Minutes for CFA Meeting — 18 February 2021

The meeting was convened by video conference at 10:02 a.m.

Members participating:
Hon. Justin Shubow, Chairman
Hon. Rodney Mims Cook, Jr., Vice Chairman
Hon. Chas Fagan
Hon. Perry Guillot
Hon. James McCrery
Hon. Steven Spandle
Hon. Duncan Stroik

Staff present:
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
Frederick J. Lindstrom, Assistant Secretary
Sarah Batcheler
Mary Catherine Bogard
Kay Fanning
Daniel Fox
Tony Simon

I. Administration

A. Approval of the minutes of the 21 January meeting.  Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the January meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance.    Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the minutes.  Mr. Luebke said the minutes will be posted on the Commission’s website.

B. Dates of next meetings.  Secretary Luebke presented the dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published:  18 March, 15 April, and 20 May 2021.  

II. Submissions and Reviews

A. Appendices

Secretary Luebke introduced the three appendices for Commission action.  Drafts of the appendices had been circulated to the Commission members in advance of the meeting.  He noted the relatively low number of government projects submitted this month, while the number of Shipstead-Luce Act and Old Georgetown Act submissions remains at a normal level.

Appendix I – Government Submissions Consent Calendar:  Mr. Lindstrom reported that no changes have been made to the draft appendix, which has six projects.  The Commission approved the Government Submissions Consent Calendar.

Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions:  Ms. Batcheler said that one project from the draft appendix has been removed and is being held open for review in a future month (case number SL 21-065).  Other revisions are minor wording changes and the notation of dates for the receipt of supplemental materials.  The recommendations for six projects are subject to further coordination with the applicants, and she requested authorization to finalize these recommendations when the outstanding issues are resolved.  Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Mr. Fagan, the Commission approved the revised Shipstead-Luce Act Appendix.  (See agenda items II.C for an additional Shipstead-Luce Act submission.)

Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions:  Ms. Bogard reported that the appendix has 26 projects.  One recommendation from the draft appendix was updated to note the receipt of supplemental materials (case number OG 21-095); another recommendation was changed to be unfavorable due to insufficient documentation (OG 21-066).  Upon a motion by Mr. Spandle with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the revised Old Georgetown Act Appendix.  Mr. Luebke noted that new buildings and highly prominent projects in the Old Georgetown area are normally placed on the agenda for presentation to the Commission, which typically occurs several times per year.

B. U.S. Department of the Army

CFA 18/FEB/21-1, Arlington National Cemetery, Section 2, northwest of the intersection of Roosevelt and Grant Drives.  New monument to honor the Office of Strategic Services.  Final.  Secretary Luebke said that the Commission had identified this submission as one that could be approved without a presentation.  He said that the proposal is for a small granite marker with an angled top that would have an inscription along with the insignia and emblem of the Office of Strategic Services.  He noted that the Commission’s approval would constitute a finding that the proposal is a worthy design within the context and an appropriate precedent for the cemetery.  Upon a motion by Mr. Guillot with second by Mr. Stroik, the Commission approved the design.

C. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead-Luce Act

SL 21-068,  Portals IV, 1311 Maryland Avenue, SW.  New 11-story residential building.  Concept.  Secretary Luebke introduced the concept design for a new residential building known as Portals IV, which will be the final building of the Portals development project.  The Portals was initially proposed in the mid-1980s as a commercial complex overlooking the Southwest Waterfront and the Tidal Basin; it is built on a former railroad yard, and the development spans above an active CSX railroad line.  The first buildings—Portals I, II, and III—followed a massing plan by local architect Arthur Cotton Moore and together include over 1.5 million square feet of office space, located on the eastern half of the complex.  In early 2000, the development plan was amended to include a hotel and residential units; subsequently, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel was completed in 2004 on the southwestern parcel, and Portals V, a 363-unit residential building designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, was recently completed.

