Friday, September 07, 2012

Shrinking AdMo Hotel Rebuked By Zoning Commission

In a brief but heated zoning board hearing on Thursday night, representatives for the Friedman Capital Advisors/Beztak Companies' controversial hotel project in Adams Morgan received a series of stinging rebukes, after botching their documents submission.  Though required to submit any amendments 21 days in advance, developers submitted the newest amendments on Tuesday evening, with disastrous consequences.

The proposed project, which has been n the works for over four years, encompasses properties at 1770 Euclid Street NW, and 2390 Champlain Street NW, and consists of just over 42,000 s.f. of space currently occupied by the 100-year old First Church of Christ, Scientist, a parking lot, and a small office building.  The OPX Global-designed plans call for up to 227 rooms and 174 parking spaces; Thursday's hearing was primarily to discuss changes to the building's proposed 90-foot height (which has been extremely problematic) and to the number of parking spaces.

However, these changes were never addressed, as members of the zoning commission raised serious concerns about the timing, quality, and adequacy of the submitted papers.

Vice Chairman Marcie Cohen feared the community had not had time to review the latest plans.  Commissioner Michael Turnbull objected strongly and at length to the quality of the renderings that the board was given.  "I only have little tiny drawings.  You need full size ones.  Black and white is unacceptable, I need color.  I need a ground floor plate that shows the entrance, the lobby, et cetera.  These little black and white cartoons don't convey what the building actually looks like.  They're muddy, they're not accurate."

The roadblock comes at an unfortunate time, falling just a day after the project's developers won support from the Office of Planning as well as a local group that had obstructed the hotel over height concerns.  Friedman / Beztak had agreed to drop the height from 81 feet to 72 to appease height activists despite broad support from the greater community.  Friedman also had to agree to make numerous repairs at the Marie Reed Center as a condition of the neighborhood's approval.  Last December the developer had agreed to reduce the height from 92 feet after a similar slap-down from the Office of Planning.

Still, zoning commissioners weren't impressed.  Peter May, though he began by damning the project with the faintest of praise ("Generally speaking, the development of this case has been positive.  I don't know that it's been positive enough, but it's been positive."), was the sole supporter of moving forward despite the late submission, asking his fellow board members if there was some way to mitigate the damage, and pointing out that if they were to turn down the amendment, they'd have to reschedule the hearing for sometime in December.

Chairman Anthony Hood didn't have a problem with that.  "The way this was presented to me, I don't have a problem waiting until December," he said.  Hood, like Cohen, had concerns that the community hadn't received a fair chance to review the changes, and was clearly irked by the last-minute submissions.  "I spent the weekend reviewing stuff [for this case] and then I get all this stuff on Tuesday. It's not ... popular."

Perhaps encouraged by Hood's apparent irritation, Vice Chairman Cohen quickly moved to cancel the hearing and to refuse to even acknowledge receiving Tuesday's controversial packet.  However, after May pointed out that if they went that route, the developers would have to "get back in line for a hearing date," the board moved instead to simply push the hearing to the 13th.  After a series of procedural moves designed to delay the business at hand until next week without setting everyone back to square one, it was suggested that the applicant be allowed to explain why the submission was so late and so shoddy.

"I really don't want to hear from the applicant," said Hood.  But cooler heads prevailed, and the project's representative was allowed to speak.  Apologizing for the late submission, the representative promised to make all materials available to the community, to submit better drawings, and to observe the proper regulations governing the timing of submissions.  He then pointed out that the changes at hand had been made to address the District's and the community's main concerns; a reduction in height, and a reduction in the number of parking spaces.  "These could make supporters out of a lot of objectors, or at least take people who are against this project and turn them neutral," he said.

However, after reps from ANC1C declined to comment on the new plans ("We've received three sets of documents in the last 72 hours; we're not prepared to comment."), the meeting was quickly adjourned, postponed to next week.

The (non) hearing can be viewed online.

Washington D.C. real estate development news


IMGoph on Sep 7, 2012, 8:02:00 AM said...

They're doomed. Anthony Hood comes from one of the most suburban parts of the city (Woodridge) and it shapes his view of what's good and bad, needed and not needed, in a project. The man prefers lots of parking, status quo construction, etc. They didn't help themselves at all by not following procedure to the T.

Remember, folks, the ZC is an unelected branch of government in the city with wide-reaching power. They have the ability to shape this city for the next 50 years, moreso than the Council in many ways.

Anonymous said...

This is absurd. This is a Yimby project. Everyone here wants the hotel built and they even won over the handful of Nimbys reducing the height but now they are being faulted for PAPERWORK! I mean it really is a wonder anything gets built in this town. You want renderings? Get on your computer you moron! I'm looking at them right now! Did nobody at the hearing have an iPad?
Jobs. Revenue. Hotel Guests spending money in our neighborhood. Restaurants. Retail. Taxes. Why are we splitting hairs about the quality of their paper work? Do you know how many towns would be falling all over themselves for an opportunity like this? The neighborhood has had plenty of time to review and overwhelmingly supports the hotel. So please don't speak on our behalf. It seems now that it's just these zoning board members on a power trip (who don't even live here) getting in the way. End rant. But really. 4 years in the making... at a point the developers will walk away and the church will sit vacant another 20 years.

