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Adams Morgan ANC Fights New Building That’s Still ‘Too Damn Big’

by Andrew Ramonas — October 6, 2016 at 10:50 am 40 Comments

(Updated at 10:35 a.m. Friday) A developer looking to put in a new mixed-use building in the heart of Adams Morgan has failed again to pick up the support of a group of local officials representing the neighborhood.

In a 6-0 vote on a non-binding resolution last night, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C for a second time opposed a PN Hoffman plan to build on the SunTrust plaza and the rest of 1800 Columbia Road NW. ANC 1C officially noted its anxieties with the project for the first time this past spring.

The unanimous vote came after the panel’s planning and zoning committee last month recommended that the full ANC continue its fight against PN Hoffman. Planning and zoning committee members said at the time they weren’t satisfied with revisions the developer made to the building’s aesthetic and size since the full ANC opposed the project in May and members of the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board expressed concerns about it in June.

Before yesterday’s vote, frustrated ANC 1C commissioners and Adams Morgan residents lashed out at PN Hoffman’s representatives at the meeting.

“It’s just too damn big for 18th Street,” ANC 1C chairman Ted Guthrie said. “Part of the problem is not just the height, but also the mass of it.”

In an effort to address concerns from ANC 1C and HPRB earlier this year, PN Hoffman lowered sections of the building on 18th Street to five stories, reduced the development’s height by five feet and bulked up the front of the structure, cutting the size of its proposed plaza by five feet, according to the developer.

“I think we’ve made some significant strides in terms of the design,” said Bao Vuong, a vice president of development for PN Hoffman.

ANC 1C commissioner Billy Simpson said he and his colleagues support development in Adams Morgan, but have struggled with PN Hoffman’s plans for the SunTrust building, which sits at a prominent location in the neighborhood.

Opponents of PN Hoffman’s proposals for the property have lamented that locals could lose a large open space for people to congregate and get a building that doesn’t fit in with the rowhouses in the area.

“This project is just in a very challenging location,” Simpson said. “If the exact same building would have been proposed for any number of other locations in Adams Morgan, I probably would have supported it right off the bat.”

HPRB likely will consider PN Hoffman’s plans this month. Unlike the ANC, the historic preservation board must sign off on the developer’s proposal for construction to begin.

Do you back PN Hoffman’s latest plan for the SunTrust property? Take our poll.

Renderings via ANC 1C/PN Hoffman

Comments (40)

  1. Perhaps if they revised to a doll house?

    Just kidding, nothing will please them.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e00bc446b921c976c819e5243d2f04af3e424529dc8b6ac73ec924be09056877.jpg

  2. I take issue where this article calls our ANC: “local officials representing the neighborhood.” That could not be farther from the truth.

  3. Agreed. I would like the ANC to release the original emails they received on this issue — with a breakdown of how many were in support/against.

    I would also like this ANC to actually put out a reasonable proposal instead of the wishy-washy bull they keep spouting. Do your job Borderstan.

  4. Two things. The reporting from Borderstan on this issue has been deplorable. Have you ever tried to ask residents who want to see the building built? You raise none of the benefits that this building could bring.

    Further, you let the ANC just say they’re somewhat against this without asking or pressing them on WHAT THE ANC WOULD ACTUALLY SUPPORT.

    Do some diligence.

    This is absolutely ridiculous.

    For christ sake. it’s a private lot. we have tons of green space in this neighborhood. Tons of useable land. That plot is used for like 2 days a year.

    This is just insane. I cant wait for no developer to try and bring us any new housing/mixed use development. Why would we want new businesses or more people living in our neighborhood? But, sure, let’s make sure a terrible farmer’s market gets all the private space it needs.

  5. I didn’t have a PDF of the resolution ready when I published the story. It’s now in the story and at https://www.borderstan.com/files/2016/10/ANC-1C-resolution-on-SunTrust-redevelopment-plan.pdf. The resolution goes into detail about what the ANC wants.

    The story was a recap of the meeting in which not a single ANC commissioner spoke in support of PN Hoffman’s plans. Also, almost of all of the locals at the meeting spoke against the developer.

