Housing Complex

NCPC Grumbles About Burnham Place, But May Be All Bark

The current plan, unless Shalom Baranes designs some really excellent buildings.

It's time for the National Capital Planning Commission to weigh in on a new zoning district for the air over the Union Station railroad tracks, and in its staff recommendation, the federal body found that the proposed heights of the new buildings would threaten the city's "horizontal character"–but stopped short of outright condemning the measure outright.

During discussions on the Comprehensive Plan, NCPC made clear that it opposed allowing developer Akridge to measure the heights of the Burnham Place buildings from the H Street bridge (as have local preservation groups). Since December, they agreed with the Office of Planning on language that essentially allows the Zoning Commission to interpret the Height Act as it sees fit. That opens the door for the Zoning Commission to measure heights from the H Street bridge after all, which NCPC still thinks could be detrimental.

"The effect of this will be the creation of uneven building heights in the area and potentially negative impacts to the character of the horizontal city, a character created by the consistent buildings heights established in the Height Act," the staff write. "Allowing this measurement could establish a precedent that would allow similar development out of scale with other areas of the city in the future."

Furthermore: The current plan is for the building heights to step back from Union Station, starting at 90 feet, going to 110 feet, and then the full 130 as allowed by the Height Act. However, if the Zoning Commission determines that the plans architect Shalom Baranes comes up with are of "exceptional architectural quality," they may go 20 feet higher. That, according to NCPC staff, would also create buildings out of scale with their surroundings.

Instead of outright opposing the new zoning district, though, NCPC has simply asked that it be consulted on future steps in the process, just like District agencies would (Akridge will have to go back twice more to get approvals on the uses, materials, and design of the buildings, unless they manage to consolidate the rounds of review). And that has the developer looking on the bright side.

"We're pleased to see that their recommendation includes a request for more input rather than a stronger statement of dissatisfaction or direction to the Zoning Commission to expressly go in a different direction," says Akridge's David Tuchmann.

  • Hillman

    Please please please put in ground floor restaurants and retail that are accessible from the neighborhood.

    Otherwise we get a monolithic walled city.

  • Reid

    Well no matter what, this will only be accessible from H St. or possibly through Union Station. So it won't be particularly accessible from the south or east.

  • Eric

    I want a straight-up explanation from the NCPC telling me EXACTLY why they believe that a variety of building heights would be at all detrimental to the the city--aesthetically, historically, economically. I bet you they would not be able to come up with ONE reason that could stand up to intelligent discussion. Not only that, but I want to know what they think of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, London, Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Moscow (the list goes on and on)--all cities who have been able to increase their aesthetics, urban variety, and economic vibrancy while retaining a larger percentage of their historic buildings than DC has (I suspect, with a great amount of academic and personal experience). And let's add to that what they think of those neighborhoods in DC whose very vibrancy could be attributed to the variety of heights and types of buildings--Dupont Circle, U Street, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, to name just a few.

  • Lydia DePillis

    @Hillman: The new zoning district requires 100% of frontage along H Street NE to be occupied by retail, restaurant, and arts uses.

  • Campy

    @Reid, I'm not so sure about that. Connections at 2nd & I, 2nd & K, and 1st & K are encouraged in the Union Station North zoning language. It is part of the "stage 1" reviewing criteria.

  • Campy

    ...which can be found here:


    "External Connectivity – The development shall provide pedestrian connections in appropriate and feasible locations to surrounding development and surrounding neighborhoods including Union Station, NoMa west of the railroad tracks, and northern Capitol Hill. The application shall indicate the location of all such proposed connections. Connections are especially encouraged near the intersection of 1st and K Streets, N.E., 2nd and K Streets, N.E. and 2nd and Eye Streets, N.E. "

  • Dave B


    Does that apply to the H St bridge? Senate square does not have those things, nor does the new dark gray office building across the street. Did they build before that rule?

  • T


    The retail requirement does in fact refer to the H Street bridge, but the new zone only applies to the air rights lots above the railyard. Someday, this will start to just feel like a hill instead of a barren expressway.

  • JRinDC

    I think it would be interesting to ask DCOP why they basically took a zoning code and plans from a developer and presented them to Zoning COmmission as their own without doing their own independent analysis. DCOP is technically the applicant here and simpling being a conduit for a developer and their architect to create their own zoning for their own project is unethical. Its up to the municipal planning office to do their own, independent analysis. It seems to me that NCPC is the only planning office doing independent analysis of this project....as good of an idea as this project seems to be.

  • T


    That is absolutely false. DCOP has done its own analysis, and participated in over a dozen meetings with the affected ANC. The developer was certainly at some meetings as well, but DCOP took the lead.

  • JRinDC

    Really? Thats good to hear. So when the Zoning Commission, during the hearing, asked for an analysis on how the different measuring points would effect the density of the buildings and how the stepdown appraoch would affect Union Station- DCOP did their own analysis? As in there are sheets available that DON'T have an Akridge/Shalom Barones stamp on them? Thats great to hear. Can you let me know where I can see them? I think DCOP makes all of their reports available on line somewhere. And, the sheet at the top of this article is from Shalom Barones/Akridge. The logo has been chopped off. Thanks.

  • T


    I assume you're being a facetious ass, but I'll bite. DCOP did a lot of independent analysis and work on the zoning language, but did farm out most of the calculations and drawings to Akridge. The figures you are specifically asking about were requested of Akridge directly by the ZC. The ANC also asked Akridge to create many figures and documents as well.