In a decision dated Jan. 11, the Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation conditionally cleared the permit for Georgetown 29K Acquisition LLC to partially demolish the abandoned six-story, yellow-brick West Heating Plant at 1051-55 29th St. NW due to the “special merit” of the project proposed for the two-acre site, adjacent to the C&O Canal near the Georgetown waterfront.
The decision removes an obstacle to the developer’s controversial plan to build a 10-story, high-end condominium building designed by David Adjaye, lead architect of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, overlooking a one-acre public park designed by distinguished landscape architect Laurie Olin.
The Mayor’s Agent also recommended that the State Historic Preservation Office accede to the developer’s request that one of the historic preservation covenants in the deed — specifying that alternations need to be consistent with the Secretary of the Interior’s preservation standards — be modified.
The signatories on the decision were Mayor’s Agent Hearing Officer J. Peter Byrne and Mayor’s Agent’s Designee Malaika A. Scriven.
The Art Moderne-style heating plant, designed by William Dewey Foster, was completed in 1948 and decommissioned in 2000. It is a designated landmark and contributing property to the Georgetown Historic District. The Georgetown 29K Acquisition entity — comprising the Georgetown-based Levy Group, headed by Richard Levy, Four Seasons Hotels and the Georgetown Company of New York — successfully bid $19.5 million for the property at a GSA auction in 2013.
As part of the project, the developer has committed to providing public benefits including documentation of the site’s history, an interpretive exhibit on Georgetown’s industrial heritage, financial support of Georgetown Heritage (the nonprofit working with the National Park Service on restoration of the C&O Canal) and the rehabilitation of the historic Mt. Zion cemetery and a contribution of at least $2.8 million toward affordable housing.
The Commission of Fine Arts recommended approval of the project’s design (the most recent of several iterations) in September of 2017. After reviewing the plans in November of 2017 and April of 2018, the Historic Preservation Review Board, while finding the proposed demolition and design inconsistent with preservation standards, urged the Mayor’s Agent to allow design flexibility.
The application to the Mayor’s Agent was supported by the Citizens Association of Georgetown and Friends of Georgetown Waterfront Park and opposed by the D.C. Preservation League.
The decision states: “In this case, it can hardly be contested that the project is one of special merit because of specific features of land planning and the profusion of important community benefits,” also noting that the West Heating Plant “today is dangerous, toxic, and inaccessible.” Further, “while there surely will be preservation losses from the partial demolition of the [West Heating Plant], they are not as great as they might be for a more significant landmark.”