935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW (Squares 378 & 379)
Dear Mr. Acosta:
In its public meeting of 21 July, the Commission of Fine Arts was pleased to hear an information presentation on the formulation of square guidelines for the redevelopment of Squares 378 and 379—the site currently occupied by the headquarters building of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)—as a revision to the 1974 Pennsylvania Avenue Plan of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation.
The Commission members affirmed the importance of Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House as the primary symbolic and ceremonial corridor of the nation’s capital, and they emphasized that its character as a broad, tree-lined avenue must be maintained. While they commented that the existing 75-foot width of the sidewalk is unusual and may be excessive, they opposed bringing the building fronts of new development forward to the historic right-of-way, which would result in a highly constricted sidewalk space in relation to the existing curb and compromise the avenue’s green character along this lengthy frontage. They expressed willingness to consider options for setting a different build-to line that is forward of the existing FBI facade, and they encouraged further study of what could be an appropriate intermediate location; any design—whether with two or three rows of trees—must support public programming and reinforce the role of the avenue as one the capital city’s most important civic spaces.
For the future development of the parcel, the Commission members expressed strong support for the reestablishment of D Street between 9th and 10th Streets, the condition that existed from the implementation of the L’Enfant Plan until the mid-20th-century construction of the FBI building. They expressed appreciation for the presentation of the site compared with other downtown blocks, and they agreed that the unusually large block of Square 378 should be broken down with ground-level exterior public circulation within it, in addition to the restoration of D Street; they commented that the resulting development for the parcel as a whole should provide active street frontages on all sides rather than being inwardly focused. They also supported the concept of creating a defined public space at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue with 10th and D Streets, and they requested further consideration of how this small reservation would contribute to the sequence of public spaces along the avenue.
Regarding the height of new buildings on the redeveloped site, the Commission members supported the intention to establish a more restrictive height limit for Square 379 along Pennsylvania Avenue, commenting that the tree canopy would be even more significant in establishing the visual character of the sidewalk space and framing the important view corridors toward the Capitol and the Treasury Building. For Square 378, they accepted the proposed 160-foot height limit with the understanding that lower initial heights with step-backs would be required to ensure compatibility with the surrounding streets; they agreed that additional study of appropriate heights and step-back requirements are necessary for all sides of new development on both squares.
The Commission members expressed appreciation for the opportunity to provide comments to the National Capital Planning Commission for the development of square guidelines for this highly prominent site in central Washington, and they look forward to the opportunity for further comment later this year as the proposal is developed in more detail. They suggested that more sophisticated computer modelling techniques would be helpful in conveying the perspective studies as they are refined. As always, the staff is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Marcel Acosta, Executive Director
National Capital Planning Commission
401 9th Street, NW, Suite 500-N
Washington, DC 20004
cc: Mina Wright, General Services Administration
Peter May, National Park Service
Eric Shaw, D.C. Office of Planning