Heating Plant Condos: Back to the Drawing Board?

After more than five years of reviews regarding the proposed conversion of the long-abandoned West Heating Plant on 29th and K Streets in Georgetown into a 60-unit luxury condo complex, the plans approved six months ago by the Commission on Fine Arts were sent back to the drawing board once again on April 26 at what was described as “a roller-coaster Historic Preservation Review Board hearing.” The developers may appeal to the mayor for a special designation.

A seemingly endless line of architectural and historical experts appear to be conflicted about how the plant should be styled. On the one hand, the CFA called for a less “literal” building and a less “suburban” park. On the other hand, Marnique Heath, who chairs the Historic Preservation Review Board, recommended at the hearing that the design “speak to the character of an industrial building in a way that allows for the ideas of the industrial building to still be there, some of the character to remain, but allows for, one, reinterpretation of those ideas, and two, room for this new residential use.”

Such reviews have led internationally acclaimed architects David Adjaye and Laurie Olin to substantially reconfigure the building and park designs several times for the project developers, the Georgetown Company, the Levy Group and the Four Seasons. Their last iteration had the support of the CFA and various Georgetown community organizations, but was repudiated by the Office of Planning and historic preservation directives — especially after the site was designated, post-review, a historic landmark.

The review board also expressed regret that it had not seen the design before the CFA, criticizing it nonetheless, stating that “the layering effect of the design could be somewhat simplified” and “the horizontality of the balconies disrupted the verticality of the overall design.” The board did approve the building’s height, stating that “the applicant had justified its case for constructing a 110-foot-tall building” — the same height of the existing building, which is not however compatible with the (later imposed) Georgetown Historic District standards.

“I think the building has to go through a reinterpretation and significant modification to make it appropriate for residential use regardless of how we move forward, so I think some leeway should be given there,” Heath said.

It is now expected that the designers, rather than amending the design once again, will apply for a hearing with the Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation to be given a “special merit” designation, allowing the project to move forward.


One comment on “Heating Plant Condos: Back to the Drawing Board?”

  • Walter Groszyk says:

    This article is confusing.

    The Mayor’s Agent is the only entity in the District of Columbia who can approve an application for a demolition permit for a contributing building in a historic district. The West Heating Plant is such a building. The Mayor’s Agent does so after a public hearing, taking testimony from proponents and opponents of the requested demolition permit.

    Before the Mayor’s Agent can conduct such a hearing, the Historic Preservation Review Board, as a procedural matter, must first reject the application as not being consistent with DC Historic Preservation law. That’s what the Board voted on April 26th.

    At its hearing, the Board approved a proposed subdivision plan for the property, and accepted three of five recommendations prepared by the DC Historic Preservation Office with respect to the general concept design. There is no further review by the Board of the proposed project before the Mayor’s Agent conducts his hearing.

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