Housing Complex

Can Anyone Develop An Empty Georgetown Lot?

The minds of Georgetowners. (Rendering by PGN Architects)

On the quaint, narrow corner of Grace Street and Cecil Place in Georgetown, there's a fenced-off gravel lot that seems out of character with the surrounding townhouses. It's owned by G.M. Steinbraker & Sons, a third-generation contracting firm that operates out of a workshop down the street, and property records don't indicate that anything's ever been built there.

Last year, the firm found a developer for the lot: Willco Residential, which was going to build seven luxury condominiums on the lot, with a height of 45 feet and off-site parking. Nearby residents thought the design was too outlandish, and shot it down. Next came Valor Development, which is active all over the city, with a design for nine small units. They backed out at the beginning of February, saying that they couldn't come to terms with the seller on a due diligence period that would give them enough time to work through resident objections and the Old Georgetown Board, a federally-appointed panel that reviews the neighborhood's development projects. The area's ANC Commissioner, Bill Starrels, doesn't seem willing to budge: "It is better-suited for a few townhouses or a smaller building," he said.

The most recent proposal comes from Capital City Real Estate, another prolific infill condo builder, which has the lot under contract and plans a seven-condo design that at least includes an entrance on Grace Street (the previous ones had a blank wall). Yet again, it ran into objections, getting rejected by the Advisory Neighborhood Commission earlier this week. Capital City hadn't been as good about presenting their idea to the neighbors, who fired off a letter opposing the density earlier this week. A section reads:

During previous conversations over many months, the neighborhood has expressed support for the idea of three or four rowhouses simiar to the ones on Cecil Place (except perhaps higher than the existing rowhouses) instead of a multi-story condominium building for this small site. In addition to the preferred aesthetic qualities of rowhouses and their consistency with the setting, the neighbors feel that the resulting negative impacts would be much less than a large building with seven condominiums that are most likely going to be attractive to at least 14 non-related tenants.

Non-related tenants? Read: Students. The neighbors are afraid investors will buy up the units and rent them to Georgetown's trust fund babies, which recent experience suggests would obviously be untenable.

Capital City's Anthony Bozzi says they're still planning to move forward with the project, and met with the Old Georgetown Board yesterday, but declined to provide project plans, saying they'd probably be changing in response to the ANC's input. Still, while the design might get more "townhouse-y," he says the economics don't work with fewer units.

The silliest thing about this particular NIMBY spat is that the proposed project isn't out of scale with surrounding buildings; on the other side of the neighboring townhouses is the gigantic and much uglier Waterfront Center. Sure, it's possible that some very wealthy person might come along and build a single-family home on that site, like one did in Ledroit Park after neighbors objected to a condo building.

But is that the highest and best use of land in what real estate values suggest is the most desirable neighborhood in the city?

The lot right now.

  • Skipper

    Ol' Jiggly Jowels strikes again!

  • Jes sayin’

    The ANC does not have statutory power to reject anything except a request by a liquor applicant for a stipulated alcohol license.

    They are an advisory body that can vote to support or oppose, recommend or not recommend, and DC agencies are required - by law - to give them great weight. What that means in real life is that agencies can decide whatever they want to decide, but if they decide against the wishes of the ANC, they simply have to explain why. That's it.

    So to say the ANC "rejected" the proposal implies they actually have the power to turn it down - perhaps forcing the developer to go back to the drawing board. That's not the case. They don't have that power, any more than they and their friends have the power to protect us from shirtless Georgetown students sunning themselves in the front yard.

  • Skipper

    That's laughable. If the Georgetown ANC votes against something, they will make sure Jack Evans, the Mayor, and everyone else in a position of power knows about it. And when they go on a crusade, their mere "great weight" becomes nothing short of a mandate. See, for example, Philly Pizza.

  • DC Guy

    Jeez, what a perfect use for that parcel. Perhaps the ANC would prefer the historic gravel remain in place?

  • RT

    Georgetowners are absurd humans. Such a sense of entitlement... The hilarity is that most of them would have opposed the very places they're living in today.

    My favorite was the lady lambasting college students for having the audicity to sunbath on their property!! Memo to Gtowners- this is NOT Victorian England, nor 17th Century Massachusetts.

  • crin

    Jes Sayin has it exactly right: this article is poor because it implies ANCs have a regulatory power here, but they don't. Tighten up on the facts. Or, do an analysis of the power of ANC recommendations: how often do Boards decide an issue counter to the ANC recommendation. The closer it tips to 0%, the more of a story you have about the "absolute power" of the ANCs. Try it.

  • http://mvjantzen.com/blog/ Michael

    What about Georgetown's most prominent empty space, the parking lot around the bank at Wisconsin & M???

  • Typical DC BS

    Based on the picture, it looks like they don't want to lose some extra off-street parking! These ANC's in the city are a joke.

  • lol

    Good. Now if they could do something about stopping bus service to Georgetown. Too much riff raff sneaking in. It makes the trust-fund kids nervous and interferes with their studies.