September 17, 2012: ARC Statement on Proposed New Construction at Rosedale
Update, Sept. 19: The proposal for new construction on the east lot at Rosedale has been withdrawn. Thanks to the many neighbors who participated in the process. The ARC’s statement below remains available to guide appropriate development of the lot for future applicants.
Recommendation in the matter of HPA #12-566
Proposal for a new house at Rosedale (Lot behind 3434 34th Place, NW)
This submittal is a proposal for a new house to be built on an interior lot within the group of lots that were formed in 2002 at the time of the creation of the Rosedale Conservancy (HPA #02-614).
After careful review of the many submitted materials, including all of the submitted drawings and written statements, and after hearing testimony from interested parties in attendance at the ARC meeting (2012.09.10), the ARC is NOT in support and recommends that this proposal should NOT be approved to proceed further in the review process. The ARC’s primary reason for rejection is that the proposal does not follow the descriptive guidelines established by the Historic Preservation Review Board and the Mayor’s Agent when the lot was created, as described in the HPRB Staff Report and the Mayor’s Agent’s Decision and Order in case HPA #02-614.
The Staff Report language, unanimously adopted by the HPRB, is clear in establishing the primacy of the existing historic farmhouse and the importance of preserving its dominance on the entire property: “…The lots flanking the farmhouse have sufficient room to allow for any new construction to be set back from the face of the farmhouse, allowing it to remain dominant on the site.” The larger size of the flanking lots was expressly intended to facilitate this deference to the farmhouse rather than to create an opportunity to build larger or more expansive structures on any given lot.
The current proposal does not meet the spirit of the HPRB and Mayor’s Agent’s Decision and Order in several ways:
- Size: The proposed residence is, and more importantly appears to be, much larger than the farmhouse in breadth (particularly as seen from the south, the Rosedale Conservancy). The height also is arguably extreme, with its “tower” element and with the full three-story-plus presence as viewed from the southeast. The floor-to-floor heights also appear to be very high, and appear to be of a civic rather than of a residential scale.
- Placement: The proposal competes with the farmhouse by virtue of enfronting the hill/grade-drop that runs along the south side of the lot, closely aligned with the farmhouse. It comes close to the east side of the farmhouse, and ignores the opportunity provided by the sizable lot to distance itself from both the farmhouse and the south slope.
- Building type: The proposal utilizes a house type with a cruciform footprint that “sprawls” on the site, creating four distinct courtyards. It seems more appropriate to a rural setting and is not a sympathetic choice of house type to use in the Rosedale setting. With the exception of the existing farmhouse, the houses of Rosedale, and for that matter of the Cleveland Park Historic District, are simpler, 4-sided house types, which are not always small but are at least compact, efficient, and practical in their massing. In the current proposal, the use of a contiguous array of fence-walls, gatehouses, colonnades, carriage houses, and the like, that essentially cordon off the lot into a private enclave, is not seen by the ARC as being in the spirit of the stated goals of the HPRB and Mayor’s Agent’s decisions.
- Style: Generally, for the ARC, any selected style (Colonial, Italianate, Modern, etc.) is usually not of particular importance given the expansive array of styles that coexist in the neighborhood. However in this circumstance, where there is a real concern about “upstaging” the farmhouse, style becomes an issue. The Italianate style chosen for the proposed residence and the way the continuous arched colonnades seem to continue along unimpeded, in combination with their generous height, all combine to suggest the presence not of a residence, but instead perhaps an important civic structure. This is decidedly antithetical to the goals of the HPRB and Mayor’s Agent’s decisions.
In short, this proposal seems not appropriate in almost all conceivable respects. By way of guidance, the ARC would suggest an alternative point of departure for a new house on this lot, to take a cue from the house at 3503 Newark Street, NW (Marcou Residence), which is the lot that is to the left of the farmhouse as seen from the south lawn, the Rosedale Conservancy. This house is not small, but it is compact and efficient. It sits well back from the formal front of the farmhouse and also sits at a comfortable distance from the farmhouse. A mirror image of the massing of this house, about the north/south axis running through the farmhouse, would result in a house situated roughly in the northeast corner of the lot under consideration. There would be room to spare for outbuildings to the west and a gracious front yard facing south. This approach would go a long way to addressing many of our concerns with the current proposal.
Regarding the drawings and presentation, the ARC very much appreciates the efforts of the architect in this regard, particularly for such a significant site. However, the ARC notes that the site plan figure-ground drawing as presented was incorrect and left the impression that there was a deliberate attempt to obscure the impact of the massing of this proposal. A fair rendering of this information should show all buildings consistently treated, preferably with all roofed areas, either enclosed or not, as solid “hatched” figures on the site plan.
Vote: 7 in favor; one abstention.
Images of the proposed new residence at Rosedale: