SB Urban’s Blagden Alley Design Deemed Incompatible with Historic Alley


SB Urban’s Blagden Alley Design Deemed Incompatible with Historic Alley

SB Urban’s plan for a 125-unit apartment with ground floor retail at 917 M St., NW and 1212 9th St., NW will go into a hearing with the Historic Preservation Review Board later this month without support for several major design features, including a pedestrian bridge connecting the two buildings and a proposed 60-foot piazza at the ground level. A report from historic preservation office staff says the design’s effort to connect two buildings not only misses the mark, but also “takes over” historic Blagden Alley.

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Developer SB Urban proposes building two four-story buildings on two vacant sites in Blagden Alley. The design by Hicock Cole Architects includes a a pedestrian walkway connection between the buildings. Additionally the project would create a new 60-foot “mini-piazza” in the alley by setting back the new buildings additionally from the original alley dimensions, which were historically 15 and 30 feet in width.

These changes “combine to effectively, and incompatibly, change the scale of this part of the historic district,” according to the staff report.

“Rather than two buildings inserted comfortably amongst [sic] the historic buildings of the district, their literal and figurative connection aggregates to take over this corner of Blagden Alley,” staff wrote.

Proposed pedestrian bridge as part of SB Urban's Blagden Alley development.

Proposed pedestrian bridge as part of SB Urban’s Blagden Alley development.

Staff take the most issue with the pedestrian bride saying such a structure is “most difficult to reconcile” with the historic district because elevated walkways are “nearly absent” from the architectural language of Washington, D.C. and especially from Blagden Alley.  The alley was populated by small businesses run by artisans, rather than large industrial businesses, which meant the structures, were generally “small-scale utilitarian architecture.”

The staff also objected to the over-use of glazing wall systems.

Beyond the way the design impacts the alley, the staff report generally supports the height, massing and materials, saying they fit within the context of the neighborhood.

The final recommendation was for the board to find the concept for the alley design not compatible and to require a new concept from the developers and their architect.

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