From the editors: After hearing from the 3101 Albemarle developers, the following additions and clarifications have been incorporated into the original piece published November 15th, 2017:
by Jane Solomon and Marjorie Share
The owners of 3101 Albemarle still plan to add five new townhouses plus a single-family home to the lot of the former Polish ambassador’s residence.
To do so, they need zoning relief – a Planned Unit Development, or PUD – including a public amenities package. If their request is not approved, they say they will divide the unlandmarked portion of the property into three lots to accommodate large single-family homes and sell those lots to other developers.
Father and son partners P.G. and Bobby Gottfried purchased the property as Soapstone Valley Ventures (SVV) in 2016. Rock Creek Conservancy was to move its headquarters into the historic mansion but in September, after more than a year of discussions, pulled out of the lease-to-purchase agreement. Given that the Conservancy is the steward of Rock Creek Park, its tenancy on the property would have bonded the property to the park directly across Albemarle Street to the south.
The Gottfrieds do not intend to pursue another nonprofit buyer, and intend to market the house as a residence. The Conservancy’s withdrawal from the project was a big disappointment for the neighborhood and the Gottfrieds. Their presence in Forest Hills would have benefited our community on numerous levels, not the least of which would have been a heightened focus on Soapstone Valley Park and ecology and conservation practices.
PUD amenities package needs clarification
Public amenities are a required part of PUD applications, such that voluntary and negotiated “givebacks” to the community are to be roughly equal to the zoning relief sought by the developers. The historic designation and preservation of the original residence is the centerpiece of SVV’s public amenities. (Here’s Greater Greater Washington’s easy-to-understand guide to PUDs.)
The Gottfrieds presented their amenities package, which was revised after the loss of the Rock Creek Conservancy, at the October 17th meeting of ANC 3F. The following list was provided to commissioners and the audience as a handout.
1. Stormwater management: Permeable driveways; rain garden replacing pond
2. Open space accessible by new walkway along 32nd Street
3. Age-in-place design including elevators
4. Parking on site, which means no new curb cuts and no two-hour parking exemption
5. Work with DDOT for a crosswalk at 32nd and Albemarle Streets and design and maintenance of a Soapstone Valley overlook
6. Extensive planting of trees and shrubs as shown on site plan, with a significant net gain of plantings
7. Landmark designation for the historic mansion
It hasn’t been determined that everything on the list would qualify as public amenities by the Office of Planning and the Zoning Commission. It may also include items that are responsive to city requirements. For example, is semi-pervious paving a public amenity or part of meeting stormwater management requirements? And the elevators in the three-story townhomes would benefit aging private residents, but would they count as a public benefit? The ANC is seeking clarification on these issues.
Their handout also contained an updated site plan (pictured above). One change from earlier versions is the footprint of the single-family house behind the mansion, and fronting Appleton Street. It is now set back farther from the street and the rear of the house has been brought forward. The smaller footprint resulted in a 20% reduction in square footage to 4,280 square feet. These changes were made in direct response to requests from Appleton neighbors to not build a single family house on the non-conforming lot, or to significantly reduce its mass.
This portion of the property (behind the mansion and east of the driveway) measures only about 4,500 square feet, which is much smaller than the 7,500 square feet that would be required for a single-family home were it not part of the PUD application.
The townhomes have flat roofs that are 31 feet high with stone projections that are 34 feet, well below the 40-foot zoning maximum. Subsequent to the ANC meeting, Bobby Gottfried informed us that they lowered the height from the original design.
Questions about matter-of-right development
At the October ANC meeting, Appleton Street resident Rita Arendal said the Gottfrieds had just informed the neighbors that in the event the PUD is not approved, they could create three lots of at least 7,500 square feet, rather than the two which the neighbors, the ANC and the Office of Planning had previously understood to be the case. Arendal asked to see a drawing of the lots and confirmation that the lots are viable.
