CPSG Statement on Macklin (again)

At the May meeting of the Historic Preservation Review Board, the Macklin project hit a wall. The Board, ignoring the will of the community expressed through its ANC, sought additional cut backs in all aspects of the project, rendering it, effectively, not build-able economically.

The Board meets again tomorrow morning to review the applicant’s latest submission, which isn’t much different than the last. The historic preservation review process is broken, and narrow interests like the Cleveland Park Historical Society are leading the charge in making preservation a four letter word.

If you find this infuriating, you aren’t alone. Letters came in this month 4:1 in support of the project.

Below is Cleveland Park Smart Growth Steering Committee’s letter to the HPRB.

Here is the link to the video (second to last case) from the last meeting where opponents were out in force.

Here is HPO’s staff report which supports the project. 

This is the link to the revised Macklin plan that will be reviewed Thursday.

Steering Committee Statement on Macklin Project HPA 20-095 (formerly HPA 20-043)
June 2020

To the Members of the Historic Preservation Review Board,

The Steering Committee of Cleveland Park Smart Growth is deeply disturbed by the actions the board took on May 28th that further scale back the Macklin project at 3400 Connecticut Avenue.  We have two main objections:

  • First, the Board’s actions do not give “great weight” to Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C’s resolution passed in December 2019 which supported the original site plan, height and massing;
  • Second, the Board’s actions make the project financially infeasible.  Making the project financially infeasible denies the community the benefits of an enlivened streetscape, more residents for our local businesses, more housing that is walkable to transit, shops and services, and additional permanently affordable housing, all of which will help to get the economy back on its feet in the wake of COVID-19.

On December 16, 2019, after numerous community meetings and changes to the design that were responsive to feedback received in those meetings, ANC 3C considered a resolution supporting the project.  During the meeting, Commissioner Nancy MacWood offered an amendment, “that ANC 3C agrees with the Cleveland Park Historical Society that the height and massing of the proposed addition to the Macklin (apartment building) is currently incompatible.”  That amendment failed.  What was adopted by ANC 3C said: 

  • ANC 3C supports the site plan set forth by the applicant and the height and massing of the eastern and western buildings, and
  • Requests that the applicants continue to work with HPO to decrease the perceived (emphasis original) massing and to revise the design of the western building to increase coherence with the Art Deco character of The Macklin.

In January, the Board went beyond what the ANC requested and asked the applicants to remove the penthouse and reduce the actual massing of the buildings.

The version of the project reviewed on May 28th was partially responsive to the Board, eliminating the penthouse, providing a setback on the north side of the apartment building, and rethinking the design to something more compatible with the Macklin.  In our opinion, the May submission was less than it should have been, but it was absolutely compatible with the historic district.

During the May meeting a Board member expressed his opinion that the fourth floor of the apartment building should be removed or significantly scaled back and added, “That seems to be what the neighborhood wants too.”  That is not correct.  The “neighborhood” is represented by the ANC, and ANC 3C specifically considered reducing the penthouse and fourth floor and rejected it.  Moreover, individual commissioners indicated the overwhelming support for the project they received from their constituents.  The record should be clear that the neighborhood supported the project reviewed in December/January as it relates to site plan, height and massing.  The issues it wanted addressed pertained to design, which have been addressed.

We also want to highlight what has been given up in this project to date.  As we stated in our December testimony, we prioritize the addition of housing to this project for reasons of economic vitality, equity, and sustainability. The initial application, in deference to preservation concerns expressed by HPO, proposed a concept design that utilized 81% of its matter-of-right FAR, leaving more than 13,000 sf on the table.  That is more than 20 unbuilt homes, two of which could have been IZ.  Since the initial concept, the Board has asked for reductions, not supported by the neighborhood, that would cut an additional 3,000 sf.  In total that is about 27 homes that could, but would not, be built.  That is fewer residents for our retail, fewer residents able to walk to transit and shops and live carfree, and less space for permanently affordable homes.  Meanwhile, the Macklin itself is not being touched, can still be seen from multiple vantage points and the beautiful Art Deco facade of the Uptown Theater is neither obscured nor overwhelmed.

The positive impact this project will have to the vibrancy of our commercial area is significant, not only for the direct benefit the project promises to deliver, but to positively shift the momentum of our commercial area.  While we talk about preserving the views of the Uptown, know that it sits vacant, as the previous tenant, AMC Theaters, could not make it economically sustainable pre-COVID-19.  A successful Macklin project will help in our post-pandemic recovery and will serve as a beacon to future commercial tenants and investors that Cleveland Park is back.  Killing it through multiple cutbacks sends the wrong message and serves as a catalyst for negative momentum.  

Lastly, we believe the Board’s action to alter the new retail space of the corner building is a mistake.  One of the key benefits of the project is effectively finishing the retail wall on that block of Connecticut Avenue.  By reorienting the North facade, the Avenue-facing retail frontage would be stunted into a caricature.  It is not as inviting to the passing pedestrian as the original design, nor is the interior welcoming or useful given its shallow depth.   This change also removes a bedroom and living space from each of the townhomes.  The Board’s action on this point makes the project worse for the neighborhood.  If the specific change is required, it would make the corner building unsuccessful for both retail and residential, thus upending the viability of the entire project. The applicant’s current design revision, matching the size and number of retail windows south of the plaza to the existing ones north of the plaza, is successful.

Our Steering Committee objects to the three actions voted on by the Board on May 28th.  Each are minor design tweaks that would have minimal impact on the compatibility of the project with the historic district but would have a fatal impact to the project itself.  And while we would like to see a useable penthouse returned, which the ANC supported, and while we would like to see development on top of 3412 Connecticut to maximize the matter-of-right square footage, we believe that the current submission, which is in keeping with the ANC resolution and responsive to the design critiques made by the Board and others, should be approved.

Respectfully, 

The Cleveland Park Smart Growth Steering Committee

J.C. Ayala (Porter St)
Liza Collery (Newark St)
David Cristeal (Connecticut Ave)
Megan Draheim (Porter St)
Ellen Herr (Connecticut Ave)
Nina Shiffrin (Connecticut Ave)
Glenn Stanley (34th St)
Bob Ward (Macomb St)
Laura Watson (Quebec St)

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