A Georgetown developer has hired Arthur Cotton Moore, a nationally prominent architect, to redesign a controversial condominium and commercial complex planned for the Georgetown waterfront that had been sharply attacked by the federal Fine Arts Commission.
Moore said he hopes to "create a smaller project," possibly with several relatively small buildings on the 5.9 acre tract between the Whitehurst Freeway and the Potomac River, and possibly use various colors and textures of bricks.
Those changes would correct two of the chief objections raised by the Fine Arts Commission: that the almost four-block-long project was simply to massive and that the use of dark brown brick throughout the project resulted in an unacceptable sameness.
Moore, who has designed such well-known Washington projects as Canal Square and The Foundary in Georgetown and the luxury homes now under construction on the estate of the late Nelson A. Rockefeller, said the waterfront redesign may be completed within two months.
After hearing the details of the original proposal by the Western Development Corp. last month, the commission unanimously recommended that the city reject the complex.
While the Fine Arts Commission can only recommend that the design of a project be changed, its recommendations are rarely rejected.
While city officials originally seemed to be wholeheartedly supporting Western's proposal, they have now backed off.
"I would say it's up in the air," Ivanhoe Donaldson, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry's general assistant and top adviser, said recently. "It would take extenuating circumstances to go against the Fine Arts Commission. We're not overly enthused by that project. We've not ruled it out, but we're not supporting it either."
In a Jan. 4 letter to city housing director Robert L. Moore, commission chairman J. Carter Brown, the director of the National Gallery of Art, said that Western Development should "take a fresh look at a different architectural approach, bearing mind the interface with the city to the north of the project as well as the overall appearance from the river side."
Brown said that "the principal problem in the [old] design lies in the sheer mass of the project, undifferentiated in its components, and attempting to quote superficial aspects of a 'Georgetown' character that ends up giving the overall effect a nervousness that only underscores the incompatibility of a megastructure of that scale with the residential character of the historic district north of M Street."
Architect Moore, 44, said he believes the use of brick is a "very appropriate material" for the project, "but it doesn't have to be all the same color or texture and the windows don't have to be all the same."
Brown said in his letter to housing director Moore that the commission remains adamant that the best use for the proposed development tract and 12 adjoining acres would be to buy it for a park.
Many Georgetown residents also favor purchase of the land, now a tawdry mix of a concrete plant, parking lots and debris, for a park. Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), who lives in Georgetown, and Rep. Fortney H. (Pete) Stark (D-Calif.) have introduced legislation to buy the land for a park, but no hearings have been held on the proposal.
Meanwhile, Reginald W. Griffith, executive director of the National Capital Planning Commission, ordered this week that an environmental impact statement be prepared on the various proposals for the waterfront tract, a task he said could take six months.
Herbert S. Miller, president of Western Development, said the firm hired Moore after interviewing five other arthitects because it felt that Moore could best "articulate some of the requests of the Fine Arts Commission." He said that the original architect, GMR Limited of Rockville, is no longer working on the estimated $60 million project.
Miller said construction, originally planned to start next fall, will be delayed, but he declined to predict by how much. He earlier had said that any delay of city approval for the project past March 1 would cost the company and its development partner, Chessie Resources, "millions" of dollars because of contingencies in their land purchase contract.