Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts
18 May 2006
The meeting was convened in the Commission of Fine Arts offices in the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, N.W, Washington, D.C. 20001, at 10:05 a.m.
National Capital Planning Commission staff present:
Approval of the minutes of the 20 April meeting. The April minutes were circulated to the members in advance of the meeting. The Commission approved the minutes upon a motion by Ms. Nelson and second by Mr. Powell.
Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings: June 15, July 20, and September 21, with no meeting scheduled for August. There were no objections.
Anniversaries. Mr. Luebke noted that this week in May is the 96th anniversary of the Commission's creation and the 76th anniversary of the Shipstead-Luce Act. He said that staff would be working on an appropriate commemoration of the approaching 100th anniversary of the Commission. He also reported that the Commission's book on the 1901 Plan for Washington, edited by Ms. Kohler of the Commission staff, would soon be available.
Report on the National Capital Framework Plan. Mr. Luebke reported on the public announcement the previous day of a new study of central Washington. The National Capital Planning Commission is leading the initiative, with the Commission of Fine Arts as a co-sponsor. The study would protect the Mall and guide the extension of the Monumental Core.
Submissions and Reviews
Consent Calendars. Mr. Luebke introduced the three appendices for Commission action. Drafts of the appendices had been circulated to the Commissioners in advance of the meeting.
Appendix I — Direct Submission Consent Calendar: There were no changes to the draft of the appendix listing one project: a courtyard modification at the Ariel Rios Building in the Federal Triangle. Upon a motion by Ms. Balmori, the Commission adopted the appendix.
Appendix II — Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Penhoet reported that there were several changes to the draft appendix: three projects were added, with one on East Beach Drive involving a negative recommendation. Upon a motion by Ms. Balmori, with second by Ms. Zimmerman, the Commission adopted the revised appendix.
Additional submissions under the Shipstead-Luce Act were considered later on the agenda.
Appendix III — Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Martínez reported that there were several changes to the draft appendix. Several projects were added that were in conformance to previous actions and recommendations. He noted that the applicant for 3100 Dumbarton Street, N.W., a house alteration, had asked to address the Commission concerning the negative recommendation, and had also just decided to reduce the scope of the proposed alterations. In response to Mr. Powell, Mr. Martínez said that the Old Georgetown Board had reviewed the original submission but had not reviewed the newly proposed revision. Mr. Powell suggested that the Old Georgetown Board review the revised submission before consideration by the Commission.
Andi Adams, an architectural historian representing the applicant, explained the revised submission to the Commission. She said that in response to the Old Georgetown Board's recommendations, the proposal for a garage was withdrawn, and the proposed two-story porch was modified to a one-story porch. She characterized the revision as a removal of portions of the submission rather than a new design. Mr. Powell, Mr. Belle, and Ms. Nelson reiterated that the revised submission should first be reviewed by the Board, and Ms. Adams agreed to follow this procedure. Upon a motion by Mr. Rybczynski, with second by Ms. Balmori, the Commission adopted the revised appendix, with the removal of the project at 3100 Dumbarton Street, N.W.
CFA 18/MAY/06-1, National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum (Old Patent Office Building). 7th and F Streets, N.W. Courtyard landscape. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 16/MAR/06-2) Mr. Luebke introduced the project, explaining that the design concept had been revised in response to the Commission's concerns when it was reviewed in March. The design's built forms and plantings were simplified; the catering stations were eliminated, and the paving pattern and water feature were revised. He then introduced Sheila Burke, Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the Smithsonian.
Ms. Burke recalled the Commission's request in March that the landscape be simplified, given the historic character of the building, the dramatic roof enclosure, and the overall courtyard design. Second, it was requested that the catering benches be removed, and third, that the scale and composition of the water scrims and the planters be reevaluated. Ms. Burke said the revised concept included changes in all these elements: there had been a reduction in the number of different materials used, especially the metals; the number of plant species had been reduced; and the paving pattern had been revised to deemphasize the east-west bias and strengthen the north-south axis so that there was less linearity. The catering benches had been removed, and the water scrim had been recomposed as four individual panels. She added that they had brought a material palette board for the members to inspect, and then introduced architect Dan Sibert from Foster & Partners to answer questions.
Mr. Sibert said that responding to the Commission's comments had been an interesting experience and he thought the design had developed considerably in the reevaluation. He said the space was not broken up as it had been before and the strong east-west bias had been reduced; the paving pattern had been reexamined and the placement of large and small, light and dark granites changed so as to emphasize the north-south axis; the water scrim had been broken up into four sections to reduce its dominant east-west orientation. To detract further from the east-west dominance, the metal grilles along the edges of the water scrims would be replaced by stones with holes drilled through them, allowing the water to fall through into a grille below. A similar example was pointed out at the National Museum of the American Indian. Mr. Siebert said they did not want to reduce the amount of water further as he thought the background noise of falling water was important to the sense of tranquility in the courtyard.
Landscape architect Rodrigo Abela from Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd. then played a video showing the water scrim with the proposed 1/4 inch of water flowing over the stone so that the members could hear the sound of the water. Mr. Belle asked if there had been any problems with the firm's similar installation in Seattle; Mr. Abela said there had been an occasional back-flow of water causing puddling in the back, but a second drain had taken care of that problem. Regarding night lighting, Mr. Siebert said they were in the process of developing their proposals; he said they were looking at the ability to transform the courtyard at night into a sequence of rooms by using light. There were further questions about light, use of energy, and the color of the air-distribution towers which Mr. Sibert said would continue to be made of stainless steel but would now be a slightly silvery color rather than grey.
