The meeting was convened by videoconference at 9:00 a.m.
Hon. Hazel Ruth Edwards, Vice Chair
Hon. Peter Cook
Hon. Lisa Delplace
Hon. Justin Garrett Moore
Hon. Duncan Stroik
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
Sarah Batcheler, Assistant Secretary
Mary Catherine Bogard
(Due to the absence of Chair Billie Tsien, Vice Chair Edwards presided at the meeting.)
A. Approval of the minutes of the 20 July meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the July meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. The Commission approved the minutes; Mr. Luebke said the document will be available on the Commission’s website.
B. Dates of next meetings. Secretary Luebke presented the dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published: 19 October 2023, 16 November 2023, and 18 January 2024. He noted that the October schedule may be adjusted in the event of a government shutdown after 30 September.
C. Introduction of new staff member. Secretary Luebke introduced Vivian Lee, who joined the staff earlier in September as an architect to work primarily on the Shipstead-Luce Act submissions. He said Ms. Lee has almost 20 years of experience in architecture and urban design, including private-sector work at Gensler and federal government experience with the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and most recently with the General Services Administration (GSA). She was an urban planner for five years at NCPC, leading the review of several complex federal projects including master plans and commemorative works. She also worked for four years at GSA, including three years in the Office of Planning & Design Quality, a part of GSA’s National Capital Region, which frequently submits projects to the Commission, and for the past year she was working as a program coordinator in GSA’s Land Ports of Entry Program. He noted that Ms. Lee has an undergraduate degree in architecture from Universidad Piloto in Colombia, and a master’s degree in architecture and urban design from Columbia University in New York.
Vice Chair Edwards joined in welcoming Ms. Lee. Mr. Luebke said Ms. Lee’s hiring is part of an effort to build up the staff after the departure or retirement of nearly a third of the employees in the past two years.
II. Submissions and Reviews
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.
Appendix I – Government Submissions Consent Calendar: Mr. Hart reported that the consent calendar has 19 projects. One project has been added that had been inadvertently omitted, for the Resilience Plaza design at the St. Elizabeths West Campus. He noted that the appendix also now includes the report of a delegated action by the staff, for modifications to the Honolulu Memorial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific; he said the revised final design responds to the Commission’s previous comments. The Commission approved the revised Government Submissions Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Lee reported that the appendix has 24 projects. Two cases listed on the draft appendix have been removed and are being held open for consideration in a future month (case numbers SL 23-154 and 23-161). One case that was initially being held open has been added to the appendix with a revised design (SL 23-142).
The recommendation for one case has been changed to be favorable based on consultation with the applicant (SL 23-141). Other revisions are limited to minor wording changes and the notation of dates for the receipt of supplemental materials. The recommendations for thirteen projects are listed as being subject to further coordination with the applicants, and she requested authorization to finalize these recommendations when the outstanding issues are resolved. The Commission approved the revised Shipstead-Luce Act Appendix; Secretary Luebke noted the large caseload and the short turnaround time for reviewing these projects, typically resulting in a draft appendix that is continuing to evolve. (See agenda item II.F for an additional Shipstead-Luce Act submission.)
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Ms. Bogard reported that the appendix has 47 projects; changes to the draft appendix are limited to minor typographical corrections. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. Stroik, the Commission approved the revised Old Georgetown Act Appendix.
At this point, the Commission departed from the order of the agenda to consider items II.C, II.E.1, II.E.2, II.E.3, and II.F. Secretary Luebke said that the Commission had identified these submissions as ones that could be approved without presentations.
C. U.S. Department of the Navy / U.S. Marine Corps
CFA 21/SEP/23-2, Marine Barracks Washington Annex, 7th and L Streets, SE. Construction of new six-story housing and support facility (P-158). Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 20/APR/23-4) Secretary Luebke said the Commission had generally endorsed the previous concept with minor comments, and the current submission responds to the Commission’s previous guidance. The staff is continuing to work with the project team on maximizing the number of trees toward the north side of the site, and he suggested that the Commission could delegate review of the final design to the staff. Upon a motion by Mr. Cook with second by Mr. Stroik, the Commission approved the revised concept and delegated further review to the staff.
E. D.C. Department of General Services
1. CFA 21/SEP/23-5, Stoddert Elementary School, 4001 Calvert Street, NW. Renovations and additions to building and landscape. Concept. Mr. Moore said he supports the general concept but expressed concern that the proposed brick material, as illustrated in the submitted renderings, may be incompatible with the school’s existing exterior. He requested that the staff work with the project team to ensure a unified or complementary relationship between the new and existing materials. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Ms. Delplace, the Commission approved the concept submission with this comment and delegated further review to the staff.
2. CFA 21/SEP/23-6, Kenilworth Elementary School, 1300 44th Street, NE. Renovations and addition to building and landscape. Concept. Upon a motion by Mr. Cook, the Commission approved the concept submission and delegated further review to the staff.