    However, we conducted an unscientific poll that showed support for PN Hoffman earlier this year. https://www.borderstan.com/2016/03/07/poll-do-you-support-plan-to-put-building-on-adams-morgan-plaza/

    We will consider doing another poll and do consider op-eds from any of our readers on PN Hoffman’s plans. If you’re interested in writing an op-ed, please email [email protected].

  6. Please do include more polls. I am sick and tired of writing to our so-called representatives for them to always respond about the “majority of people” against the development. I don’t see it and I don’t believe them. If I wasn’t in night grad classes, I would be just as loud at the meetings to support the damn thing. You’d be quoting me.

  7. I think most people in support of the meetings know it is a waste of time to attend. If you have a poll, you should include it. Portraying the issue as if it’s the ANC with full support of the neighborhood against the big bad developers is disingenuous and lazy.

    I dont mean to be mean or rude, but you take their quotes at face value, allow the ANC to post ridiculous op-eds (without posting a counter) and just quote people from teh kalorama citizen’s assoc.

    When you look at the comments ojn your stories and polls you conduct, you need to show that at best this is a very divided issue and at worst, the NIMBYS against this are an actual minority.

    I’d suggest not worrying about being first and actually worry about doing a service to the community

  8. That’s a very good resolution. It shows your ANC understands the historic preservation law and how it applies in this case. They’re even quoting the HPRB and what they’ve requested in order for the project to be in compliance with historic preservation law. The HPRB are the experts. They know the law. The easy thing for the ANC to do would be to bow to political pressure and simply repeat what it is hearing from its constituents. But being in accordance with historic preservation law has nothing to do with who wants what. It’s simply what the law says must happen. Wanting the ANC to vote counter to that is like wanting the Supreme Court to listen to what ‘the majority’ wants vs. what the law says. Your ANC has gone the extra mile in understanding and explaining the historic preservation law.

  9. Also, putting ‘too damn big’ in the headline is ridiculous. It’s too damn big according to a biased opinion. I’d say it’s too damn small.

    Putting that in the header is bull.

    if you cant report on the issue objectively and stop being a mouthpiece for the ANC and Kalorama Citizens Assoc, maybe you just refrain

  10. it’s somewhat hypocritical to say you’d support the building if it wasnt in this exact location. if the building conforms to the code, then you should support it. You’re not an architect. The citizens of Adams morgan dont own the suntrust land. if the building is legal, stop being obstructionist because the kalorama citizens association have time and energy to bug you all damn day

  11. In a historic district, the historic preservation laws apply as well as the zoning laws. Actually, the historic preservation laws trump the zoning laws in matters of scale and height where they are more restrictive. At the simplest level, all new construction (and additions to existing construction) must be compatible with their adjacent historic buildings. So even if the law allows say 11 stories in height, if the neighboring historic buildings are only 4 stories high, then a building 11 stories high is not legal, irrespective of what the zoning laws says because it is not compatible with those adjacent 4 story buildings.

  12. hey. At least we didnt give tons of space for Buffabafoon to spout incomprehensible legal mumbo jumbo. Talk to some residents. get the ANC on record FOR WHAT THEY WILL SUPPORT.

  13. In a curious urban-liberals version of the Republican party’s situation with Trump, the ANC commissioners have painted themselves into a corner by years of associating with and encouraging the fringe. Now the fringe has taken over, and their alternative view of the world rules ANC-1C, and the most unhinged of all is running for an ANC position.

    They have convinced themselves, most notably, that the plaza isn’t actually private property, based on newspaper clippings and “oral histories.” [Up-front acknowledgement that there is no easement or other legal document.] They’ve also convinced themselves that a new 6-story + penthouse building represents the “Manhattanization” of Adams-Morgan, a “monster” which would loom over them menacingly and cut out all their light. [Yes, really — one wonders if they’ve ever been to Manhattan.] Lastly, they’re convinced that Adams-Morgan has no public park/gathering spaces other than SunTrust Plaza. [Whereas the exact opposite is true. For a neighborhood of its size, Adams-Morgan has a disproportionately large amount of parks/public gathering space: Walter Pierce, Kalorama Park, Marie Reed’s recreation center; BB&T Plaza; Unity Park–not to mention bordering Rock Creek and Meridian Hill Parks!]

