Capitol Hill creeps east

Not long ago M Street S.E. more or less stopped at 11th Street S.E.

There, it turned into a charming country lane — if you overlook the illegal dumping, the inebriated fishermen and the rough sleepers. It wandered on, apparently pointless, to end at a historic motorboat club, Seafarers, and a rusty railway bridge to be crossed at peril.

Not long ago M Street S.E. more or less stopped at 11th Street S.E.

There, it turned into a charming country lane — if you overlook the illegal dumping, the inebriated fishermen and the rough sleepers. It wandered on, apparently pointless, to end at a historic motorboat club, Seafarers, and a rusty railway bridge to be crossed at peril.

But this year progress and development, spilling everywhere on the Hill, has finally found eastern M Street S.E. with a vengeance. This is not the already highly visible building activity along M Street near the Metro Station at 2nd but much farther east.

Florida’s Lincoln Properties first struck gold there five years ago, when they reasoned that Navy contractors would want to be near the reorganized and vastly enlarged group of Navy brass at the Navy Yard. They leased land from Washington Gas Co. and built two subdued, luxurious office buildings of glass, stone and brick at 12th and M streets S.E. Huge anchors by the entrance announce Maritime Plaza. The proof of their wisdom came when Lincoln sold for $92 million to local real-estate moguls Bernstein Bros., who two years later made a $25 million profit by selling the two buildings last year to Invest Corp.

Now two more buildings, each eight stories (the originals were five stories), are in the pipeline just east (upstream in river terms) of Maritime Plaza, and a curving 250 room hotel is on the planning boards to face the Anacostia River south of the original Maritime Plaza buildings. A fifth new building, on the easternmost part of the development, will be two stories. This will make a small city east of the 11th Street Bridge.

Meanwhile, the city has plans to extend Virginia Avenue to the river between 11th Street and the Sousa (Pennsylvania Avenue) Bridge and end it with a large park. The vagrants, illegal dumpers and even the fishermen will need to look for new quarters.

Span plan spares boat club

Paddlers, canoeists and members of Capital Rowing Club (full disclosure: this includes me) are dizzy with relief after the city’s top infrastructure engineer, John Deatrick, told a Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission last week that the destruction and rebuilding of the twin 11th Street Bridges to Anacostia will not obliterate the Anacostia Community Boathouse, now nestled between the two bridges north of the Navy Yard.

Deatrick said that both bridges are to be torn down and rebuilt on existing foundations, a process many feared would mean the end of two small brick boathouses built by the Navy for small-craft development during World War II. “One of the project goals is to retain the boathouses,” Deatrick said.

The Anacostia Community Boathouse Association, the umbrella group that has leased the two buildings from the city, recently received a $300,000 grant from the D.C. Department of Transportation to refurbish one of the World War II structures, once used by city bridge maintenance workers.

Deatrick outlined the plans for the bridge reconstruction (though the timetable is uncertain), which will finally provide the “missing link” between the Southeast/Southwest Freeway and Interstate 295, remove much commuter traffic from Hill streets and send it directly to the Maryland suburbs. But in that process, the bridge roadways will be widened, overshadowing the present boathouse.

ANCs battle row-house expansions

Ambitious young Hill couples, land speculators and developers seem to want one thing: to make their narrow turn-of-the-century row houses bigger.

People longing for square footage come to the Hill’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) like pilgrims to Mecca, clutching a roll of architects drawings, a sheaf of letters from neighbors and something of an understanding of FAR (floor-area ratio), the acronym for how much of your lot is covered by building.

What they want is permission to add decks, stories, bedrooms, rear additions — whatever it takes to make the traditional cramped row house a little roomier. They’ve paid over half a million dollars for their homes, and they feel entitled. But the commissioners, at least those at the Hill’s traditional ANC 6B, aren’t bending to the new wind that’s blowing through the Hill housing boom.

Hear ANC 6B Commissioner Antoinette Russell: “If we all had what we should get by right, this wouldn’t be the Capitol Hill we know. ... We have to draw the line somewhere. We can’t just go with matter of right.”

In this instance, the commissions have a lot of power. Because of the Hill’s Historic District status, the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board, a known stickler for authenticity and historic styles, must OK almost all changes to the exterior of buildings. And that board reads negative letters from neighbors, local organizations — especially the ANCs — and watchdogs such as the self-described Capitol Hill Restoration Society.

Thus a clearly frustrated young homeowner, Todd Mitchell, watched as plans to enlarge his home in the 500 block of East Capitol Street took a drubbing, mainly because neighbors objected to its height and size. “We will have to leave the Hill if we can’t do this project,” he explained, pleading that a new baby had just arrived. He was not alone: Seven enlargement projects were on the agenda last week; most were frowned on, or deferred a month.

Among them was a controversial group of buildings, the boarded-up bayfronts at 221-225 11th St. S.E. for many years owned by absentee landowner Fred Davis. Davis is trying to turn his three row houses into nine condominiums, though two of them are being reviewed by the city for condemnation. “We will go on record as opposing this project,” said Commissioner Ken Jarboe.

Jarboe said later he sees a trend toward neighborhood acrimony in the battle over planned additions. “It’s a neighbor-against-neighbor thing,” he said.


• Scarce heard, but telling: Mayor Anthony Williams “all but endorsed Linda Cropp (D)” in the 2006 mayoral race, says reporter Matthew Vadum of Bond Buyer, an investment daily that carried a long Williams interview three months ago. Then, the mayor told Vadum, “I think Linda Cropp brings the most to the table, and she has the potential to be a great mayor.” …

• Mudslinging has intensified with the debate over National Capital Medical Center, the proposed $400 million hospital partnership between Howard University and D.C. Opponents and proponents have repeatedly blogged outrageous charges of racism against nearly every possible target: whites, blacks and Jews. ...

• City Council independent David Catania (At large), the only one who seems able to keep his head in the hospital debate, has issued a list of questions to Williams and Howard President Patrick Swygert about the National Capital Medical Center: whether or not Howard will use part of its $30 million annual federal subsidy for the project and what, if anything, will remain of Howard’s own deficit-ridden hospital. Williams promised answers. ...

• Confused about the five running for mayor? WUSA Channel 9’s debate Wednesday produced few revelations but defined the candidates in proper sound-bite style. Cropp: “The mayor and I. ...” Vincent Orange: “Fiscal responsibility first.” Marie Johns: “ Seasoned executive with experience.” Michael Brown: “Change the mindset of young people.” Adrian Fenty: “Without the schools, all is for naught.” Surprises: Cropp’s tired recital of accomplishments; Brown’s unflappable and cerebral persona; Orange’s improbable promises, such as “I will take over the schools.” ...

• Another marathon will debut across Capitol Hill on March 25, closing some roads early that Saturday morning; headquarters is the Robert F. Kennedy Stadium parking Lot 8. About 1,800 entrants (who must post fast qualifying times) are expected for the National Marathon, which is run by the greater Washington Sports Alliance and aims to provide a springtime balance to the Marine Corps Marathon. “The demand is there,” says race director Keith Dowling. “This is the third ranked running area in the country.”