West Heating Plant developers press forward despite OGB criticisms

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The Old Georgetown Board said the latest iteration of the West Heating Plant condo project doesn't preserve enough of the old industrial building. (Rendering courtesy of the Levy Group)

Developers of the West Heating Plant site are pursuing review of their proposed luxury condo building by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, despite opposition from the Old Georgetown Board.

The long-planned project at 29th and K streets NW calls for converting the 1948 heating plant building into approximately 60 condominiums. The concept has won substantial support from the community — including the Citizens Association of Georgetown and Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) — for revitalizing the vacant industrial site.

But at its meeting last Thursday, the Old Georgetown Board voted against the proposal, saying it calls for too much demolition of the historically protected building. The board had already criticized the plans last month, but the Levy Group and the Georgetown Cos. returned last week to argue that their concept was a necessary balance between preservation and programmatic needs. “From our perspective, what they’re looking for is not in the community’s interest, is not in fact buildable,” Richard Levy of the Levy Group told The Current last month.

The Old Georgetown Board is a part of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts dedicated to Georgetown’s federally protected historic district — though the board’s vote is only advisory. The developers will bring their proposal before the Fine Arts Commission on May 18, commission secretary Tom Luebke said.

At the Old Georgetown Board, members felt there is potential to improve the proposal but have deemed the current design unacceptable from a preservation standpoint.

“[The developers] were basically saying they couldn’t use the configuration of the existing building for this kind of housing project, so the board said, ‘We’re here to preserve the building and that’s really our primary goal,’” Luebke said.

The developers’ plan is essentially to preserve the prominent building’s western facade, but to demolish and replace the other three.

“It’s not preservation,” said Luebke. “It’s attempting to preserve the volume and reinterpret the character, but reinterpretation is not the same as rehabilitation.”