Thursday, July 23, 2009

How to Hide a Six-Story Office Building in Dupont



Is it possible to hide a six-story office building on an historic street in Dupont? Two Queen Anne style rowhomes in Dupont are one step closer to having a six-story structure built behind them. Today the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) consented to plans presented by Creaser O'Brien Architects with the caveat that the building must not be visible when standing in front of a building across the street. If something goes wrong - HPRB will demand a top floor hair cut. Eek.

The two Dupont rowhomes, 1820 and 1822 Jefferson Place NW, have long been in use as office space and are currently connected internally. The planned addition is designed to appear as a unique structure behind the two existing structures. Among the concerns raised in the HPRB staff report was the 26 feet the new structure will rise above the roofs of the original structures, the other is the proposed removal of the original brownstone stair in favor of a retractable stair with a lift in order to provide accessibility.

First, the height issue. The HPRB has a standard by which additions are allowed in historic structures if the structure is subordinate to the original structure or, in some urban areas, if the structure is separate from or behind the existing structure and can be hidden from view. One such exception was granted on the same street in 2005, and the staff report applied these same standards to the proposed project at 1820-1822 Jefferson. The architects altered the planned height as measured from the curb from 67 feet to 65 feet inches. The board passed the recommendation to adopt the staff report with the caveat that the architects do more to refine the design aspects of the planned new build, which was described as minimalist and too modest.

When the HPRB refers to an element slated for removal as a "character-defining feature," you've got problems. Proposed removal of the brownstone front stairs faced competing priorities of accessibility and historic preservation. Board members were unwilling to accept the proposed plan to remove the original stairs and decided to defer the decision until other accessible options could be found. Namely, the potential of having a lift at another location onsite that had been previously altered and therefore would not have a historic effect.

Finally, the board passed a plan to require the group to perform renovation work on the existing historic buildings, feeling this was a fair request given the "monumentality" of the proposed structure. Whoa, six-stories; NYC is rotfl at that one. Proposed renovations include installing a more historically accurate replacement door and providing more green space in the public area in front, in keeping with the appearance of the neighborhood.

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