Mr. Abela then discussed the trees and other plantings. As with other items in the courtyard, there had been an effort here to simplify, to reduce the number and the kinds of species. He said there were essentially two levels of plantings, the trees and the understory level. There were two very large trees planned to flank the building's south apse. These would be ficus rugibinosa and would be about 28 feet high. The main trees would be Bucida Buceras, a black olive called "Shady Lady," and Michelia wilsonii, which would be about 20 feet high. On the ground level there would be a variety of shrubs, but not so many that it looked like a jungle, as one member had commented previously. One of the main shrubs would be primarily pittosporum in several varieties, exhibiting different leaf sizes and shapes and different shades of green. On the south side, where there would be more shade, ferns would be used for variety. He also showed several varieties of taller shrubs that would be introduced occasionally.
Mr. Sibert showed some drawings of the landscaping as it would look with people in the courtyard spaces. Then he showed material samples— fritted glass, a black and a grey granite for the paving, and white Greek marble for the single large stone plinth in the line of the north side planters which would be used as a meeting place or perhaps for a speaker in the case of lectures or performances. The planters would all double as seating benches. Mr. Sibert clarified that the black granite would be used as a base for the water scrim.
Several members praised the design revisions. Upon a motion by Mr. Rybczynski, with second by Ms. Zimmerman, the Commission approved the revised concept design.
Department of the Treasury / U.S. Mint
CFA 18/MAY/06-2, 2007 Presidential One Dollar Coin Program. Designs for the initial four First Spouse $10 gold coins and bronze medals: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Jefferson (an emblem of Liberty), and Dolley Madison. (Previous: CFA 16/MAR/06-8, first four Presidential coins.) Ms. Kohler introduced the project, explaining that the Mint was back again for the second item in the Presidential coin series: the $10 gold bullion coins representing the First Spouses. In addition, there would be a duplication of the designs in bronze medals which would use the same designs as the gold coins but without the inscriptions—"E Pluribus Unum", "Liberty", and "In God We Trust"—required for the coins. The medals will provide the general public a chance to own these tributes to the first spouses in a less expensive form. Ms. Kohler asked Kaarina Budow of the U.S. Mint to make the presentation.
Ms. Budow said the obverse of these coins would bear the name and likeness of the first spouse; the years that the person was the spouse of a president during his period of service; and a number indicating the order of the period of service in which the president served. In the case of a president who served without a spouse, the image would be emblematic of the concept of liberty as represented on a United States coin of the same period.
For ease of presentation, Ms. Budow showed all the obverse designs for each spouse together on one slide, including the medal designs. She began with the five choices for Martha Washington and asked for comments. Ms. Balmori thought designs #1 and #5 were the best, and Mr. Belle and Mr. Rybczynski favored #5. Ms. Zimmerman did not like the template on #1; other members concurred. Ms. Budow recalled that the Commission had recommended a simple, standard template for all the Presidential coin designs and might want to do the same with this series. Commission members also criticized the way "1st" was written, using numerals, especially when it was not followed by the word "presidency", making the reason for it unclear. Mr. Belle commented that another reason for choosing #5 was that it was the only design that showed Martha Washington in the traditional cap, thus setting her in her historical period; the other designs showed a woman who could have come from almost any historical period. Mr. Powell moved that #5 be accepted as the Commission's choice with a little more work done on the portrait to give Martha more elegance. Mr. Belle seconded the motion, which carried unanimously.
For Abigail Adams the unanimous choice was #4, but not with the template shown; again, the simplicity of the template shown in #2 was preferred, not just for this portrait but for all the obverse designs.
As Jefferson did not have a spouse while he was president, he was represented by a version of Liberty as it appeared on a coin issued during his presidency. Design #3 was unanimously preferred, with Mr. Belle commenting that it best captured Jefferson's spirit.
Design #4 was the preference for Dolley Madison, using template #2.
Before proceeding to the reverse designs, Ms. Budrow asked what the Commission would prefer, as the inscriptions were concerned, when a president had more than one wife during his presidency. The recommendation was that a coin should be issued for each wife, and the dates should cover just the period each was first lady; the number of his presidency would remain the same.
Turning to the reverse designs, Ms. Budow noted that the members had been sent three narratives for possible themes for each of the reverse designs. For Martha Washington, the themes were her concern for the well-being of the Continental troops, her inspection of the first coinage of the United States Mint, and her tradition of welcoming the public on New Year's Day. The members discussed design #2, which showed Mrs. Washington sewing buttons on her husband's uniform, and design #6, a scene at Valley Forge. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell, with second by Ms. Zimmerman, the Commission decided to recommend design #2.
For Abigail Adams, the themes were her love for learning and the aid she gave to her husband in formulating his ideas and policies; the political insight and valuable counsel she gave him in the letters she wrote during their long separations; and lastly, her gift of some of the family's personal tableware to be melted down for ammunition for the ill-equipped Continental soldiers. Ms. Balmori preferred either design #1 or #2, which showed her personal attributes rather than some kind of service she performed. It was unanimously agreed to recommend #2.