3. CFA 21/SEP/23-7, Truesdell Elementary School, 800 Ingraham Street, NW. Renovations and additions to building and landscape. Final. (Previous: CFA 20/APR/23-6) Secretary Luebke noted the Commission’s extensive comments on the concept submission, and he said the current submission responds to the Commission’s guidance. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. Cook, the Commission approved the final design.
F. D.C. Department of Buildings—Shipstead-Luce Act
SL 23-020, 2065 Trumbull Terrace, NW. New single-family house. Concept. Secretary Luebke said the staff has worked extensively with the project team in refining the design to reduce its impact on neighboring properties, and additional development of the site plan details may be needed. Ms. Delplace recommended additional plantings to provide visual screening at the rear of the house, to be coordinated with the staff. Mr. Luebke suggested directing the staff to place the permit submission on a future Shipstead-Luce Act Appendix if the design is satisfactory. Upon a motion by Ms. Delplace with second by Mr. Moore, the Commission approved the concept with this authorization and with the comment provided.
The Commission returned to the order of the agenda with item II.B.
B. U.S. Department of the Army / Arlington National Cemetery
CFA 21/SEP/23-1, Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Visitor Education Center, Columbia Pike between South Joyce Street and South Washington Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia. Concept. (Previous: CFA 15/JUN/23-2) Secretary Luebke introduced the second concept design for a visitor center for the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, submitted by Arlington National Cemetery in cooperation with the Pentagon Memorial Fund. The visitor center would be located on a sloped site that has become available for development as a result of the roadway reconfigurations associated with the cemetery’s Southern Expansion project.
Mr. Luebke summarized the Commission’s previous comments given at an initial information presentation for this project in April 2022, when the Commission members raised concerns about the impact of the overly expressive and potentially obtrusive design on the character and dignity of the nearby cemetery; the Commission recommended designing a quiet background building that would relate to the cemetery’s design language. For the subsequent concept submission in June 2023, the design was substantially revised to place the building closer to the Pentagon and the memorial, with the visitor center’s parking area moved to the other side of the site at the upper side of the hill; this transposition of the site design has resulted in a lower building with much less impact on the cemetery landscape. In reviewing the concept, the Commission supported the siting but continued to express concern about the architecture, which conveyed a commercial or industrial character that would not be appropriate for the building’s context and purpose.
Mr. Luebke said the current submission significantly revises the architecture, with the series of long rectangular bundles that form the primary volumetric expression now being stepped on both the east and west sides, with the north facade unified by a two-story colonnade. stepped volume at each end and a unifying colonnade for the main two-story facade. The landscape design has also been refined, including the upper-level entry sequence from the parking lot to the visitor center, and the lower-level path from the visitor center toward the memorial. He asked Col. Andrew Wiker, the new director of engineering for Arlington National Cemetery, to begin the presentation. Col. Wiker said the cemetery staff supports the proposed concept for the visitor center, which is being incorporated into the cemetery’s southern expansion project. He introduced Steven White of Fentress Architects to present the design.
Mr. White expressed appreciation for the guidance of the Commission and the staff in refining the design. He summarized the comments that have been received as well as the context for the project. He noted that the area is currently undergoing extensive reconstruction that includes road realignments near the Pentagon as well as infrastructure for the cemetery’s expansion. An elevated highway and underpass will separate the visitor center site from the existing National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial; a location more immediately adjacent to the memorial was not feasible. He indicated the site’s low elevation in relation to the nearby highway interchange, as well as the relationship of the site to the cemetery and to the large Pentagon building.
Mr. White said the design team has been carefully studying the design precedents of the cemetery’s architecture and the existing memorials in the area. The particularly important influences have been the hemicycle at the cemetery’s main entrance drive, designed by McKim, Mead & White, and the cemetery’s amphitheater by Carrère and Hastings; he cited these structures’ proportions, colonnades, and use of curved elements to create outdoor spaces. The visitor center is also intended to relate subtly to the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon, with a design that is complementary while not appearing to be an extension of the memorial.
Mr. White said the concept design for the visitor center has been simplified, with the goal of creating a quiet, dignified, and subdued character that would provide an improved relationship to the cemetery. The massing would be organized in seven parallel “bundles” relating to the layout of the 9/11 Memorial that includes parallel rows of benches. The bundles would be 26 feet wide, responding to the building’s program as well as to the Department of Defense’s setback requirements; he noted that the number of bundles has been increased, resulting in a more vertical proportion for the building’s expression. On the two-story facade toward the 9/11 Memorial, the bundles would be unified with an expressive curved colonnade. He indicated the configuration of walls and infill glazing that would define the bundles and the rhythm of the colonnade.
Mr. White described the plan drawings for the visitor center. People arriving at the parking lot and drop-off area would enter the upper-level lobby at the top of a grand staircase descending to the lower level, where exhibits would be located; elevators would be adjacent to the upper lobby. After seeing the exhibits, visitors would exit through the lower-level lobby to walk toward the 9/11 Memorial. He indicated the conference center on the upper level, to be used for events and educational functions; the retail, cafe, and restroom spaces near the lobbies; and the building’s other support facilities.
