by Brady Holt
Current staff writer
Streetscape improvements planned as part of a pivotal mixed-use project in Van Ness won the unanimous support of the local advisory neighborhood commission last week.
Developers of the planned Park Van Ness building have already gutted the interior of the Van Ness Square commercial complex at 4455 Connecticut Ave., and they intend to raze the building to make way for 271 new apartment units and ground-floor retail.
The bulk of the project requires no public review because it meets the requirements for the property’s zoning classification, but it has gained broad community support regardless. Developer B.F. Saul needs Public Space Committee approval for plans to rebuild the sidewalk, plant new trees and hedges, and offer sidewalk cafes, among other changes.
“I think it’s beautiful,” neighborhood commissioner Mary Beth Ray said of the designs. “I love it, and I support what you’re doing.”
The 1938-built Van Ness Square, most recently anchored by Office Depot and Pier 1 Imports, has long been a target of criticism. With just three stories, and with a surface parking lot separating it from Connecticut Avenue, the complex has been pegged as a weak point for the neighborhood, and as out of place in a walkable city.
The new building — which will stand 65 feet tall, with six stories facing Connecticut Avenue and 10 to 11 stories facing Soapstone Valley Park to the rear — is pitched as a catalyst for change. Besides revitalizing what had most recently been a half-empty aging commercial building, developers promise an arch that aligns with Yuma Street to offer a view to the park, and street-activating retail.
“I’m pretty pleased to see these plans for public space, and I’m really pleased about the plans for the cafe space,” neighborhood commission chair Adam Tope said at last week’s meeting. “I think that’s what makes Cleveland Park pretty lively, what makes 14th Street really lively.”
B.F. Saul is proposing a 10-footwide sidewalk — two feet wider than in an earlier plan — with a hedge on one side and six new trees on the other, along the street. The hedge would separate the “through” sidewalk from outdoor seating areas.
The neighborhood commission’s resolution of support underscores several details of the plan as particularly laudable, like the variety among the planned paving materials, and a curb cut across from Yuma Street that would allow for easy pickup and drop-off for residential traffic without blocking a lane of Connecticut.
The commission requested a few minor changes, though, including a different style of streetlight and accommodations for a possible Capital Bikeshare station.
Saul representatives said at the meeting that they’ve applied for demolition and building permits for the site, and will begin once they are approved – likely in September or October. Construction would then take 27 to 28 months, they said.
Reprinted, with permission, from the July 24th issue of The Northwest Current.