Mr. Luebke said the current submission is for a 350-unit residential building to be constructed on a narrow triangular lot that extends along D Street.  The building would be 12 stories tall, although the developer refers to it as an 11-story building with an occupiable penthouse, as defined under current D.C. zoning regulations; the penthouse would include a restaurant and residential amenity space.  He described the immediate context, which includes the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) to the northwest across 14th Street, and the BEP Annex to the north across D Street.  Industrial infrastructure associated with the BEP abuts the northwest corner of the Portals IV site, including a coal shaker facility and a truck access ramp; these structures need to remain until the BEP moves to another location at some point in the future.  He indicated several federal buildings in nearby blocks that are designed in transitional modern styles, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture South Building, the Central Heating Plant, and the Cotton Annex, which the Commission reviewed last month.  He said that the proposed Portals IV building is intended to complement the overall massing of the Portals complex while presenting an architectural character closely following the recently completed Portals V building.  He said that the change to residential instead of office space has altered how the Portals properties have been developed over the last twenty years; in the case of Portals IV, residential use provides the opportunity for greater articulation of facades with shallow projecting pavilions, balconies, and other elements, creating a more modeled composition with a finer grain than the adjacent office building, Portals III, which was built 25 years ago.

Mr. Luebke asked Steven Grigg, president of Republic Properties, to begin the presentation.  Mr. Grigg noted that his firm has been involved in the development of the Portals since its inception.  He introduced George Dove of WDG Architecture, the architect of record for all the Portals buildings, to present the design for Portals IV.

Mr. Dove indicated the location of the Portals complex at the east end of the 14th Street Bridge, which makes these buildings a focal point for drivers crossing into Washington from Virginia.  He also described the location of the Portals in relationship to the U.S. Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial.  The site of the Portals IV building is bounded by 14th and D Streets, and it adjoins the traffic circle within the Portals that forms the terminus of Maryland Avenue, referred to as the Maryland Avenue plaza or circle; the main entrances to the existing Portals buildings face onto this circle.  He said the north facade of Portals IV, facing D Street, would be treated as a series of projecting wings and recessed courtyards, similar in general configuration to the BEP Annex building directly across D Street.  He indicated the BEP coal facility, which provides fuel for the Annex, running along D Street at the north edge of the Portals IV site; the anticipated future removal of this infrastructure will create room for open space or additional landscape along the north facade of Portals IV, providing an improved northern edge for the Portals complex.

Mr. Dove said that Portals V, the residential building immediately southwest of the Portals IV site, set a standard of design and detail for residential construction at the Portals.  It is a C-shaped building with a courtyard facing the Potomac River, and its facades are designed with a base, middle, and top; the upper floors step back at the corners so that the building mass appears to erode as it rises to the penthouse level, which has facilities for the building’s residents.  He said that Portals IV would similarly have a base, middle, and top, and the roofline would be similar to Portals V, so that the two buildings would form a cohesive design statement as the Portals residential buildings.  The southwest facade of Portals IV would parallel the northeast facade of Portals V, and together these would frame the planned 70-foot-wide linear park leading from 14th Street up to the Maryland Avenue circle.  The significant grade change along this corridor would be mediated by a series of stairways to provide a gradual ascent for pedestrians.  He noted that the landscape and stairways would be built as part of the Portals IV project.

Mr. Dove described the compositional similarity of the long southwest facade of Portals IV and the parallel facade of Portals V:  a general emphasis on verticality, articulated by a series of projecting balconies and recessed areas, resolved at the top of the building with eroded corners leading up to the penthouse structures.  He said that these design strategies would make the building appear to diminish as it rises and would give a cohesive appearance.  As with Portals V, the proposed building’s exterior would be predominantly masonry, with precast accents in a similar color.  He noted that Portals IV would have two penthouse levels:  a ten-foot-high structure would contain shared spaces for building residents, and above this a second penthouse containing mechanical equipment would be stepped back from the lower penthouse.

Mr. Dove said that the residential entrance to Portals V is located on the narrow facade fronting the Maryland Avenue circle, but the proposed entrance to Portals IV would be located around the corner from the circle, on the southwest facade along the pedestrian corridor; it would be marked by a canopy over the entrance, and the facade above would be articulated as a tower.  He described how the composition of Portals IV would make a transition to the lower height of Portals III, the abutting office building designed by Arthur Cotton Moore on the east.  The five-bay-wide facade of Portals IV facing the circle would use compositional devices similar to those on Portals III—such as punched window openings and a two-level horizontal band at the top of the facade flanking the distinctive large arch form over the main entrance to Portals III—to create a related but distinct design statement.

