feet, not 65.

I was not aware of any architectural principle that said that a building under 110 feet could not be attractive.

14th & You said...

Small buildings certainly can be attractive. However, not all designs look good at all sizes or in all proportions. In our opinion, the present plans for the building just don't look as appealing in the slightly smaller version that was presented at the CSNA meeting. If the building was forced to scale back to 65 ft. or less, it would most likely have to be redesigned entirely. And, hey, it's very early in the game. That might be a reality.