Redevelopment of HOVA dorm set to begin this month

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The proposal expands and transforms the former 2601 Virginia Ave. NW dormitory into a mixed-use building with 250 apartments and ground-floor retail space. (rendering courtesy of Urban Investment Partners)
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Developers of the former Hall on Virginia Avenue dorm site intend to begin construction this month on a new project to renovate and expand the building across the street from the Watergate complex.

The mixed-use building, dubbed Boathouse, will include 250 apartment units, along with ground-floor and rooftop commercial space. Urban Investment Partners recently cruised to a pair of zoning approvals — the second coming last Wednesday — that allow the project to move forward.

The former dorm at 2601 Virginia Ave. NW, nicknamed HOVA, is the former Howard Johnson’s hotel where the Watergate burglars stationed lookouts during their disastrous 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. George Washington University converted the hotel into student housing in 1999, but closed it in 2014 amid complaints of subpar living conditions.

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The university initially planned to renovate the building, but instead sold it to Urban Investment Partners for $36 million last year. The firm specializes in adaptive reuse of aging buildings, and is also working on converting commercial properties to residential in Tenleytown.

When Boathouse opens in August 2018, the company’s Brook Katzen expects its residential tenants to be “young, urban professionals who value high technology, healthy lifestyle, and access to nature (the park and the river).” The commercial tenant is envisioned as a 4,500-square-foot restaurant, which may also operate a 500-square-foot rooftop cafe open only to residents of the building and their guests.

“Oftentimes, the ground floor of a building can set the tone for the overall branding and resident experience,” Katzen wrote in an email. “We hope to find a retail tenant that embodies the same lifestyle and values as our likely residents.”

The former dorm, previously a hotel, is located across Virginia Avenue from the Watergate complex. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2017)

Urban Investment needed two zoning approvals for the project to proceed as planned. First, it needed the Zoning Commission to amend its land-use maps for this stretch of Virginia Avenue, which includes both the HOVA building and an adjacent Sunoco gas station. This change, approved last month, grants additional density and allows a largely residential building to also include commercial space. Last week’s approval, from the Board of Zoning Adjustment, reviewed the developer’s specific plans for that commercial space.

“Once renovated, the Building, located at a prominent intersection within the West End, will attract new residents to the neighborhood and will improve the quality of housing options in the immediate vicinity, which is pivotal given the proximity of Metro (within 1500 feet from the Property),” the company’s zoning filing states.

The project sailed through the approval process with support from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A (Foggy Bottom, West End) and the West End Citizens Association. But their support came with a few conditions for the rooftop, which developers agreed to abide by: no alcohol sales, no outdoor entertainment, and a commitment to close the space by 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends.

Katzen said the company met early on with community groups to receive their feedback and found the restrictions reasonable. “The rooftop is an amenity exclusively for the use of our residents,” he wrote. “It would be unusual to have a full-scale [food and beverage] operation and alcohol sales on the roof.”