The Gottfrieds were prepared for the request. They showed a new site drawing, prepared by their engineering firm, of the three-lot configuration. In addition to the corner lots at Appleton and Albemarle, the drawing shows the area of the single-family house behind the mansion augmented to meet minimum lot requirements. It does so by connecting it to a separate area along 32nd Street. The link is a narrow strip of land, approximately eight feet wide and 90 feet long.
ANC 3F Acting Chair Pat Jakopchek said the commission will seek confirmation from the Office of Planning as to whether this unusual lot configuration would be approved, and under what conditions, to ascertain whether this three-lot plan is a viable alternative to the PUD being sought.
The acceptance of a third lot would significantly change the options before the ANC and the neighborhood. Three lots would allow matter-of-right construction of single family houses, each more than 7,000 square feet plus a full basement, rather than two as previously understood from discussions and presentations by the developers and their advisers.
Moreover, the 32nd Street portion of the third lot would, according to their plan, make it possible to build an accessory dwelling, a small rentable house belonging to the house on Appleton. Accessory dwellings, which once required a zoning variance, may now be built as a matter of right under the zoning regulations that took effect in 2016. Even with a landmarked mansion next door, matter-of-right construction also means there would be no design review of the project.
To underscore the mass of what could be built as a matter of right, their engineers added footprints and approximated the square footage of each house. There are several points worth noting about this scenario. The understanding is:
1) The matter-of-right houses have a collective footprint that is significantly larger than the six dwellings in the proposed PUD.
2) Maximum height in residential zones is 40 feet, however, the zoning formula for measuring peaked roofs allows for half of the peak to rise above the 40-foot maximum. (The townhome roofs, as mentioned above, will rise to 31 feet.)
3) Builders can choose which street to face on corner lots.
In the three-lot rendering, the house at Albemarle and 32nd is shown with the front yard setback facing 32nd Street and an eight-foot side yard on Albemarle, presumably to maximize square footage. As a result, this house could be built much closer to Albemarle than are others on the block. As a frame of reference, the neighboring house to the east at 3051 is set back approximately 40 feet from the property line (source: DC zoning map).
P.G. Gottfried added that they remain committed to the PUD and plans for townhomes, and have no interest in building houses on the lots should the application be rejected. In that event, they said they would sell the lots to an unknown developer.
Visualizing the townhomes development
Other questions and comments from the community were focused on design and development of the townhomes and one single-family home rather than the public amenities and the lot division. Marjorie Share made three suggestions to help people visualize the potential construction under the PUD:
1) Story poles, which can be made using two-by-fours, to be temporarily installed in strategic locations on the property and rise to the height of the proposed construction. They provide a sense of height and mass, and allow people to envision which views will remain and which will be blocked.
2) A materials board to illustrate the building materials proposed major architectural materials, such as the stone, wood and the stucco color.
3) Tying landscaping tape around the trees that will need to be cut down with another color around the heritage trees that will remain.
All three ideas were met with enthusiastic nods from the Gottfrieds’ architect, Christian Zapatka.
Process of community input
Twice during the meeting, Commissioner David Dickinson pressed Commissioner Naomi Rutenberg and the Gottfrieds on process. The ANC has received requests for more opportunities for community input, such as a special ANC meeting. P.G. Gottfried said they would be filing the application very soon and that afterward he expected there would be continued tweaking of the plans in response to the Office of Planning, other appropriate DC agencies, and the community.
The Gottfrieds have said they will give a copy of the PUD application to neighbors within 200 feet of the property before it is filed, and they still intend to do so. (P.G. Gottfried told Forest Hills Connection that the detailed set of documents and drawings has taken longer to compile than expected.)
Jane Solomon suggested that the 30-day period after the application is filed and before the Zoning Commission decides whether to schedule a hearing would be a good time to hold a wider community meeting. Acting Chair Jakopchek reminded everyone that the ANC email is “always open” and that comments can be sent to the entire commission at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of the community are encouraged to suggest additions to the amenities list (Read more about the process here). And, in addition to the issue of voluntary amenities or required add-ons, the ANC is asking appropriate city officials about how many conforming lots are possible so the commission and the community can fully understand the important options before them.