Housing Complex

Objection to Southwest Development Could Stand Even If Residents Withdraw

The two Pei buildings, straddled by and straddling the three lots where development is proposed.

The developer of three proposed Southwest Waterfront buildings is trying to prevent residents of an existing building on the same site from speaking out against the new development, going so far as to threaten a lawsuit and damages against residents who oppose the plans at an upcoming Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting or take any other actions to hinder the development. The residents have already taken a step to prevent the development, filing for historic landmark status for the existing I. M. Pei-designed buildings.

But if the developer, the Bernstein Companies, has its way and the residents drop their push for landmark designation, the landmarking process would still move forward. That's because, according to the Historic Preservation Office's Steve Callcott, the condo association of Waterfront Tower wasn't the only group to file for landmark designation; the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly also nominated the Pei buildings for landmarking.

"Conceivably if one group withdrew, the other could stand as the sponsor by themselves," says Callcott. "Both are eligible applicants. SWNA is a recognized community organization with preservation within their bylaws."

Callcott says that although the development is not subject to historic preservation review in the absence of landmark designation, Bernstein filed for a "courtesy review" by the Historic Preservation Review Board before the nomination for landmarking was filed, in order to learn whether HPRB thought landmark status would be reasonable. At HPRB's June 27 meeting, Callcott says, both the nomination for landmark status and the project itself will be reviewed.

Callcott says Bernstein representatives met with the Historic Preservation Office yesterday to discuss the project but did not, as he recalled, bring up any legal issues surrounding the residents' ability to try to prevent the development.

Still no word from Bernstein.

Photo via Google Earth

  • ACyclistInTheSuburbs

    of course the IM Pei building could be landmarked, without HRPB buying the argument that this restricts nearby parcels, right?

  • Jes’ sayin’

    Heck, those clowns would landmark a used TV Dinner.

  • http://westnorth.com TANSTAAFL

    Depends -- landmark designation typically applies to the exterior of the building, but can be extended (if the filing says so) to other features inside or outside the building. Just a block north, Potomac Place Tower is a landmark, but that didn't stop two new buildings from replacing its courtyard.

  • http://greatergreaterwashington.org/cavan Cavan

    Just sad. The Preservation Industrial Complex never sleeps. Historic Preservation was an extremly valuable tool during the era of the shrinking city, circa 1946-2000. It prevented the loss of a lot of valuable urban fabric to modernist garbage like the stuff that I.M. Pei and his contemporaries advocated building on top of pre-war townhouse neigborhoods. Historic Preservation was largely kickstarted in our region because of the shock of the wholesale destruction of SW D.C.

    Now that we're in a growing city environment, Historic Preservation has an altogether different role. Its job is to sift through and protect the truly remarkable buildings that provide a sense of place. One example is the Old Post Office building. It's job is not to prevent all new construction where there are currently place mundane parking lots.

    This situation where the Historic Preservationists are now trying to protect the modernist garbage that was built on top of the rubble of an historic townhouse neigborhood that was bulldozed is just plain sad. It's even sadder that they don't really care about adding housing for new residents. No new housing supply. No relaxing of tight supply in the regional housing market.

    All that matters is the Historic Preservation Industrial Complex expanding its ability to wield its own power.

  • sbc

    There is a nearly identical development at 6th & M St. SW, across from Arena Stage, that several years ago got approval to build on the grounds in between the buildings. The construction hasn't happened yet, I don't see how one could be allowed and the other forbidden. Especially since building on both would provide more symmetry (the same way that Carrollsburg and Tiber Island mirror each other on the south side of 4th & M,the two EPA-turned-SkyHouse towers are the same on the north side of 4th and M, etc.

  • shawguy

    Regardless of if they should or shouldn't be landmarked or developed or whatever, Bernstein is cutting off it's nose to spite its face here. After reading this, I would NEVER buy into a Bernstein project - succeed or fail, they've tried to publicly bully owners out of participating in a public process. I'll tell my realtor to steer clear of anything they have their hands on as I continue my search for a new house, and I certainly hope the tenants sue them for decreasing their property values by alienating buyers who don't want their rights to even *talk* about neighboring developments to be met with intimidation and lawsuits. Bad move, Bernstein... Catastrophically stupid PR choice, at a bare minimum...