Developer Oliver T. Carr Jr.'s $60-million Garfinckles's block development on 15th Street NW would be permitted to exceed the area height limit by 35 feet under a bill pending in the City Council.
The Downtown office and retail complex would be built opposite the Treasury building between 14th and 15th streets and F and G streets NW. While the city's maximum height limit is 130 feet, the area along 15th Street where Carr's project would be is now limited to a 95-foot height.
The bill, which has ushered in yet another round in the dispute between Carr and preservationists, is sponsored by Councilman John Wilson (D-Ward 2). It would allow the proposed structure to rise 130 feet after a 35-foot setback that would be 80 feet high. Under the present law, enacted in 1910, Carr would be allowed to build a structure only 95 feet high after the setback. The proposed bill would apply only to a two-block area along 15th Street between Pennsylvania and G Street; Carr's project would occupy one of those blocks, the other is occupied by the Hotel Washington.
Carr company officials say that if the bill is passed, they will preserve one of the three landmark sturctures on that block of 15th Street. The structures are; the Rhodes Tavern, the National Metropolitan Bank Building, and the Albee-Keith Theater Building, for which the Carr company already has a demolition permit. Company officials say preservation of any one of the buildings will cost them floor space that can be partially made up by raising the height of the structures to be built on the site if the law is passed.
Perservations, on the other hand, say they want Carr to make a firm commitment to preserve all three landmark buildings before he is granted a height amendment.
Betts Abel, project manager for the Carr complex, siad if the height change is not approved, the company might exercise its demolition permit and tear down the theater.
At a council work session this week, council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) requested that the housing committee consider holding a public hearing on the matter.
Wilson replied that a hearing was not required and urged members to mov the bill forward.
"This is the first developement across the 15th Street corridor by a private developer," said Wilson. "The problem is whether he can develop it to capacity. This bill allows the developer to develop without disturbing the architectural value of the historic buildings on the block."
'But David Bonderman and Leila Smith, board members of Don't Tear It Down, a preservation group, wrote to Mayor Marion Barry that "enactment now of the bill as it is presently written will encourage the demolition of the Keith-Albee building" by relinquishing "the city's most important leverage" in the fight to save the landmarks.
"We doubt that Mr. Carr will use that permit (to demolish the Albee Building) so long as he understands thatif the building is demolished the city will not grant him special development privileges (e.g, height) for the site," the letter said. "If the council now gives Carr the special privileges he has been seeking without insisting on his commitment to retain the buildings involved, the demolition of the Keith-Albee is probable."
Carr applied for demolition permits for all three landmark buildings in February 1978. A 180-day delay in demilition was ordered under the city's former landmark law, and negotiations ensued. During the negotiations, Carr asked for community support in securing funds to defray the added costs of preserving the facades.
The city helped Carr obtain approximately $125,000 in historic preservation grants. In addition, the city applied, on behalf of Carr, for a $7.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Last week, however, the city withdrew its supprt for the grant, because of "numerous unsolved issues surrounding the project"
The Carr company obtained a demolition permit for the Albee-Keith building on March 2-the day before the District's new landmark law went into effect. Carr could not obtain demolition permits for the National Metropolitan Bank Building and the Rhodes Tavern because they are still occupied, and both buildings now are subject to the new landmark law. Under that law, the city can veto demolitions of landmarks unless there is proof that the demolition would be in the public interest or that denial of a permit would cause "unreasonable economic hardship" for the developer or owner of the property.
City officials were not invited by the City Council to comment on the proposed height bill, but James O. Gibson, assistant city administrator for Planning and Development, said in an interview that "the timing of the bill was unfortune. But we have some time to act before the City Council meets next Tuesday." Gibson did not elaborate on any plans his office has concerning the bill.