Thomas Jefferson's first narrative concerned praise for his expertise with the written word; the second identified him with the design of Monticello; and the third with the University of Virginia, particularly with his design for the library or Rotunda. The unanimous decision was to recommended design #5, his drawing for the Rotunda, because it was a tribute to his ability as an architect.
Dolley Madison's first narrative concerned her abilities as a sophisticated and charming hostess; her second narrative was devoted to her act of patriotism in saving the Cabinet papers and Gilbert Stuart's portrait of Washington just prior to the burning of the White House by British soldiers; her third narrative told of her concern for the residents of the city's poorest districts and for its orphans. The choice of the Commission was design #3, which showed her with the painting and the Cabinet papers.
Department of Defense / Department of the Army
CFA 18/MAY/06-3, Bakers Creek Air Crash Memorial Marker. Temporarily displayed at the Australian Embassy, 1601 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. until final location is determined. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the project, a small granite marker commemorating the Bakers Creek air crash, a military air disaster that took place in McKay, Australia, during World War II. He explained that the memorial marker has already been constructed and was being offered as a gift to the Secretary of the Army, who was requesting the Commission's advice on its acceptance. The marker's permanent location was not yet determined and it is being displayed temporarily in front of the Australian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue until a permanent location is found. He said that staff had suggested that sites at Fort McNair or Fort Myer be considered. Mr. Lindstrom introduced Professor Robert Cutler of the Bakers Creek Memorial Association, sponsors of the memorial.
Before Professor Cutler's remarks, Mr. Powell commented that the design appeared to be straightforward. Upon a motion by Mr. Rybczynski, with second by Ms. Nelson, the Commission approved the design. Mr. Powell then asked Professor Cutler to provide more background information on the historical event. Professor Cutler described the circumstances leading to the crash which claimed forty lives and was kept secret for fifteen years. He provided the Commissioners with a small piece of the Queensland pink granite that was used for the memorial's construction, given as a gift from the Australian government. He suggested that a location in Arlington National Cemetery or Fort Myer would be appropriate, and commented that the marker was of modest size and did not require a prominent location. The Commission members thanked him for the presentation and asked the staff to continue to advise on the permanent location of the marker.
U.S. Department of Agriculture / U.S. National Arboretum
CFA 18/MAY/06-4, U.S. National Arboretum, Fern Valley (Native Plant Collection). New entrance to the Fern Valley exhibit area and improvements to its trail system. Concept. Mr. Martínez introduced the presentation, explaining the location of the site in reference to other features of the Arboretum. He then introduced Dr. Thomas Elias, director of the Arboretum, and his team of consultants.
Dr. Elias described the Fern Valley as a 16-acre natural woodland set along a seasonal stream inside the Arboretum. Many years ago, an informal path was built though the woodland; improvements are now proposed to accommodate increased visitation and improve accessibility. The main concept is to create a completely new entrance in the ellipse-shaped area of the valley while extending the "Flowering Tree Walk" constructed last year so that it connects to the improved Fern Valley. Other components would include a new system of paths, bridges, signs and benches to give a unified look to the site as a whole.
The landscape architects, David Patterson and Steve Kelly, presented more details of the proposal. Mr. Patterson said that one design goal was to create something that has only a light touch on the environment, being as sensitive as possible to the existing plants and wildlife. Currently, visitors tend to drive their cars between different collections at the Arboretum. With a new system of paths, visitors would more easily be able to walk among exhibits and fully enjoy the outdoor experience. Mr. Patterson then explained some of the topography surrounding the area and how they wish to make use of it. There are a few knolls that overlook the site; new paths and a bridge were proposed to encourage visitors to reach the knolls and enjoy the views of the valley and the Capitol Columns.
Mr. Kelly explained the goal of increased accessibility to as much of the Arboretum's plant collections as possible. The entrance would be relocated; the path system would be reorganized toward the new entrance with connections to the native plants collection, currently being renovated, and the eastern part of the Arboretum. Bridges and boardwalks would be added or improved to provide a more widely accessible circulation system. Existing paths would be improved whenever possible, with a new unpaved surface of stone dust which would be sufficiently stable to be accessible for wheelchair users. Minor adjustments to grades and cross-grades would be made where necessary. In the steeper parts of the valley, a fully accessible path is not feasible to construct and existing paths and stairs would remain with minor improvements. New signage would encourage people to visit the collections. New benches would have a more consistent design throughout the area. To improve safety, an existing storage shed would be rebuilt in a more visible location.
Mr. Belle asked Mr. Kelly to clarify the difference between the existing and proposed paths. Mr. Kelly explained that most of the paths are currently composed of crushed stones, but the stones are too large to make the surface stable enough for some visitors. The proposal was to take the same stone that exists now and have it crushed more finely. Other paths with a dirt surface would also be resurfaced with the finely crushed stone.
In response to Ms. Nelson, Mr. Kelly said that only a couple of new signs would be installed. Ms. Balmori noted that the signs look very heavy, and that with such a delicate environment of plants, a similarly delicate sign would be more appropriate. Mr. Kelly replied that the Arboretum might have the signs and maintenance shed designed by the person who is creating the benches and the boardwalk railings. He noted that this person has already created many railings in New York's Central Park. Ms. Balmori supported this proposal.