Mr. Dove then presented the north-facing D Street facade of Portals IV.  This facade would have a different aesthetic than the other elevations, with projections and recesses to relate to the south facade of the BEP Annex across D Street; trees would be planted along the street as screening.  The D Street facade would include the entrance to the parking garage and a secondary lobby entrance that would primarily provide public access for the building’s penthouse restaurant.  He concluded by presenting the narrow west facade of Portals IV facing 14th Street, which would be set back approximately 80 feet from the west facade plane of Portals V to create a small forecourt at the entrance to the pedestrian corridor.

Chairman Shubow thanked Mr. Dove for his presentation and opened the discussion for questions and comments from the Commission members.  Mr. McCrery asked how the measuring point for the building height was determined.  Mr. Dove responded that when Portals V was designed, D.C. zoning officials had determined that the measuring point for the height of Portals IV and V would be the grade of the Maryland Avenue circle, which had also been used for all the other Portals buildings.  Mr. McCrery observed that because the circle is elevated above the prevailing ground level, Portals IV would include two floor levels below this grade.  Mr. Dove confirmed that as the grade of the pedestrian corridor steps down on the northwest to 14th Street, these two additional partial levels would be exposed, which would have residences at the front with parking and other utilitarian spaces behind them.  Mr. McCrery asked if the District of Columbia zoning officials had agreed that these two floors do not contribute to the building height; Mr. Dove confirmed this, adding that from the standpoint of zoning, Portals IV is virtually identical to Portals V.  Mr. McCrery noted that a 20-foot-tall two-story penthouse is proposed for Portals IV, and he asked if this height is also allowed by the District of Columbia zoning code.  Mr. Dove responded that the current zoning ordinance, instituted approximately eight years ago, allows penthouses to be up to 20 feet high with a sequential setback, which in the case of Portals IV means a 12-foot-tall lower component set back 12 feet and an 8-foot-tall upper component set back further.

Mr. McCrery observed that the pedestrian corridor would include two stairways that presumably would each have a rise of approximately ten feet, and he asked how this could be consistent with legal requirements for barrier-free access.  Mr. Dove said that all levels of the Portals IV building would be accessible from all common areas, such as lobbies.  Mr. McCrery asked if someone would be able to traverse the outdoor pedestrian corridor without entering the building, such as to go from 14th Street to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel; Mr. Dove said that people could either walk up the stairs within the pedestrian corridor or proceed along the public streets.  Mr. McCrery observed that the route along public streets from 14th and D Streets would require going east on D Street to 12th Street, then south and immediately southwest to ascend Maryland Avenue to the circle.  Mr. Dove confirmed this route, while noting that secured private lobby entrances would provide simpler access along the way.  Mr. McCrery questioned whether this is an acceptable solution; Mr. Dove said he believes it will be acceptable because the pedestrian corridor would be on private land, not in public ownership.  Mr. McCrery commented that the pedestrian corridor is being presented as a civic amenity, which is a laudable goal, but to actually be a civic amenity it should be fully accessible.  He observed that the design for the corridor appears to be the work of an architect only, and he suggested bringing a talented landscape architect onto the project team.  Mr. Dove responded that the landscape architecture firm of Lee & Associates has been involved with this project from the beginning.  Mr. McCrery emphasized that the pedestrian corridor should have universal access since it is clearly intended to be a public amenity.

Mr. McCrery asked what types of masonry would be used for the facades of Portals IV.  Mr. Dove said that the materials would likely be primarily brick with precast accents, similar to many other residential buildings in Washington.  Mr. McCrery asked for further description of the narrow, one-story projection of the building toward 14th Street, which he said looks like it would provide access to a parking garage or loading dock.  Mr. Dove clarified that this is an existing loading facility leading to a tunnel that crosses under D Street to the BEP Annex, and it has to be incorporated into the design of Portals IV.  Mr. McCrery asked about the ownership of this loading facility; Mr. Dove responded that it belongs to the owner of Portals IV but would remain under control of the BEP until its operations are relocated.  Mr. McCrery observed that the curb cut for the loading facility is very close to the intersection of 14th and D Streets, and he asked if this is acceptable to the D.C. Department of Transportation; Mr. Dove said that there have been only preliminary comments because the design has not yet gone through the permit process.