JJ said...

Oh yeah, I can see how a tall building is not consistent with the Reed-Cook neighborhood, a neighborhood dominated by low-income, subsidized, poorly-maintained houses. God forbid someone with money moves in there or tries to improve the neighborhood. The "activists" are, as usual, a group of about 10 people that don't want it. The rest think its fine.

Adam L on Sep 7, 2012, 2:09:00 PM said...


It's worth nothing that while the Zoning Commission members are not elected, three of the five (including Hood and Cohen who voiced the most objections to the project) are appointed by the Mayor. There is a currently vacant slot and we should insist on the best possible person be named to the commission.

Anonymous said...

Great. We now conduct planning according to whether the zoning commission members are offended. DC government is such a joke.

Anonymous said...

This is quite possibly the worst reporting I've seen about the hotel project in a sea of poor reporting.

First off, the ZC didn't delay the next hearing for a couple of months. The hearing is THIS THURSDAY EVENING!

Next, the rendering was totally wrong. Look at the developers' website (www.adamsmorganhistorichotel) for various renderings of the new submission.

Finally, if the reporter was following the news over the past few weeks, the reason that there was an updated submission a few days prior to the hearing was because there was a comprehensive agreement cut with the Reed-Cooke Neighborhood Association that the parties had been working on for months. Once that agreement was reached, the developers resubmitted the plans to the ZC.

Your reporting is the worst kind of reporting there is. Congratulations.

Anonymous said...

" a neighborhood dominated by low-income, subsidized, poorly-maintained houses. God forbid someone with money moves in there or tries to improve the neighborhood. " Clearly you haven't been in the area in the last 15 years or your blind? or possibly the developer... a buffoon either way.

Anonymous said...

JJ: "a neighborhood dominated by low-income, subsidized, poorly-maintained houses"...what Adams Morgan are you talking about?? Certainly not the one in DC.

Anonymous 9:24:00: The ZC simply treated the case just like any other: you can't submit a redesigned proposal two nights before the hearing and expect a smooth hearing. The usual rule is 20 days before the hearing, but the Commission moved to waive that and have the make-up hearing on the 13th. And you're wrong, the board members do live here, duh!!

Anonymous said...

as the pixies said

" it ain't that pretty at all"

Skidrowe said...

This project is just so unlikely on so many levels. First, the church, although grand and marvellous, just doesn't easily convert to any other use, in part because it has hardly any windows. Second, although bringing a new use (hotel) to Adams Morgan appeals to most urbanites, including me, it doesn't appeal to development finance people, who behave like lemmings and would intrinsically assume there's a good reason that no one else has already developed a hotel in that location. Third, zoning has attempted to maintain a low-income ghetto in that area via ridiculous height restrictions (via the "Reed-Cooke Overlay"). The fact that this has failed doesn't make much difference, apparently.

I will be astounded if this project ever breaks ground, much less opens its doors to the public. And it's too bad.

John H said...

The Zoning Commission only gets one shot at review and approval, and can't make a decision based on inadequate pictures and plans. They're only doing their duty in pointing that out. There's no justification for histrionics over 'job-killing' commissioners. The developers knew going in that dropping a 10-story hotel on residential side streets in a low-rise neighborhood would take some cajoling. After 4 years of maintaining that only 90 feet would make the project work, they've found that 72 would work too. So having finally reached agreement with the advisory groups - ANC, OP, HPRB - they're ready to submit for zoning approval. Their problem was not having enough time between the agreement and the scheduled hearing to change their zoning documents. An extra week will give them time.

Anonymous said...

I second the posters who realize that Adams Morgan, including the Reed Cooke section, has a few too many upscale condos to be considered a ghetto. And when restaurants like Mintwood open, where the president chose to have a special dinner, it's hard to deny that money is already here and a hotel is not the be all end all of "making" Adams Morgan.

It's also irresponsible to paint all low-income residents as some kind of thugs. Do you consider your housekeeper or janitor a thug? Where do you expect them to afford to live if we don't protect any affordable housing. It looks like many of you would like to banish them to the outlying suburbs and then charge them a commuter fee. Real nice.

As for height, and the Reed-Cooke overlay, let's not forget that the entire city has height restrictions, so if you don't like them, then maybe this city isn't for you.

As for the hearing, it was a joke. And the only reason Marcie Cohen wanted to delay it was hoping that the people who oppose the project would change their minds.

And ANC member Stacey Moye claimed that they had a translator at every meeting about the hotel which is a load of bullcrap. They only did it after a number of anti-hotel folks held them to the fire that they were not doing their due dilligence in the Adams Morgan community. They've had translators for the past couple of months, yet this project has been going on for 4+ years. And they did not translate any agenda info for any meetings.

The process has been stacked in the developers favor, between the $46 million tax abatement from Jim Graham, the fact that the ANC chair works for Jim Graham, the fact that the developers have been spreading their money around to anyone who will take it, and the only reason it hasn't been approved yet, is because it's a terrible idea. If it was a good idea, we would not still be here, having another delay.

It's an inappopriate development use for the site, and goes against multiple tenets of both the Comprehensive Plan and the Reed Cooke Overlay.

The only reason it's even being considered is because the Church owners have threatened to tear the church down if they don't get their way. Again, real nice.


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