Ms. Nelson, Ms. Balmori, and Mr. Belle asked about the kiosks that would be replaced. Mr. Kelly clarified that there were two kiosks, one for visitor information and one for storage of maintenance tools; these would be relocated to similar new structures which had not yet been designed in detail. Ms. Balmori asked that the Commission have the opportunity to review the design of these structures as part of a future submission.
Ms. Zimmerman praised the design, and Mr. Powell commented on the beauty of the area. Mr. Kelly reiterated the intention to improve accessibility without harming its beauty. Upon a motion by Mr. Rybczynski, with second by Ms. Zimmerman, the Commission approved the concept design.
General Services Administration
CFA 18/MAY/06-5, Frances C. Perkins Building, Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Perimeter security along Constitution Avenue frontage. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA-16/FEB/06-4.) Mr. Lindstrom introduced the project, which involved alternative designs for providing a vehicular security barrier at the Department of Labor's monumental entrance staircase along Constitution Avenue. He noted that the Commission had reviewed a proposal in February and had asked GSA to return with alternative designs. Mr. Lindstrom then introduced Don Gangloff of Oudens+Knoop Architects to present the alternatives for a revised concept.
Mr. Gangloff showed plans, elevations, and perspectives of six different options for placing barriers at the staircase, using various combinations of planters and stone blocks; he also showed the original proposal that was reviewed in February. The Commission members discussed various other positions and sizes for the blocks, planters, and bollards, commenting on the difficulty of providing security without creating a massive structure.
Mr. Gangloff clarified that there are two existing blocks on the upper portion of the stairs to discourage cars from veering off the upper driveway, but these were not positioned to meet modern security requirements; he agreed that these blocks could be removed. Ms. Balmori suggested relocating these blocks to a lower portion of the stairs. Mr. Belle expressed a preference for the options that would provide new planting beds, in order to soften the entrance; additionally, a central planting area would divide the staircase into two areas, corresponding to the building's two entrance doors above and improving the design coherence of the entrance area. Ms. Zimmerman said there was no good solution. Mr. Powell suggested that the simplest solution would be best; the members concluded that alternative #3 would be simplest, but it resulted in too much of the staircase being interrupted. Mr. Gangloff suggested alternative #6 and noted that the planter on the upper flight of stairs could be removed from the design.
A representative of the Department of Labor, Ken McGrillis, said that the Secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao, had reviewed the alternatives and had expressed a preference for the scheme submitted in February. Mr. McGrillis said that the Secretary's preference was based on retaining the staircase's open character as much as possible, retaining the flagpoles and blocks at the top of the stairs, and using elements that replicated existing features of the staircase. He said that any of the alternatives would satisfy the Department's security requirements.
Mr. Rybczynski made a motion, seconded by Ms. Zimmerman, to approve alternative #6 with removal of the upper planter. Mr. Powell acknowledged the Secretary of Labor's preference for the original proposal, but noted that this design had been fully discussed by the Commission in February. There were only three votes in favor and the motion failed.
Ms. Nelson commented that the Secretary of Labor knew the building well and that the various alternatives did not seem to be providing a better solution than the original proposal seen in February. Upon a motion by Ms. Nelson, with second by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission approved the proposal from February.
CFA 18/MAY/06-6, Lafayette Building (Export-Import Bank Building). 811 Vermont Avenue, N.W. Building modernization, alterations, perimeter security barriers, and streetscape improvements. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced Michael McGill from GSA to begin the presentation. Mr. McGill said the Lafayette Building housed both the Export-Import Bank and part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, headquartered across the Street on Vermont Avenue. He said the 1940 building had historic status and had never been modernized; GSA's present plans were to carry out a thorough modernization program to upgrade its systems, restore its historic finishes, and add a perimeter security system. He asked Bob Perry from DMJM Architects to make the presentation, noting that their landscape architect and historic preservation architect were present to answer questions.
Mr. Perry observed first that the building was in a very prominent location; it faced the White House, Lafayette Square and McPherson Square. It was the original home of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which was prominent during World War II. He discussed the design team's extensive research on the restoration and modernization issues, particularly regarding the question of repair or replacement of the windows. He showed photos of spalled and chipped stone and corroded metal, and said their intention was to bring the facade back to its original condition. He said the windows were important because GSA was obliged to provide some blast protection in them as well as better thermal resistance to both heat and cold. He showed photos of a restored original window which would have a storm window behind to provide the thermal and blast protection, and of a replacement window made to resemble the original as closely as possible. He said they were still carrying out infiltration tests on each kind and trying to understand the effects of the aesthetic differences between the two.
The roof of the building was another important issue, since there had been many alterations to it over time. He pointed them out on drawings, explaining how they would be modified to clean up the appearance of the roof.
Mr. Perry mentioned some of the plans for the interior—preserving a lot of the historic corridors, the lobbies, and two historic primary spaces on the upper floors, including the director's office on the 12th floor. There was also a boardroom and a two-story conference room that would be restored.
