A largely undeveloped chunk of Georgetown, stretching from M Street down to the waterfront, is on the brink of a residential building boom that could produce thousands of new homes in that area, according to predictions by city planners and developers.
At least two developers say they expect to begin construction this year of projects that include housing complexes along with retail and office space. "The number of housing units over the next five to 10 years could range from 1,000 to 3,500," s aid J. Kirkwood White of the municipal planning office. "Somewhere between 300 and 500 units are in various stages of planning now," he said.
According to planners and builders, it is a development that could produce a bonanza of tax dollars for the city and a lively, attractive new neighborhood close to downtown. However, the proposals have not been greeted with unmitigated glee.
Spokesmen for Georgetown citizens groups say they favor residential development with a smaller commercial component and on a smaller scale then proposed. Beyond that, a court challenge to the zoning decision which stimulated the development remains unresolved and could threaten the current planning.
Unless legal or financing obstacles get in the way, developer Robert Morrison's project between 29th and 30th Streets NW, just south of the C&O Canal, may be among the first to go up.Morrison said he expects to begin construction in June, with completion scheduled for September, 1978.
Morrison has received approval for his project from the National Commission on Fine Arts, which passes on every project in the historic Georgetown section. The plans approved include a 44 room.Federal-style inn called Morrison House, a home for Morrison and a seven-story mixed-use building with the top three floors devoted to apartments.
"There's a very strong market for Georgetown housing," he said. The apartments would range from one to two bedrooms and probably be priced between $80,000 and $90,000, he said. Each apartment would have a terrace, and the apartments would offer an attractive view, he said.
Other proposals for housing in the area include:
A complex of officers, stores and apartment on the site of the Washington Flour Mill, south of the Canal between 33rd and Potomac Streets NW. Under development by the Welssberg Development Corporation of Arlington; the project would preserve the historic Bomford Mill, the current mill and a warehouse.It would include 80 to 90 apartments, with construction expected to begin in late summer, said Marvin Welssberg. He has a contract for the purchase of the porperty, Weissberg says, but has not yet bought it.
"We've going to pull our buildings back from the canal to provide a pedestrian area," he said. "We think if it's done well it can be a beautiful area." The architect for this project aand for Morrison's is Peter Vercelli of ICON.
A small residential development adjacent to the Cherry Hill Apartments on Wisconsin Avenue. The development, 12 units in a mix of townhouses and apartments, would be built off of West Alley behind the Cherry Hill complex, part of the handful of residences which now exist in lower Georgetown. The apartments, condominiums, are expected to sell for about $100,000, according to the developer. The developer is Peter Schwartz and the architect is Arthur Cotton Moore, who designed Canal Square and the Foundry building. Moore, an architect with considerable experience with the Georgetown market, said he thinks predictions about development in lower Georgetown and the market for housing there may be overstated because of the cost and availability of land.
An apartment building proposed for the old gas company site, north of the Canal, between 29th and 30th Streets. The National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC) has already renovated an old office building at 1115 30th Street for additional offices and is renovating a larger building too. CFC will lease the airspace over an underground garage, a piece of land fronting on 29th Street, for development as an apartment building. Depending on the size of the apartments, the building might contain 100 or nore units, according to George Herzog of CFC. CFC's buildings are expected to be completed by April, 1978, and construction of the apartments should follow by less than a year, he said.
A development on the site of the old Capital Transit car barn behind Rive Gauche between M Street and the canal. One proposed version of the development would include almost 200 housing units along with retail and office development. The design, by architect Chloethiel Smith, would include apartment buildings and stacked town-houses stepping up from the canal. The carbarn, which was previously leased by the government for the White House's communications equipment, would be torn down except for the part that faces M Street.
There are also plans, less far along, for a largely residential development at the old paper mill site east of the flour mill.
The Georgetown location is "ideal because it's close in, accessible to work," said city planner White, who said the proposed buildings could be the biggest apartment development of Foggy Bottom. He said, though, that the development would be in smaller scale buildings.
The Fine Arts Commission has proposed a waterfront park south of K Street, where the city now keeps sanitation trucks and piles of sand. If the park were developed, it would make the area even more attractive for residential development.
It's a sensational place to live," said Morrison, who plans to move to lower Georgetown from a large house in Virginia.
What remains for Morrison to do is to produce working drawings, put together his financing and be granted a building permit. Zoning for the type of development Morrison has proposed already is in place. It is this zoning that is being challenged in court, and the court challenge which some Georgetown residents say they believe may block development for the time being.
If a permit for a building were granted under the challenged zoning and the zoning were later changed, it is unclear what would become of the building project. In other jurisdictions and in the District, courts have held that developers who are granted permits under zoning which is later changed are entitled to go forward under the permits they hold.
"You get into another question when you have a new zoning put on and someone is attacking that zoning is improper," said city attorney Louis Robbins. The first request for a building permit for a project that Georgetown residents oppose may produce a request for an injunction until the zoning case can be resolved.
The city rezoned the Georgetown waterfront area in December, 1974, allowing residential development in the area where it had been previously prohibited. In one sense, to get the most development value out of the land, the city almost mandated residential development - one of the factors behind the spate of proposals.
Representatives of Georgetown residents, who preferred that the area be even more residential than commercial, filed suit against the zoning changes. That legal action has been pending before Superior Court Judge Sylvia Bacon without action since October, 1975.
If they wanted to build the maximum amount of commercial space possible under the zoning, the city told developers, they would have to allocate 50 per cent of the development to residential use.
However, in a decision that Georgetown residents deride, the city also said that hotels and motels could be considered residential. As a result, several new hotels are planned for Georgetown.
Besides the zoning change, spokesmen for Georgetown residents say they believe that market factors are beginning to make residential development look more attractive than commercial development.
"The commercial stuff just hasn't sold," said Don Shannon, chairman of the Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood commission, Shannon and Grovesnor Chapman, another commissioner and a spokesman for the Georgetown Citizens Association, said that two recent developments are having difficulty leasing space.
"The thing that seems to obvious is that you can sell anything residential. The demand is apparently endless for residential property," said Shannon. "It's also fairly obvious that commercial projects, they're not hacking it," he said.
"The very developers who come to Georgetown because they think it is a good area in which to put their money don't have the wit to understand that they are killing the goose," said Chapman. "What they're selling over here is a certain kind of class. If they're not careful, what they're going to end up with is a kind of stigma. People are going to say. 'Oh, that's not Georgetown,'" he said.
Chapman said that both te proposed flour mill building and the Morrison building were "out of scale with Georgetown." However, Weissberg, developer of the 7-story building proposed for the flour mill site, said that the building would be smaller in scale than the silos there now.
"All this is having large scale construction where there already was large scale construction," said Charles Atherton, secretary of the Fine Arts Commission, about some of the proposed development. Atherton said the commission is "optimistic about how the designs are going to survive the test of time." The buildings approved by the commission so far are all to be of red brick.
"The design is very straightforward. It's obviously of its time, but we don't think it's going to become dated. We think it's going to wear well," Atherton said.