An agreement signed this week singaled a truce between the Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commission and a developer who wants to replace several townhouses on Washington Circle with a highrise condominium building.
Under the terms of the agreement, signed by Circle Associates and representatives of the ANC, the developer will hire an architect of the ANC's choice to preserve the front parts of the six rowhouses and to retain the low scale around the circle. The 105-unit condominium building would be built behind the rowhouses.
The agreement was signed after a dispute in which the developer unsuccessfully sought a court order to force the city to grant demolition permits for the Lewis Hotel School building at 2301 Washington Cir. and for townhouses at 2305, 2307, 2309, 2311, 2313, and 2315 Washington Cir. The developer also asked the court to direct the ANC to withdraw a landmark application for those houses, as well as for all the houses on the square block. The landmark application was filed May 31.
Although a public hearing on the landmark designation is not scheduled until August 16, District law denies demolition permits for buildings on which a landmark application is pending.
Under the agreement signed this week, the ANC would continue to press the landmark application and the developer would reserve the right to contest it at the August hearing.
"These buildings are a hodge-podge," developer Simon Hershon told about 100 Foggy Bottom residents at an ANC meeting recently. Hershon asked the commisson to withdraw the landmark application.
"I worked on this project for 10 months in good faith," said Hershon. "Many of us stand to lose a fortune."
Of the 31 structures on the square, Hershon and his partner, Brian Gordn, own two and have contracts to purchase five others. Hershon said he was to go to settlement on the five houses under contract early this month but he declined to do so when he learned of the landmark application he declined to do so. The contracts contained provisions that made settlement contingent on Hershon receiving deomolition permits for the structures.
Owners of four of the houses under contract to Hershon attended the ANC meeting to protest the landmark application.
"I just own one dinky house," said Leona Abrahams who came to Washington from Georgia for the scheduled settlement. "The constitution gives us the right to own property and to do what we want with it."
David Brown, a George Washington University professor and owner of another house under contract to the developer, expressed disbelief that "this shabby little building is a historical landmark."
Robert Kling, who own two houses on the square that are not slated for demolition, said the landmark application "seemed like a last-minute decision to hold up one's man intention to develop the block."
ANC commissioners, however, denied that they knew of the developer's plan before they filed the landmark application. They said they filed the application to protect what is left of Washington Circle.
"So many of the circles beautifully laid out by L'Enfant have been messed up," said commissioner Ann Loikow. "This block is important to the integrity of Washington Circle."
She referred to the plan for the city of Washington drawn up by Pierre L'Enfant, a French planner, in the 18th century.
Last year, the Schneider Triangle, a group of Victorian houses designed by Cairo Hotel architect T.F. Schneider on the northeast side of Washington Circle, won landmark status. The ANC in filing the landmark application for the block bounded by 23rd 24th and L streets, Pennsylvania Avenue and Washington Circle, called it Schneider Mirror Triangle. Most of the houses on the block were built between 1876 and 1909, but several contemporary townhouses and the Lewis Hotel School were built in 1925.
"At one time Washington Circle was almost completely bordered by low, two- or three-storey townhouses that had an ambience and human charm," said the landmark application. "Now the main vestiges of that residential quality are found in two unique blocks which front on the circle -- these blocks have become popularly known as the 'Schneider Triangle' and the 'Schneider Mirror Triangle.' Their juxtaposition and interplay of spaced form a strong and pleasing link that is crucial to the cohesiveness of the circle.
Several Foggy Bottom residents supported the ANC action.
We should foresight and save the circle before it's too late," said Despina Kaneles.
"George Washington University Hospital and others have violated the circle," said john Chamonsky holding up an architectural sketch of the proposed condominium building. "But do we need another buildng like this on the circle?"