Mr. Perry then discussed the perimeter security plans for each street, noting that there were different options for Vermont Avenue and 15th Street. H and I Streets would have a standard installation of bollards at the curb, placed between tree boxes and hardened street lamps. At the intersection of I Street and Vermont Avenue, the bollards would not follow the curb but would cut across the expanded sidewalk area, following the line of the avenue. There would be a similar treatment at the corner at H Street and Vermont Avenue, where the line of bollards would run parallel to the line of the building, which was sliced off at the corner, as a means of addressing Lafayette Square and leaving an extensive corner sidewalk area unobstructed for pedestrians.
Mr. Perry then discussed the bollard system on Vermont Avenue, where the main entrance to the building was located. Generally, the bollard system would be the same as on H and I Streets, but the entrance would be emphasized by installing new black granite paving instead of the District's standard grey pavers. Two standard double-globe D.C. streetlights would flank the entrance, and the bollards across the entrance would be simple black granite. Hardened planters would be placed on either side of the entrance, and the original planters back at the building face would remain, although not as security elements.
For 15th Street, where the sidewalk was exceptionally wide, two schemes were shown. One had the usual bollards at the curb edge; the other placed hardened planters filled with flowering trees down the middle of the sidewalk. Even if the curb location for security elements were chosen, there could be a middle planting strip. Mr. Perry noted the retail shops along the 15th Street frontage, an unusual feature for a government building.
Mr. Perry then discussed several options for the bollard design. The first was a simple black granite bollard to match the face of the building; the second was also black but with a slightly flatter piece at the top, perhaps made of a different material. The last was a slightly tapered bollard of stone or metal with a simple metal top and a reveal to recall a standard column organization. When asked which option he preferred, Mr. Perry said he would probably go with the metal cylinder because it would be smaller in diameter than the granite version, and he would prefer a flattened rather than a rounded top.
Mr. Powell asked the members for their comments and questions. In response to Mr. Belle, Mr. Perry clarified the window design in regard to the required blast protection. Mr. Belle also asked for more detail on the proposed rooftop structures—their function and their visibility from the ground; Mr. Perry said these structures would not be visible from public view. Ms. Zimmerman expressed concern about the extensive repair needed for the limestone surface and whether there would be a problem in matching it. Gunny Harboe, the design team's historic preservation architect, said they had not yet located an exact match but they were confident they could come very close to the original.
Mr. Powell thought the only thing Mr. Perry needed from the Commission at this point was a decision on which security proposal for 15th Street was preferred; the design of two bollards could be looked at more carefully when the next submission was made. Mr. Perry said he would also like the Commission's thoughts on the cadence of security elements on Vermont Avenue—whether to use all bollards or if other elements should be included. Ms. Nelson thought it would be wise to break up the long lines of bollards as much as possible with trees and seating—not the benches shown, with an acrylic seat between two bollards, but something like a granite bench that would be part of the security. Landscape architect Jeff Lee commented that he would like to develop the planting area down the middle of the 15th Street sidewalk using secondary canopy trees that would allow visual access to the shops.
Ms. Balmori was concerned about the large number of planters shown on Vermont Avenue near the entrance. She asked if the planters that were original to the building could be used for security. Mr. Perry said this would place the security perimeter right at the face of the building, which would not be desirable. He added that the sketch shown was not completely accurate.
Upon a motion by Mr. Belle, with second by Ms. Nelson, the Commission approved the concept with a request to see further details of the points spoken about regarding the elevation, streetscape, and mechanical equipment, and with the 15th Street security line to be placed toward the middle of the sidewalk rather than near the curb.
District of Columbia Department of Transportation
CFA 18/MAY/06-7, Gallatin Street Maintenance Facility, Gallatin Street and Farragut Place, N.E. New building for street and bridge maintenance operations. Concept. Ms. Penhoet introduced the project which would be located at an existing maintenance yard near the Fort Totten Metrorail station. She noted that the maintenance staff was working in trailers on the site, so the new building would be a useful improvement and was appropriate to its setting. The Commission concurred and approved the concept, with the final review delegated to the staff.
CFA 18/MAY/06-8, D.C. Streetcar Maintenance Facility, South Capitol Street, S.E. (between South Capitol Street and I-295, south of Defense Boulevard). New building. Concept. Ms. Penhoet introduced the project, noting that the Commission had previously reviewed a similar streetcar maintenance facility for WMATA in this vicinity; that project had not been built and the streetcar system would now be operated by the D.C. government.
The Commission members proceeded without hearing the applicant's formal presentation, commenting that the building appeared plain, simple, and honest. Ms. Balmori questioned the design of the one-story portion of the building attached to the large shed structure. Ali Shakeri of the D.C. Department of Transportation explained that this small wing would contain offices, while the main structure would have three large bays to accommodate streetcars undergoing maintenance. Ms. Zimmerman suggested that the one-story wing be redesigned to improve its relationship to the main building and to the adjacent windows. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell, with second by Ms. Nelson, the Commission approved the concept subject to further redesign of the office wing in coordination with the staff, and delegated the final review to the staff.
District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
S.L. 06-087 and S.L. 06-088, 6200 Oregon Avenue, N.W. Knollwood, The Army Distaff Foundation, Inc., 6200 Oregon Avenue, N.W. Building addition, landscaping and retaining walls. Final. (Previous: S.L.05-004 (building additions), October 2004, and S.L. 05-083 (landscaping), October 2005.) Ms. Penhoet introduced the project, a large addition to a residential building for military retirees. She explained that the Commission had previously approved the concept for the addition as well as the final design for an adjacent parking lot and retaining wall. There were some minor changes to the design of the building addition. She introduced the architect, Vernon Feather of SFCS Inc., to present the proposal.
