The Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, ANC 2F, voted 4-2 on Wednesday night to approve plans by Whitman-Walker Health to redevelop the site of its Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center at 14th and R St., N.W.
The approval came with two “reservations” suggesting that changes be made to “subdue” the color of terracotta tiles in the building’s façade and the style of the windows in part of the project designated for historic preservation reflect an older time period.
But the resolution adopted by ANC 2F approving the project did not include a provision recommended one week earlier by its Community Development Committee that described the project as “monolithic” and called for it to be reduced in size.
Under D.C. law, city agencies must give “great weight” to ANC recommendations, but the agencies, not the ANCs, make the final decision on a proposed project such as Whitman-Walker’s.
Last week, Whitman-Walker and its partner in the joint venture project, Fivesquares Development, released details for plans to convert the one-block long site into a 155,000-square-foot, six-story structure with a seventh story penthouse.
The mixed use structure would include retail shops and restaurants on the ground floor, underground parking, 60,000 square feet of office space, and at least 80 residential apartments. Whitman-Walker says it would retain majority ownership rights in the project and would use about half of the office space for its community health programs, according to Whitman-Walker spokesperson Shawn Jain.
During discussion at Wednesday night’s ANC meeting, Commissioners Kevin Sylvester and Charlie Bengel expressed support for the Community Development Committee’s contention that the project was too “massive” and would overwhelm nearby buildings and houses.
Other commissioners, including ANC 2F Chair John Fanning and Commissioner Pepin Tuma, appeared to reflect the sentiment of the majority of the commissioners and several residents in the audience that the size and scale of the development would blend in well with the surrounding neighborhood.
“My constituents that I’ve talked to are in support of it,” Tuma told the Washington Blade after the meeting. “The ones who have taken the time to look at the project and the design are favorable and are excited to see Whitman-Walker stay in the neighborhood,” he said. “They think it will only add to the neighborhood.”
Those voting for the resolution approving the project with the two reservations were Fanning, Tuma, and Commissioners Maurice Dorsey and Jim Lamare. Sylvester and Bengel voted no. Commissioner Kevin Deeley, chair of the Community Development Committee, was absent.
Whitman-Walker Deputy Executive Director Naseema Shafi and Fivesquares Development managing partner Andy Altman, who spoke on behalf of the project at the ANC meeting, said they were pleased with the ANC’s decision to approve the project.
The ANC recommendation that the project be approved will be sent to the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board, which will make the final decision on whether the project meets city historic preservation standards and can move ahead to the construction phase.
As he had in a presentation before the Community Development Committee, Altman told ANC members Wednesday night that the project’s plans call for careful historic preservation of the original Elizabeth Taylor building and a second building on the site that have already been designated as historic structures. He noted that the new larger structure would be built around the two smaller buildings in a way that will preserve the smaller buildings’ architectural and historic integrity.
“We were given a great opportunity to respond and I’m really happy with their response,” Shafi said after the meeting, in commenting on the ANC’s decision not to call for a reduction in the size of the overall project.
“It comes as a relief,” she said. “There was so much attention put into ensuring that it wasn’t monolithic. There was so much attention to the detail and the way that the materials would be and the difference in the materials from façade to façade to ensure that we avoid that.”