Mr. Stroik asked if extending the Portals IV building farther west toward 14th Street has been considered.  Mr. Dove responded that the western end of the site is constrained by the BEP access structure as well as by an existing service drive for the Portals that parallels 14th Street south of D Street; none of the proposed work would reach the 14th Street property line.  He said that the proposed building would extend over the BEP loading dock, but constructing above the BEP coal facility would not be feasible.  Additionally, because of the triangular geometry of the parcel, extending the building westward to 14th Street would make the west end so narrow that it would be almost unusable for residential occupancy; the proposal is therefore to end the building at a comfortable distance from 14th Street and to create an offset between Portals IV and V that would provide a visual welcome into the pedestrian corridor.

Mr. Stroik asked for more information on what would replace the BEP infrastructure when it is removed.  Mr. Dove responded that it would not be occupied by a building but would be a semi-public landscaped park; he said that different design standards may be in effect at that time, so the project team decided not to prepare a detailed design for this space.  Mr. Stroik advised careful consideration of the design for this complicated area.  Mr. McCrery asked if the need for this loading facility will disappear when the BEP vacates the Annex building; Mr. Dove said it would be removed, allowing for its site to become a landscaped or park area, greatly improving the pedestrian experience.  Mr. McCrery asked for more information on the purpose of this infrastructure; Mr. Dove responded that it is a highly secure facility and he could not discuss its purpose, but he reiterated that the developer currently has no control over it.

Mr. Shubow observed that the base of the Portals V building gives the appearance of being rusticated because it has a regular pattern of recessed brick courses; he asked if this would be done for Portals IV.  Mr. Dove confirmed that the base of the new building would have a similar treatment.

Mr. Stroik observed that the narrow eastern facade of Portals V facing the Maryland Avenue circle has an emphatic architectural character, and he asked if a similar treatment has been considered for the corresponding facade of Portals IV.  Mr. Dove responded that the relatively narrow east facade of Portals IV facing the circle is being treated as a transitional element relating to Portals III.  The main entrance to Portals IV would not face the circle, allowing for this facade to be designed without a special emphasis; the entrance would face the pedestrian corridor and would be identified by a tower articulation above.  Mr. Stroik asked whether the Portals currently includes any retail space on the circle, and whether Portals IV would have retail space along this frontage.  Mr. Dove responded that there is no retail space on this part of the circle.  He added that the two-story expression of the windows at the base of Portals IV along the circle would indicate the presence of the double-height lobby in this area, which is a more open treatment than at Portals V.  Indicating a rendering that illustrates Portals IV from the circle, Mr. Stroik asked about the detailing that appears on the facade.  Mr. Dove responded that a projecting cornice is depicted as terminating the two-story base, and awnings are shown at the second-floor line of the two-story lobby windows.  The eighth floor would have a similar cornice line, probably of precast masonry.  Mr. Stroik observed that the appearance of the cornice on the computer screen seems to depict a geometric pattern, similar to patterns used on Art Deco and Art Moderne buildings; he suggested considering the use of a small pattern of this kind here.  Mr. Dove said the design goal has been to provide a similar level of facade detail as on Portals V, but a more articulated geometric pattern could be considered in the design development phase.

Mr. Stroik suggested the benefit of adding street-level retail space in Portals IV, particularly due to the lack of nearby retail space around the circle.  He expressed support for the two-story windows shaded by awnings, and he suggested adding a secondary lobby entrance along this facade with a small canopy facing the circle; Mr. Dove responded that this might be problematic functionally because the lobby works better with only one point of access control.

Mr. Guillot said that the proposed building would be an appropriate completion for the Portals complex, with complex facades and the rhythm and repetition of scale and materials, while deferring to the other buildings; its designers have created something similar but new, so that the final Portals building will be a quiet, logical, and complementary contribution to the overall massing.  He congratulated the project team on the design and said he looks forward to seeing the resolution of the details and nuances of the landscape, once the remaining parts of the site plan have been worked out within the overall urban context.  He said the building promises to engage with the site and to become an integral part of the neighborhood.