    Combine these three fact-free viewpoints together, and you get (like Trump supporters) a self-righteous hostility to even the concept of “compromise.” There is an obvious solution out there: as suggested by community members in the first public hearing and more recently by GreaterGreaterWashington, the ANC should make a deal for a taller building with a smaller footprint, thus allowing a reasonable plaza space to remain. Many ANC’s would have made that deal months ago. But the fringe forces of Adams-Morgan audibly booed the folks who suggested the idea. At this point, it’s probably all the ANC has left, because their case to HPRB is so weak and their idea of a squatter’s rights “easement” is legally ludicrous. But I wouldn’t count on it happening.

  14. Bravo! You should submit this as an oped to Borderstan. They say they’re willing to hear from all residents…

  15. Lanier Neighbor

    Opponents of the Lanier Heights downzoning discovered it was a waste of time to attend ANC meetings. A handful of anti-development folks fear-mongered their way to a bare majority of home owner support on a petition to downzone. Now 100% of Lanier Heights home owners have suffered a big loss to their zoning rights thanks to that 50%. (The Zoning Commission must share the blame: they ordered Office of Planning to choose a side after OP originally tried to stay neutral). Meanwhile some of the biggest proponents of downzoning Lanier Heights have sold and moved. Some of the loudest remaining proponents of taking away everyone’s property rights have already owned their homes for 40 or 50 years. The next generation that buys into Lanier Heights is not likely to stay around more than 5 or 10 years. So half of the current residents and all of the future residents lost. (The downzoners lost, too, they just don’t know it yet).

  16. a house on Ontario Road just sold for $1.4 million after 3 days on the market.

  17. Lanier Neighbor

    Really. Which house?

  18. I couldn’t agree with you more. It amazes me, every time I pass through that area, that there are multiple plazas/public space areas directly across and adjacent to this particular property. One area, adjacent, is currently used for an open market. It’s unreasonable to expect to not have to concede or compromise at all when dealing with negotiations – defeats the entire purpose. And that’s probably the true intent, to defeat the developer and hope that they walk away. The only issue with that is, the next private developer may not be as accommodating…

  19. Your claim that “their” case with HPRB is weak, is really off the mark. As someone who has no stake in what goes up there (i don’t live or work in that neighborhood) but who has been involved in historic preservation at the local level for close to 20 years now, I can tell you HPRB will never accept the building design as it stands. It really is ‘just too damn big’. The historic preservation laws in DC mandate that new construction in a historic district be compatible with the historic buildings ‘contributing’ to that district. Step back and look at this from the other side of the street (as HPRB will do). You have a bunch of 3 or 4 story contributing buildings all the way down on that row … extending up 18th to the Sun Trust Bank site …. and then suddenly this much larger and ultimately much taller building being proposed to be affixed to it. It doesn’t fit. It’s the poster child of ‘not compatible in scale and height’ which will earn it a big fat zero from the board. Sorry, but you need to learn a little more about how the historic preservation laws work in DC. You’re applying your self based opinion and not the law. The building as is will never fly.

  20. Yes, the HPRB will look at other contributing buildings in the historic district – and they’ll see that there’s an 8 story tall contributing building right across the street. There’s another one half a block down Columbia Road (both in the Kalorama HD), and a six-story contributing building in the Washington Heights HD several doors down from the proposed building on Columbia.

    It’s very hard to argue that it’s ‘just to damn big’ when there are contributing structures to the HDs that are actually bigger and taller.

  21. With all due respect, you’re missing the point that it has to be compatible with its own row (18th Street on THAT side of the block) before even considering the rest of the historic district. Put another away … if we were back in the early 20th century when that row got constructed, what would have been built on that lot in terms of scale and height AND which street would it have been facing? It’s clear he building would have been built as part of the 18th Street row and not as part of the Columbia Road development which came later … and it’s clear it would have been a lot closer in scale and height to the adjacent 18th Street buildings on that side of the road. Actually,we only have to look at the mid sized Knickerbocker Theatre that did go in there for guidance as to the appropriate height, scale, and street orientation for the new replacement building on that site.

  22. The entire historic district is full of historic 6-8 story apartment buildings adjacent to smaller, shorter structures. Columbia Road is full of them, on both sides of the street.

    What the building would’ve been isn’t particularly relevant; nor what the scale of the Knickerbocker Theater was. This is new development that is completely compatible and within the scale of numerous other contributing structures in both historic districts. The height and scale of the proposed building is entirely appropriate.

  23. The height of the buildings on Columbia Road is irrelevant. For the reason discussed previously this lot is part of the adjacent row of buildings directly to its south. The HPRB is well versed on how these things work and that is where it will look for comparability. This really isn’t a political issue at all. What can and can’t go in there with respect to massing, height, and scale will be determined by the preservation laws. You’re looking at this correctly from that standpoint, but you’re missing the forest for trees in not seeing that this property is part of an existing historic row that the proposed structure is wholly incompatible with.

  24. Lanier Neighbor

    I suppose this doesn’t matter, but Is the existing structure really compatible with the historic row?

  25. Yes, it matters in that the Board will want to see it replaced, because it is not really compatible. Will it make a difference as to what the Board ‘let’s slide’ because they want to see it replaced? Probably not since it’s not like a builder has to be induced to build on that prime lot.

  26. I do live in the neighborhood and don’t quite see it the way you suggest. The building directly across the street from Sun Trust Plaza, on Columbia, is 8 stories. There is a string of buildings down Columbia that are 8 stories, and there are other buildings that are 6 stories. From that perspective, this building is not out of alignment with the scale of this neighborhood. There are also nothing but condo buildings extending all the way down Adams Mill.

    The opposition seems to think that the only buildings that matter are on 18th. It’s a distortion of the reality of this neighborhood.

  27. Some of this pushback are from the anti-forces still upset with the hotel. They made similar arguments about size, density. But the hotel opponents had no vision, just opposition, and people really liked the hotel.

    The SunTrust developers did themselves no favor by proposing a project that just isn’t that exciting enough for supporters to rally around. The opponents are now running the table.

    Some years ago, Adams Morgan received a substantial grant to install public art. This was the project: http://www.popville.com/2009/09/adams-morgan-sculpture-selected-bike-musician-for-reals-this-time/

    The bicycle art was killed because the anti-forces hated it. It wasn’t pleasing to them. They are passionate about their hate, but not what they like. There’s a void there. Anyone who liked it the artwork (I really did) — who saw it as challenging, a unique statement, eclectic — was dismissed. The money (I think was about $150K) left the neighborhood.

    Many people are disgusted by the restrictionists forces in the neighborhood, but there’s nothing you can do. They know how to the dial-in to the ANC.

    The anti-forces have been around long before Trump lost his first billion. They remain a permanent obstacle to creating a vital city. It’s why housing prices, but especially rents, are so high, which when you get right down it, may be the real reason for their opposition.

  28. Just an observation: if this plaza is so beloved by local residents, why is it practically paved with gum?

  29. It seems like the pro-development side needs to be more organized. It’s difficult, because ultimately the affordable-housing-through-smaller-living-and-more-density crowd ends up defending “greedy developers”, because said developers supply the housing this movement actually wants. It’s an uncomfortable alliance, and the reason it’s so easy to accuse attempts to organize as “astroturf” or “in the pocket of developers”. But economists (and the Obama administration) agree that that the responsible way to improve affordability in urban areas is to increase supply. It’s one of these rare situations which money can be on the side of progress. It’s so frustrating to watch the hypocrisy of these “liberals” whose idea of environmentalism begins and ends with ensuring sufficient parking.

  30. I was pretty much the only person to speak for the proposal last night. I was questioned about my residency by one woman (because I live in 1B05) and hissed at by another as I finished speaking. The commissioners and their supporters have taken an unreasonable position and do not seem interested in anything other than a small cottage and a large public plaza on the site paid for by someone else. It looks like this will be another instance of an ANC demanding far too much and getting nothing. Those in favor of the building should consider writing a brief note to HPRB expressing your support before 10/13, which is the deadline for comment.

