Housing Complex

N Street Follies Headed for Penultimate Hurdle

The backs of the townhouses, where a new hotel may rise. (Lydia DePillis)

The backs of the townhouses, where a new hotel may rise. (Lydia DePillis)

A bank of townhouses on N Street has sat, bricked up, for over a decade now. Since 2005, developer Morton Bender has been working on turning his “N Street Follies” into a boutique hotel, but his case was originally dismissed by the Board of Zoning Adjustment, and then rejected by the Historic Preservation Review Board.

Bender came back last year with a scaled-down proposal: 98 rooms instead of 110, and a five-story addition in the back of the townhouses that would no longer be visible from the street. This design would only require a special exception from the BZA, rather than the several variances it had earlier sought, and the Office of Planning recommended approval—that decision will come down June 8th.

Today, then, is the second-to-last hurdle before Bender may finally find himself in the clear: A final vote by the Historic Preservation Review Board. This time, things are looking up for the slow-moving project. The Historic Preservation Office staff report found that the architect’s modifications better fit the context of the block, making the proposed massing at the back—which rises to 72 feet at its highest–“not unprecedented” for that area. While advising that the penthouse be reduced in size, the report also recommended approval.

The changes, however, don’t help the Tabard Inn, which has been fighting Bender’s proposal with all its might. In March, the 88-year-old hotel presented a battery of exhibits demonstrating how the massive potential neighbor would block the sunlight in its courtyard restaurant, which received a sympathetic treatment in today's Post.

“Not only is the Historic Preservation Office being quite arbitrary in its logic for what portions of the building should be torn down, they’re basically sacrificing one of the most unique historic hotels in the United States,” Jeremiah Cohen, the Tabard’s owner, told Housing Complex. “I’m just mystified by the recommendation.”

On May 11th, the Dupont Circle Conservancy decided to support the revised designs, but requested that the eastern elevation—the part next to the Tabard—be stepped down to help with the sunlight situation.

Councilmember Jack Evans has also gone to bat for the Tabard, submitting letters to both the HPRB and the BZA arguing that Bender’s design is out of keeping with the Dupont Circle Overlay, which he helped develop as chair of ANC 2B in the early 1990s. That zoning designation was meant to apply to all significant projects that would be out of keeping with the character of the neighborhood, he writes—but the Office of Planning now interprets it as only applying to large Planned Unit Developments.

For this reason, Cohen finds the implications of HPO’s report troubling in a larger sense.

“There was a sense of protection from stuff like this, because we felt like we could keep investing in the Tabard, turning it in to the great hotel that it is,” he says. “But what’s happened just now, is that the Office of Planning is now challenging the efficacy of the Dupont Circle Overlay. They’ve basically interpreting the statutes in the most minimal way possible.”

Bender was evicting the last of the tenants in the N Street townhouses in 1996. Why has the famously litigious developer been able to take so much time with his designs and appeals? It has certainly helped that he secured dramatic tax relief in 2008 from the Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals. Rather than the real value of $3.52 million, documents show, his property is now assessed at $1.4 million, making it a lot cheaper to keep the properties empty.

Meanwhile, the budget for the proposed hotel has remained a mystery.

“Our client keeps his numbers close to his chest,” said architect Anton Janezich. “He just simply told us, if it’s over, I’ll let you know."

CLARIFICATION, 10:45 a.m. Below is an earlier sketch drawn up by the Tabard Inn's consultants. Janezich says it is not representative of the current design plan.

N.B., Friday, 2:45 p.m. Janezich's partner Stan Andrulis has notified Housing Complex that they will not be releasing any renderings of the hotel. "Our client has asked that we not make that information public," he says.

tabard

Comments

  1. #1

    Lydia DePillis,

    That is not the image of anything designed by the architects. I have seen images of the N Street Follies Hotel. I bet it is a contrived image commissioned by the Tabard Inn to support their claim. If that is indeed the case, you may have misrepresented the project by falsely claiming this image is part of the project design authored by the architectural firm. Perhaps it would be fair to state where you got that ridiculous image from.

    Henry

  2. #2

    Henry,

    You're right, that image was drawn up by the Tabard Inn's consultants, and it was an error on my part not to correctly attribute it. I will post a rendering from the architects very soon.

    Thanks,

    Lydia DePillis

  3. #3

    Hey Mort!, you forgot to pay people off!

  4. #4

    I'm the person who developed the model in the article image. This model is not "contrived". The massing is virtually identical the model provided by the applicant's Architects. This model was built based on their submitted floor plans and their stated heights, and has not been formally contested by the applicant's Architects. It was used to generate shadow studies, and to provide alternate viewpoints of the proposed structure.

  5. #5

    I'm the person who developed the model in the article image. This model is not "contrived". The massing is virtually identical the model provided by the applicant's Architects. This model was built based on their submitted floor plans and stated heights. It was used to generate shadow studies, and to provide alternate viewpoints of the proposed structure.

  6. #6

    That rendering doesn't look bad at all to me, scale and massing-wise. Only in DC do people get all NIMBY-ish about 5-10 story buildings! In just about every other city on the planet, densities and building heights are higher. Smart growth needs density to work, and DC is a long ways from Boston or Philly density, let alone New York and other great world cities.

  7. #7

    Just saw the addition that the Follies group won't be releasing the renderings. It's pretty rotten to refuse to release drawings which they've shown in fully public meetings to the Dupont Circle ANC, Board of Zoning Adjustment, and Historic Preservation Review Board.

    I'm still eager for the long-promised Office of Zoning system to put filings online. If a project is filed with the government for a zoning special exception or variance, or for historic review, it should be online for anyone to see and write about.

  8. #8

    David,

    Agreed! And DCRA inspection reports, too!

    Lydia

  9. #9

    On Thursday, 27 May The District of Columbia Historic Preservation Review Board concluded, by unanimous voice vote, that the amount and extent of demolition and alteration requested by the architects for the five contributing buildings that are a part of their N Street Follies hotel project in the Dupont Circle Historic District was acceptable to them. Very interesting.

  10. #10

    Hi Lydia,
    I thought that your article was discussing a public hearing. So how am I to assume that somehow the Follies Group is keeping drawings from anyone? The design drawings are public record and available to anyone who wants them....so what are you waiting for? Go get them…Robert got them.

    Hi Robert?
    So you have done your own drawing of this project shown in the article? Then you claim your unattractive drawing represents the project design for whatever reason that might be. Do you know what “virtually identical” means to me? It means “contrived.” Why didn’t you just use the drawing you stated were provided by the applicant’s architect rather than creating one of your own? Was it because your client the Tabard Inn wanted something a bit more ridiculous to support their ridiculous claim? Finally, are you an architect?

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