Mr. Feather first oriented the Commission to the site, with Rock Creek Park to the east across Oregon Avenue. The building addition would be on the western part of the property, away from Rock Creek Park, and would generally not be visible from surrounding streets due to the vegetation. He showed the previously approved concept elevations for the building and the proposed final elevations. In response to neighborhood concerns, the building mass was now one floor lower than the adjacent building and stepped down further at the ends of the wings. The facade materials would now include more red brick, matching the adjacent building, and less pre-cast concrete. Windows would be similar to those on the adjacent building, with varying sizes corresponding to the functions within. The lower floor would have skilled-care rooms; the upper floors would have self-contained apartments.
Ms. Zimmerman questioned why the windows were not aligned. Mr. Feather explained that the apparent lack of horizontal alignment was just due to the rendering technique, but the lack of vertical alignment was necessary due to the series of small rooms on the lower floor, compared to the windows corresponding to living rooms and bedrooms for the apartments above. Ms. Balmori and Ms. Nelson concurred with Ms. Zimmerman's concern and suggested that the facade pattern be made more regular and orderly, perhaps by re-grouping the windows and adding blind windows if necessary. In further discussion, Mr. Feather emphasized that the room layout requirements precluded a regular alignment of the windows. Mr. Luebke suggested looking for other solutions such as window surrounds that would accommodate the slightly different window positions while creating an orderly facade.
Mr. Belle commented that the bricks appeared to be simply stacked and suggested that a more complex brick pattern be used. Mr. Feather explained that the brick would be laid in a Flemish bond matching the adjacent building; the illusion of a running bond was due to the rendering and projection equipment. Ms. Balmori questioned the proposal to use a slightly different brick color on the lower floor. Mr. Feather explained that the brick design would match the brick banding pattern on the adjacent building. Mr. Rybczynski supported the use of a different brick for the lower floor, but suggested that this would traditionally be part of an overall base treatment that would include a different type of window pattern, such as narrow slits; as proposed, the windows on the lower floor would be similar to those above, so the result was simply a change in brick color. Mr. Feather explained that the brick on the lower floor would also have a textured surface, unlike the brick above.
The Commission concluded by asking the staff to work with the design team to study the facade organization; final approval was delegated to the staff, with the request that the Commission members be informed of the outcome.
The following two projects were considered jointly:
S.L. 06-089, 1769 North Portal Drive, N.W. New single-family dwelling. Permit.
S.L. 06-084, 1773 North Portal Drive, N.W. New single-family dwelling. Permit.
Ms. Penhoet introduced the projects, which were two adjacent new houses in an area subject to the Shipstead-Luce Act. She explained that the D.C. government had erroneously issued building permits for the houses in 2005 without referring them to the Commission for review. The error was brought to the attention of the Commission staff in December 2005, after construction had begun; the owners then consulted with the Commission staff but no formal request for Commission review was made and therefore construction continued. The neighboring community expressed concern about the projects and the D.C. government has subsequently submitted the projects for Commission review. Ms. Penhoet noted that when comparable cases have arisen in the past, the Commission reviews the projects as if they have not yet been constructed. She noted the presence of the owners and their representatives along with many members of the public who had asked to address the Commission. She introduced Andi Adams, an architectural historian representing Hashim Hassan, the owner of the property at 1769 North Portal Drive.
Ms. Adams explained the background of the site. A house dating from the 1930s and an adjacent undeveloped lot had been jointly owned and treated as one property for many years. In accordance with the D.C. government's subdivision procedures, a recent owner had reconfigured these two lots into three lots; one of these lots contained the original house—not under consideration today—and the other two lots were sold for development. Mr. Hassan purchased one of the lots, a generally rectangular parcel fronting on North Portal Drive. Ms. Adams described the varying periods of residential development in the neighborhood, called North Portal Estates, extending from the 1920s to the 1990s and encompassing a range of house styles and sizes. She characterized the new house being built on Mr. Hassan's lot as being "within the parameters of the buildings that have already been approved by this Commission and certainly that were there before." Ms. Adams explained that the site design for Mr. Hassan's new house included a continuation of the retaining wall along the street edge of the adjacent older home, contributing to the new project's consistency with the character of the neighborhood.
Mr. Hassan said that he was a developer living a couple of miles away and had purchased the lot in October 2004; he then designed a home that he intended to be compatible with the neighborhood. He applied for building permits in May 2005, and they were issued in June 2005. He said that the entrance to the three-car garage was on the side of the house, so that the garage doors would not be prominently visible from the park across the street. The driveway could accommodate additional cars. He described his landscaping plans in more detail, including hedges and native plants that would relate to Rock Creek Park. He said that the project was built as of right without need for zoning variances and that the lot occupancy was thirty percent, below the maximum of forty percent.
Ms. Adams showed additional photos of the neighborhood context. She pointed out that nearby houses vary in their distance from the street and that this house was located eight feet back from the required fifteen-foot setback line. Mr. Hassan characterized the area as not very pedestrian-oriented, observing that there are no sidewalks along this block, that the street is fairly busy as a connection between 16th Street and Rock Creek Park, and that the park is not heavily used due to its steep terrain.
