ANC backs Fannie Mae developers’ landmark request

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The Fannie Mae headquarters is located at 3900 Wisconsin Ave. NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/December 2016)
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Key portions of 3900 Wisconsin Ave. NW are on track to become a D.C. landmark amid the parcel’s large-scale redevelopment, joining some 600 other historically significant individual properties across the District.

Roadside Development, which purchased the property from Fannie Mae last year, is requesting the landmark status. On Monday, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C (Cleveland Park, Massachusetts Avenue Heights, Woodley Park) backed the developer’s application to the Historic Preservation Review Board.

Roadside intends to redevelop the former Fannie Mae headquarters site with six new buildings standing up to eight stories high and two public amenities: a garden and a town square. A Wegmans supermarket is among the planned retail tenants of the mixed-use development. The project calls for retaining the property’s main red-brick building and its expansive front lawn.

That building, completed in 1958, was designed by local architect Leon Chatelain Jr. in the Colonial Revival style to resemble the governor’s palace in Williamsburg, Va. Originally constructed to house the Equitable Life Insurance Co., 3900 Wisconsin became the headquarters of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) in the 1970s.

Plans call for retaining the existing Fannie Mae building and developing the area behind it. (rendering courtesy of Roadside Development)

Developers applied to designate just part of the Fannie Mae campus as a landmark: its front lawn and the three buildings nearest to Wisconsin Avenue. The property’s rear buildings aren’t under consideration for landmark status because they were constructed in 1978 and lack cultural value.

Roadside co-founder Richard Lake said he’s pursuing the landmark designation both due to the property’s historical significance and because doing so might warm residents to the idea of a large-scale development.

“We never intended to tear this building down. We always intended to do an adapted reuse,” Lake said at ANC 3C’s Oct. 16 meeting. “For us, this was a way to make a gesture to the community.”

But some residents aren’t convinced that 3900 Wisconsin Avenue is worthy of landmark status.

“I’m not an architect or a historian, but it doesn’t seem significant in the way that we understand some other landmarks in Washington, D.C.,” one resident said at the meeting. “What other privileges does it bring the building or the company?”

D.C. landmarks that are slated for rehabilitation projects qualify for a federal tax credit of 20 percent. Lake conceded that securing landmark designation would offer some financial benefits, but said the amount was insignificant and didn’t factor into Roadside’s motivation to apply for historic protection.

“There’s not a lot of tax benefits, for us, there’s not an economic benefit, really, much,” Lake said at the meeting.

Fannie Mae’s possible candidacy for landmark status preceded Roadside’s acquisition of the property, according to ANC 3C chair Nancy MacWood.

“This is considered to be an exemplary building,” MacWood said at the meeting. “It has been planned for a very long time that this property would be landmarked, and fortunately Roadside came on the scene.”

Roadside expects to present final designs to the community late next year, Lake told The Current.

Wegmans would go into the existing building’s lower level, but not before late 2021. (rendering courtesy of Roadside Development)

“I think the hard work’s ahead of us,” Lake said of the design process. “Now you get into a very subjective approach, you know. Do I like that color brick? … It’s hard to argue about something that subjective.”

Roadside made an informational presentation about the project during the Historic Preservation Review Board’s Aug. 3 meeting. Board members deemed the property to be potentially eligible for designation, deputy state historic preservation officer Steve Callcott told The Current.

The Historic Preservation Review Board will decide on the 3900 Wisconsin project in two parts. The landmark designation is up for board review in late October or early November, and Roadside’s development plans are slated for assessment on Nov. 16 if the site is granted historic status.

The project is set to break ground in 2019, Lake said, with some buildings opening during 2021. He anticipates full completion in 2022.

Roadside is posting updates about its progress and accepting feedback at 3900wisconsin.com.