There are plenty of obvious obstacles to developing the West Heating Plant, the former coal and steam plant in Georgetown that the General Services Administration plans to sell shortly.
There is a labyrinth of pipes from the ground floor all the way up to the sixth which its new owner will likely need to cut into countless pieces and haul out the door.
There is the environmental cleanup required, of lead paint, PCBs, mercury, asbestos and who knows what else.
There is the requirement that the land next to the building be used for public open space, something neighbors have demanded and the Office of Planning plans to enforce.
But the concern that potential buyers most voiced at a presentation GSA made on the property Thursday morning was about whether the building’s existing facade, dating to the 1940s, could be altered. In particular: Would the new buyer be able to add windows?
The windows issue is paramount to the value of the building because without being able to add new windows, re-using the building as a hotel, condo or apartment building — the most likely courses — becomes impossible. Luxury condo buyers don’t put up big bucks to buy units that have little if any natural light.
But when the GSA puts the building up for sale via online auction, probably in December, the likelihood is that potential buyers will have little certainty as to whether they will be able to add windows or not.
In response to questions about the facade, David Maloney, the D.C. State Historic Preservation Officer, simply advised prospective bidders to hire good historic preservation advisors.
Asked after the meeting whether he had any more specific guidance as to whether facade changes might be allowed, Maloney demurred. “As you can see, I have really been trying not to take a position on that,” he said.
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