The most controversial topic at the Dupont Circle ANC meeting was the Hilton Washington, the 1960s building on Connecticut Avenue between Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan. The hotel was recently purchased by a private group that wants to renovate the hotel and build a new condo wing on the property, part of a trend of many older hotels adding or converting rooms to condos.
The Hilton is a large, concrete building on a hill, with a suburban sensibility to its architecture. The building is set far back from the street, separated by large planted areas. The front entrance is a circular driveway. This building feels like it belongs more in Fairfax County, Virginia than the urban core of Washington, DC.
The proposed new wing is another semicircle inside the larger semicircle of the existing hotel, and from the drawings (unfortunately not available online; some limited information is here) it appears the project would continue the isolated towers-in-the-park feel of the current structure. At the same time, residents at the ANC meeting raised concerns about the loading dock areas of the Hilton, which face the surrounding residential areas and generate large amounts of noise and traffic, as well as the height of the new building, which would be atop the hill and thus more than ten stories above the street.
Development projects usually turn into the same tug-of-war between residents who want to reduce the size of the project, and developers who want to maximize what they get out of their property. In this case, I wonder if there can be a more creative solution. Perhaps the condos could be located along the street line, at the bottom of the hill at the southern edge of the property? Maybe they could be lower and wider, or have a higher part across the street from the tall building near Connecticut, and a lower part where across from the residential townhouses That would create a more neighborhood feel to the street, and leave room behind the housing for an interior loading area for trucks.
Perhaps this requires more regrading of the land than is economical, or leaves less space for condos than the tower options. Maybe neighbors would rather have something on the hill and set back, keeping the street more open—one resident who spoke at the meeting praised the existing building for that, despite its height and concrete-block architecture. But it’s worthwhile to at least explore creative solutions. Simply putting another tower on the hill simply keeps all the problems with the current building’s design. If the site is going to be developed further and something built, let’s find a way to make it something that enhances the neighborhood.