Since Mr. Hassan was an immediate neighbor of the other project being submitted, Ms. Zimmerman asked if he knew when he bought the land that the adjacent vacant parcel would be developed; Mr. Hassan said that he was aware of this. Mr. Powell then asked for a presentation on the second property and recognized Minh Vu, the owner of 1773 North Portal Drive.
Ms. Vu introduced her husband, the property's co-owner, and architect Paul Davey of Studio Z Design Concepts. She acknowledged the assistance of the Commission staff, then showed current photographs of the construction and reviewed the history of the project. In August 2005, she purchased the lot from the developer who had subdivided the property; the purchase also included the architectural plans prepared by Mr. Davey and the D.C. building permits that had already been issued. She began construction immediately and was unaware that the Commission's review was required. In December 2005, D.C. officials informed her of the need for Commission review and asked her to consult with Commission staff; she met with Ms. Penhoet on December 7th. Construction was well underway, and there was no objection to its continuation at that time, as noted in the staff's follow-up letter to the D.C. government. Construction continued, but in mid-April the D.C. government decided to refer the project to the Commission for review. Ms. Vu said that she filed an appeal but also agreed to bring the project to the Commission. She urged the Commission to take into consideration that she had proceeded with construction based on her reliance on the various actions and advice from the review agencies, and construction was nearly complete. She expressed a willingness to make design modifications but objected to the neighbors' proposal to have the house demolished.
Ms. Vu explained that the house and lot were in conformance with D.C. zoning requirements and no variances had been required; she noted that one side yard was substantially larger than required. She also said that the floor area of the house was well within the range for adjoining properties, despite concerns expressed by neighbors. Similarly, the floor-area ratio was in the middle of the range for neighboring properties. She also explained that the house was set far back from the street and had minimal impact on views from the park. She explained the landscaping plan and showed how the plantings would further minimize the impact of the house on the park and provide a beautiful addition to the neighborhood.
Ms. Zimmerman asked if Ms. Vu intended to live in the house or had built it on speculation as an investment. Ms. Vu said it was originally an investment, and then she had decided to live there; but based on growing neighborhood opposition to the project, she no longer expected to live there.
Mr. Davey described the design of the house, which was influenced by the "flag lot" shape of the site. The zoning code's building restriction lines determined the house's placement. The lot coverage of 17.4 percent was well below the maximum allowable coverage of forty percent. Because of the proximity of nearby houses, the massing was configured to step down, using a variety of materials and textures, with horizontal banding and hipped roofs to reduce the sense of height. He said that the Commission staff, in the initial consultation meeting, had suggested making the design less "busy," so some of the ornamental details were removed from the original design. He showed images of other houses in the neighborhood, representing a wide range of architectural styles.
Ms. Zimmerman asked if Mr. Davey had designed other houses in the vicinity of Rock Creek; Mr. Davey said that he had designed others, but this was his first to proceed to construction. Ms. Zimmerman asked further if he had designed houses that were subject to the Shipstead-Luce or Old Georgetown Act; he said that he had designed projects in Georgetown and had appeared before the Old Georgetown Board. However, he said that he was not involved in the permitting and review process for this project; the developer had hired him only to prepare design plans. Ms. Zimmerman asked if he or others in his firm were aware that this project was subject to the Commission's review; he said he was more aware of the process for Georgetown. Ms. Zimmerman emphasized that he was an experienced architect in the D.C. area and should have advised his client about the Commission's role; Mr. Davey reiterated that he was not involved in the permitting phase of the project. Ms. Vu said that she had not hired Mr. Davey's firm, but was appreciative that he was willing to appear to testify about his work for the developer who previously owned the property and who had been responsible for the permitting process.
Mr. Powell then recognized several members of the public who asked to speak. He first clarified for the audience that the Commission only addresses aesthetic matters rather than zoning concerns. He acknowledged the unusual circumstances and offered to try to hear all who had asked to speak. He recognized Ron Austin, the Director of Constituent Services representing D.C. Councilmember Adrian Fenty. Mr. Austin read a statement from Mr. Fenty, also distributed to the Commission members, asking the Commission to disapprove the two houses. Mr. Fenty's statement characterized the houses as "out of scale with the existing homes in the ward" and said their design and siting was "threatening the character and destroying the fabric of the parklike landscape in the neighborhood which borders Rock Creek Park."
Ms. Penhoet then introduced Jerome Paige, president of the Civic League of North Portal Estates; she also distributed copies of his statement. He emphasized three points:
Mr. Paige said that the recent subdivision had occurred without public participation; he said that the D.C. government had told the neighbors that the subdivision was consistent with regulations.
