Friday, December 31, 2010

Back to Drawing Boards for Italian Embassy Owners

Earlier this year Valor Development LLC purchased the former Italian Embassy at 2700 16th St. NW for $7.5 million in what will be a second attempt at condo development on the site. Partnering with Potomac Construction Group, Valor intends to renovate the embassy into condominiums, add a three-story wing on the north side of the building (also to house condo units), and construct a nine-story apartment building at the rear of the site. Earlier this month developers' plans and the architectural diagrams provided by Trout Design Studio went before the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). While the HPRB found the conceptual site plan and rehabilitation of the landmark satisfactory, members of the Board directed the applicants to "restudy the architectural treatment of the north wing, and restudy the height, massing and architectural treatment of the new apartment tower, and return for further review when appropriate."

The first phase of the "Flats at IL Palazzo" will be the restoration of the landmark's facade and the conversion of the interior into condominium units "blending the character and charm of the historic building with the sophistication, class, and modern finishes that one expects in this premium location," according Valor's online description. The interior restructuring and transformation will preclude several significant interior spaces: the ballroom, library, dining room, and other smaller spaces will be preserved with some opportunity for public use and visitation. The second phase will include the north wing addition and the construction of the apartment tower, but those elements remain unapproved by HPRB.

Plan rejected in 2006.
Another development team in 2006 was close to moving forward with similar development plans for the ex-embassy, when HPRB designated the property an historic landmark just before construction was to begin, in part because the new tower would have eaten into part of the historic structure. HPRB asked the city to revoke the building permits for the 79-unit Il Palazzo condominium, a decision the developer litigated and lost. This go-round developers have moved the proposed apartment tower from near the front to the northwest corner of the site, far-removed from the 16th Street frontage and centered around a second courtyard. While the overall efforts seem to respect the historic nature of the property, and rearrange the site plan in accordance with HPRB's public wishes, the Board still found the three-story addition "capricious and discordant with the rest of the proposal" and the apartment tower's design to be "busy and composed of too many elements." Developers and designers have been advised to rethink their designs and try again soon. Although this is sure to delay Phase II, developers are still planning to deliver Phase I to the marketplace in summer of 2011.

The last project was spun by Spaulding & Slye, Colliers & Castleton Holdings, lender O’Connor North American Property Partners LP was forced to foreclose on the property, and enabling Valor to swoop in and purchase the site.

Washington DC real estate development news


Anonymous said...

The old rendering looks pretty cool. Looks like a interesting attempt to max livable space in a growing urban context. It's not like they proposed knocking down the building and put up a generic NOMA/Mt. Triangle condo block.

Kind of reminds me of the few of the better projects in town.
More dynamic cities like London and NYC do these type of retro fits all the time.

Historic preservation grew as legitimate reaction to excesses of the 50s and 60s.

Like any social movement, it looks like its time for counter movement to balance the excesses of HRPB. Ironically, most of the jewels HRPB try to protect were cutting edge and out of context with their surroundings and would have been opposed by a earlier-HRPBs.

Let DC grow and evolve. HRPB should fight destruction of architectural jewels and push for progressive planning, not micromanage development projects.

Anonymous said...

That could be beautiful. Shame there's no Metro in that part of town, but I like the concept of condos there. May the developers do a competent job of renovation that fabulous old embassy.

Chris in Eckington said...

Columbia Heights Metro is five blocks away.

Anonymous said...

Uphill, and you have to walk by the ghettolicious Target.

Critically Urban on Jan 3, 2011, 12:26:00 AM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Critically Urban on Jan 3, 2011, 12:28:00 AM said...

@Last Anonymous. This location is not uphill to the Metro. It is at the top of the hill you clearly don't know, and is an easy 5 minute walk away from the station entrance at Irving and 14th. Additionally, "ghettolicious"? Come on. You're clearly unfamiliar with the area, and clearly uncomfortable with even the idea of ethnic and economic diversity. The Target has helped revitalize the area and is patronized by every single type of person you can imagine, white, black, Latino, Asian, rich family types, poor college kids, middle class Latinos (probably even people JUST LIKE YOU--GASP!!). Get over yourself.

Anonymous said...

Why can't they get an architect that knows the first thing about classicism? If historic preservation grew as a reaction to modernism, why continue to add modernist structures that have nothing to do with it. Are we worried we can't produce anything as beautiful as the original creations? A lot of questions.

Anonymous said...

I am generally a fan of mixing the historic with the new. But not in this case, this building is so beautiful, it would be nice to see a classical structure on scale with the older building. Nothing more than 5-6 stories. I mean who is going to want to say I live at the old Italian embassy, when they just live in a new glass box next to it.

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with perserving historic structures, but the power yielded by DC's unelected and unaccounted Historic Preservation folks is frightening. Having dealt with them before, they can at times be completely unreasonable in their demands on an owner. There "any building at any time and for any reason" landmarking process puts unncessary fear into owners and hopefully one day the process will either be clarified or struck down by the Courts as an unconstitutional taking of private property rights.

Anonymous said...

from someone who was in the process of buying the old ballroom that was being converted into a one bedroom loft condo at the embassy the first go round, this could be a great opportunity to live in an incredibly beautiful building surrounded by wonderful urban life. Even a glass fronted structure that faces it would have a view into old Italy that many would die for. There's no better reflection of this structure than a glass towwer acting as a mirror to the soul of this old embassy.

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