Mr. Spandle expressed support for Mr. Guillot’s comments, adding that both Portals IV and Portals V are notable improvements over the earlier buildings of this development.  He acknowledged that the existing infrastructure along D Street is out of the project team’s control but likely can be improved upon in the future.  He asked if the pedestrian corridor would have any special features to enliven this space, especially at its lower level near 14th Street.  Mr. Dove responded that many things would be happening on the corridor:  residential units in both Portals IV and V will have semi-private outdoor terraces along it; also, at the top of each stairway will be a terrace with seats and plantings, providing attractive places to pause and enjoy the view to the west.  The lobby of Portals IV would exit directly onto the uppermost terrace; and the lobby of Portals V would have a glass wall facing this terrace, although not direct physical access.  He agreed with Mr. Stroik in expressing regret at the lack of a sidewalk café or restaurant to complement the extensive public space in the Portals complex, but overall he commended the design.

Mr. Shubow suggested that more compositional variation could be added to the facade of Portals IV along the circle.  Acknowledging that this will be a transitional facade, he observed that the extensive detail on Portals V provides visual interest along the circle; he recommended that Portals IV be given a similar treatment, rather than following the precedent of the overly plain character of the Portals III facade detailing.

Mr. Guillot observed the great extent of context conditions being addressed in the design of this final addition to the Portals complex—including materials, coloration, scale, and manipulation of facades—and he said the Portals IV design successfully employs balance and symmetry in an attempt to deal with its sheer size.  He observed that where Portals IV engages the circle its design is quieter, allowing the entrance facade of Portals V to remain the most emphatic of all the buildings on the circle.  He commended the overall composition of the complex, while observing that there could be much more discussion about relating Portals IV to Portals III through modulation of such elements as its horizontal banding and how its windows borrow almost precisely from the existing building but appear completely new and different.  He emphasized that the design of Portals IV successfully combines elements of both Portals III and Portals V into a new composition.

Mr. McCrery expressed agreement with the other Commission members, and he requested that the next submission include an option for the circle facade of Portals IV that would have more emphasis and “panache.”  Mr. Dove responded that many options had been explored for this transitional facade, and he emphasized that the proposed design reflects a deliberate decision.  Mr. McCrery acknowledged that all designs presented at this level of concept review are the result of a tremendous amount of work; he commended the design of Portals IV but reiterated that he also wants to see an option with greater architectural emphasis for this facade.  He observed that the design of Portals IV builds to a culmination at the circle, although it has no entrance there; he said he understands the reasons for the proposed design, but there still seems to be a need for emphasis at this point.  Mr. Guillot said it would be difficult to balance such an architectural gesture with the more authentic emphasis on the building’s main entrance around the corner.  Commenting that sometimes the correct solution is the quiet one, he advised leaving the emphasis on the actual entrance, which he noted would be only a short distance from the Maryland Avenue circle.  Mr. McCrery reiterated his request for an additional option.

Mr. Fagan expressed appreciation for how the proposed north facade of Portals IV repeats the rhythm of the facing BEP Annex, including the modeling of verticals to imply a columnar appearance.  He commented that pulling in this visual clue from the context is indicative of the careful thought behind the Portals IV design.

Mr. Cook observed that Portals IV will be an important termination for Maryland Avenue.  Noting his familiarity with this area of Southwest, he said that while the proposal is very sensitively designed, he agrees with Mr. Shubow that it will occupy such an important place on the circle that the transitional facade on the circle should have stronger articulation.

Chairman Shubow summarized the apparent consensus to approve the concept design with the comments provided; upon a motion by Mr. Spandle with second by Mr. Guillot, the Commission adopted this action.  Secretary Luebke said the approval will include a request for an option with increased articulation of the facade at the circle, as well as comments about barrier-free access.  Chairman Shubow noted that the comments were highly positive and the Commission looks forward to the next review.

There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 11:10 a.m.


Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA