After making a few revisions in response to neighbor and historic preservation concerns, the proposed residential development with ground-floor retail on 14th Street between S and Swann is solidly on track for approval. The project retains the historically contributing, former Whitman-Walker Clinic building at the corner of 14th and S, and replaces the other one-story structures on the block.

Neighborhood preservationists and HPRB disliked the original front facade, which used zig-zagging glass bays. The HPO staff report in December argued that the bays “work at odds with the historic district by emphasizing the addition’s large size and horizontality; their proportion of glass to masonry and the scale of what appears as a single super-projection diminishes rather than enhances the historic building.” The materials of the storefronts also clashed with the rest of the structure.

Left: Original proposal. Right: Current proposal. Click to enlarge.

In response, developer JBG Cos. and architect Shalom Baranes redesigned the facade with more verticality and more prominent masonry. The glass bays now only rise to the fifth floor, and the masonry only to the sixth, making it look smaller while still containing a full seven floors. HPRB will reexamine the proposal this Thursday, and the staff report released yesterday praises the new design and recommends approval.

JBG also tweaked the rear of the building to address some neighborhood concerns. While some neighbors oppose the project entirely, some raised legitimate issues. The project team set back part of the ground floor in the rear to give garbage trucks more space to navigate a 90-degree turn between two alleys. They also moved the garage entrance closer to S Street to make them less visible.

Fortunately for the residents of S and Swann Streets, this project looks much more appealing from the rear than most projects. In fact, at the BZA hearing, Commissioner Greg Jeffries praised Baranes for designing a rear elevation as interesting as the building’s other sides. Too often, developers neglect the back side of buildings. Just compare this proposal’s rear elevation to the back of DC USA in Columbia Heights:

Left: Rear perspective of project from S Street. Right: Rear of DC USA.

The Board of Zoning Adjustment has approved the necessary variances, and HPRB should approve the staff report this Thursday. This project will convert a mostly bland, empty, unsightly block into a vibrant part of the neighborhood. New housing on 14th Street, near Metro, many buses, and exciting shops and restaurants, will enable more people to live in a non-car-dependent part of the city and bring customers to the neighborhood’s businesses.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.