    Also that easement argument is incredibly far-fetched. It will never hold up in court.

  31. I share your feelings. I went to a previous meeting and it was clear the ANC had already made up their minds and the old fogey NIMBYs were there in force. it was a waste of my time.

    I’ve written letters and hope they help…we’ll see.

  32. I too support the development and was at the meeting last night. I was just about to speak my mind when you were berated by some crazy woman, so I backed off. I thought you were very articulate and poised in your message– So sorry that happened to you. I live in nearby ANC 2D01 and that meeting made me feel like ONLY the people that live in ANC IC should be able to get a say in this.

    It frustrating because nobody gives constructive ideas of what they would actually like, instead they just keep moaning and groaning, or in one instance decide on Saturday picket the area with loudspeakers, etc.

    Keep up the good fight.

  33. I am in favor of the building and have decided that the best way to proceed is to write a note to the HPRB expressing support and respectfully request that others do the same. I am hoping that there will be a groundswell of support in writing to the HPRB because many of us have yet to be polled by our ANC to get our opinion on the project at all which makes me wonder who they speak for. It is quite a shame that in this neighborhood people are afraid to speak out because of the manner in which they are treated when they do so. I live in and pay taxes in this town and have paid my dues in this neighborhood and I resent and will not tolerate people who feel that I do not have the right to speak up and provide my opinion of what is happening in my neighborhood.

  34. I attended the last meeting, and was able to hear your comments, which were very well organized. I also apologize for the response you received. It was not reflective of our community as a whole. I do live in ANC 1C, 1.5 blocks from the proposed development. I added my support towards the end of the conversation, and will continue to do so. I have emailed the ANC members, will communicate with the HPRB, and will attend upcoming meetings. I encourage those commenting here, and else where, to do the same.

  35. The residents of Adams Morgan do NOT demand maintaining the status quo. Actually, we look forward to creating a more vibrant, sustainable and unique neighborhood. What we want is better retail, (including housewares, clothing and restaurants).

    In order to encourage that development along 18th & Columbia Roads, we need 1) greater density of residents (this is absolutely necessary to generate foot traffic and support retail); 2) greater daytime uses, including small businesses, service retail (places to get your shoes fixed, a tailor, a place to buy a housewarming gift for a dinner party, in addition to the ubiquitous nail & hair salons) and hospitality (yeah! — we have a new hotel coming soon); 3) less visual blight — which is most every storefront on 18th Street today.

    Many of the residents I know support the kind of higher density development being proposed at the SunTrust corner. Of course, every project needs to be judged based on its specific location and context. However, I believe that the corner in question — at the intersection of the 18th Street retail corridor and the residential/mixed-use corridor of Columbia Road — is the obvious and appropriate location for density, activity and vibrancy.

    We have multiple adjacent public outdoor space, from the site diagonally across from SunTrust (PERFECT for a farmer’s market) to the urban plaza in front of City Bikes to Walter Pierce Park just around the corner and Kalorama Park at 20th Street. Let’s encourage the City and our neighbors to use those spaces and make them more usable beautiful. Let’s stop wasting time trying to reuse a space that’s on private property. Life’s too short!

  36. There’s a really nice “housewarming” gift shop on Columbia Road near Kalorama Park!

  37. John Smith 1882

    Absolutely ENOUGH. If I was the developer, this would be the last straw. I’d shut down the plaza entirely and start digging. Perhaps a big middle finger pointed to the ANC board would be a nice addition as well. All those “suggestions” by the ANC are gone. POOF. If the law says I can do it, I do it.

    Hopefully the developer develops and stops this pathetic back and forth with a group of giant NIMBYs. I wonder where they even live. Do they enjoy the religious preachers? the baking hot sidewalk in the summer? the drunks? There isn’t even a damn weed sticking out of the concrete.

    I haven’t heard a damn thing of negativity from the Sun Trust people OR the police department.

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