The Commission then heard from Fred Cooke, an attorney representing Robert Malson and Deborah Royster, the owners of an adjacent property fronting on Redwood Terrace. He also introduced Aric Moore, an architect who prepared exhibit boards for Mr. Cooke. Mr. Cooke urged the Commission to disapprove the two projects, characterizing them as inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood and contrary to the aesthetic traditions that the Commission had maintained for the Rock Creek Park area. He described the unusual siting of the houses, particularly 1773 North Portal Drive which is located between the rows of houses fronting on North Portal Drive and Redwood Terrace and appears to be sited behind the house at 1769 North Portal Drive. He said that both houses would be visible from the street and park. As a former resident of the neighborhood, he questioned an earlier characterization of the park along North Portal Drive and said that it was well-used by nearby residents. Mr. Cooke then showed photos illustrating the proximity of the house at 1773 North Portal Drive to his clients' home, with an estimated distance of 25 feet. He also presented photos of the site taken prior to the construction, showing the trees that were subsequently removed. He urged the Commission not to consider the investment already made in construction, since the owners should have known that Commission review was required, and they certainly knew in December 2005 after which construction continued. Mr. Moore concluded the presentation by noting similar cases where the Commission had disapproved projects. Mr. Cooke also directed the Commission's attention to a letter from the Federation of Civic Associations of the District of Columbia; the letter had previously been distributed to the Commission members.
Mr. Powell recognized Robert Malson, the neighbor who was represented by Mr. Cooke. Mr. Malson described the house at 1773 North Portal Drive as being in his back yard, and said it would also be visible from North Portal Drive because it is longer than the house in front of it at 1769 North Portal Drive. He disputed the owner's claims of compliance with D.C. zoning regulations, since the owners had not complied with the Shipstead-Luce Act which had been incorporated into the zoning provisions of the D.C. code. He pointed out that Ms. Vu's numerical comparisons of homes on the block had not included an analysis of the substantial distances between the backs of existing houses. He questioned Ms. Vu's statement that she had intended to live in the home, pointing out that for-sale signs were posted at the site from approximately late fall until several weeks ago. He said that he and other homeowners make daily use of the narrow strip of Rock Creek Park along North Portal Drive.
The Chairman urged that further testimony be limited to allow the Commission sufficient time to discuss the project. Ms. Royster introduced four neighbors in the audience: Justine Johnson, Ethel Delaney Lee, Hattie Allen, and Jim Edmunds. All of them submitted written statements; Mr. Powell agreed to Ms. Royster's request that each of them also have the opportunity to address the Commission briefly.
Ms. Johnson emphasized the importance of the neighborhood's sense of community. She said that many neighbors walk in the park along North Portal Drive. She also said that the neighbors' concerns were more serious than Ms. Vu's characterization. Ms. Lee, a resident of the neighborhood for 43 years, objected to the new construction as inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood and the regulatory procedures. Ms. Allen, a neighborhood resident for 41 years, said she had helped to form the civic association that had undertaken neighborhood beautification projects and urged that the neighborhood's character and integrity be preserved. Mr. Edmunds objected to the improper process for these projects and the potential to set an unwanted precedent for further development.
Mr. Powell began the Commission's discussion by suggesting that separate actions be taken on the two cases. He noted that several Commission members had visited the site. He also commented that the issues involved went beyond the design of the two houses: infill development and the creation of flag lots were city-wide issues that the D.C. government would need to address.
Mr. Rybczynski commented on the beauty of the neighborhood and the variety of houses. He said the proposed houses were within the range of styles, materials, and size for the neighborhood, so these cases were more about siting than about the design of the houses. He said the siting of the house at 1773 North Portal Drive was more of concern; the house at 1769 was sited similarly to others in the area. He praised the architect's design for 1773 within the constraints of the lot, but said that the creation of the unusually shaped lot was the problem.
Mr. Belle discussed the Commission's responsibility under the Shipstead-Luce Act. The intention was to respect and support the community-defining features and the public amenity of Rock Creek Park. He said that the character of the park had influenced the character of open space in the neighborhood, with each lot having varying amounts of private open space around the individual houses. The result was that each home was visually linked to Rock Creek Park. He said that the design of 1773 North Portal Drive violates this character, even if it technically conformed to zoning regulations; the house's presence on the street was dominated by its driveway rather than by an open-space setting. He supported the view that the house at 1773 appeared to be located in the rear yard of the house at 1769. He also criticized the height of the house at 1773, which in conjunction with the topography gives the appearance of looming over the neighbors. He said that this house was inconsistent with the Commission's responsibility to protect the integrity of Rock Creek Park. Ms. Zimmerman concurred with Mr. Belle.
Ms. Nelson expressed regret that the situation had become so adversarial between the owners and their neighbors. She supported the creation of additional houses, and supported the architectural design of these houses, but did not support their site design. She urged the Commission to advise the D.C. government that the houses should were not appropriate; the D.C. government would have to decide whether the buildings should be razed.
Mr. Powell criticized the lapses in the D.C. government's process and suggested that the Commission express concern to the D.C. government about the creation of flag lots. He concurred with Mr. Rybczynski that the siting of 1773 was objectionable while the siting and design of 1769 were acceptable; several other Commission members also concurred with this view. Upon a motion by Ms. Zimmerman, with second by Mr. Powell, the Commission recommended in favor of the house at 1769 North Portal Drive, with specific reference to approving its siting, aesthetic design, and consistency with the overall objectives of sustaining the public values of Rock Creek Park.
Mr. Powell said that the house at 1773 might be appropriate for another location, but he made a motion that the Commission advise the D.C. government that this house was not acceptably designed as sited in this neighborhood. The Commission approved Mr. Powell's motion to recommend against issuance of permit for the house at 1773 North Portal Drive, with a request to work further with the D.C. government on the issue of creating flag lots.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 4:33 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke
Last Modified: July 12, 2006