Mr. White indicated the broader circulation patterns for site access. Buses would approach the site from the Pentagon City area, using Joyce Street; the buses would turn right to enter the site and reach the drop-off area adjacent to the visitor center’s upper-level entrance. Cars could enter the parking area using the same route or by turning right from Columbia Pike; bicycle parking would also be provided. Pedestrians would typically arrive from the Metrorail station at Pentagon City, walking north along Joyce Street and using either the Joyce Street or Columbia Pike entrances to the site. He also indicated the pedestrian route from the lower-level lobby to the 9/11 Memorial, walking through an interpretive garden and then along Columbia Pike through the highway underpass. He added that some people would also be visiting the nearby Air Force Memorial and the cemetery, and they may be using the parking garage being built near the cemetery’s new southern entrance.
Mr. White presented a section through the building and site, indicating how the visitor center would be set into the hill; the building would become part of the visitor experience as a connection between the transportation-focused arrival area and the 9/11 Memorial. He then presented a series of perspective views to illustrate the appearance of the site and building. The upper-level facade along the parking area would express the building’s configuration of staggered bundles; the bundle at the end would project forward to define the main entrance and the skylit volume containing the main staircase. The configuration of bundles, as well as the main entrance, would also be apparent when the building is seen from Columbia Pike. As Columbia Pike descends the hill, the two-story facade and colonnade would come into view; he indicated the slight separation between the colonnade and the building wall. The building’s height toward the memorial would be approximately 42 feet. He emphasized the intent to relate the visitor center to the cemetery’s architecture and to create a quiet, dignified design.
Mr. White presented sections through the lobbies and stairway, indicating the ceiling configuration that would slope downward from each end; the effect would be to draw visitors downward from the upper-level lobby as they descend the staircase, and then to open up the space toward the lower-level lobby. At the mid-level landing of the staircase, visitors would have an elevated view of the exhibit area. He noted the location of security screening near the entrance. He then presented the proposed elevations, including windows on the end facade for the cafe space; the opposite end, facing a highway on-ramp, would be the location of the building’s service access. The more detailed drawings for the colonnade illustrate its double-column configuration and its relationship to the building wall.
Mr. White then presented the proposed palette of exterior materials. He noted the Commission’s previous reluctance to support the use of precast concrete, which remains in the proposal; he presented images of several civic and federal buildings that use this material, and it is also used for the substructure and pools beneath the commemorative benches of the 9/11 Memorial. He indicated the National World War II Museum; a courthouse in South Carolina, one of several federal courthouses using precast that have been recently built or are under construction; the annex to the federal courthouse on Constitution Avenue; and the Institute of Peace at the west end of Constitution Avenue. He said the project team includes the precast fabricator who worked on the 9/11 Memorial’s benches; he presented photographs of the material samples that have been prepared, intended to relate to the appearance of the Chelmsford granite that is used for many of the cemetery’s features. The building’s base would be Virginia Mist granite, which has also been used at the Air Force Memorial and as part of the cemetery’s southern expansion; a flame finish is proposed. Secretary Luebke displayed the material samples that have been provided for the Commission’s inspection, including the precast concrete and the curtainwall; he noted the sparkle of the quartzite in the concrete, as well as the metal mesh within the curtainwall glass. Mr. White said the glass has been selected to have a relatively diffuse or opaque appearance to avoid the potential awkwardness of people in the visitor center looking down onto activities in the cemetery. He also indicated the gray metal that would be used for exterior accents such as canopies and entrance doors.
Mr. White introduced Chris Sutterfield of Confluence to present the landscape design in greater detail. Mr. Sutterfield acknowledged that visitors may approach the site from a variety of directions, but he said the priority for the site design is to help visitors navigate from the parking area to the visitor center and then to the 9/11 Memorial, with an emphasis on a respectful, intuitive, and coherent experience. He described the improvements that have been made to the site design: a more fluid and directional connection from the parking area to the upper-level entrance; a wider sidewalk along the entry drive and drop-off area, along with additional trees to provide more shade as well as screening from the highway ramp; improved geometry for the crosswalk leading to the entrance; and radial site elements would follow the curvature of Columbia Pike. He indicated the trees that would provide shade around the parking area; flagpoles and ornamental trees would be located within a lawn area that provides seating. At the lower-level entrance plaza, a more robust landscape would provide improved separation from the noise and traffic of Columbia Pike, using a two-foot-high landform with dense plantings. The plaza design also includes interpretive opportunities related to the 9/11 Memorial. The benches are intended to have an elegance comparable to the memorial’s benches while not attempting to imitate them.
Mr. Sutterfield said the paving materials are intended to be simple and understated, primarily using cast-in-place concrete. The axis of the visitor center’s primary circulation route would be expressed on the exterior with a more intimately scaled material, such as concrete pavers. The site design also includes the same permeable gravel paving that is used at the 9/11 Memorial. The tree selections include the standard street trees that are specified for this area. Cherry trees would relate the site to the Washington context, and white crape myrtles would relate to the plantings at the 9/11 Memorial; the other species would relate the site to the cemetery.
Mr. Sutterfield concluded by presenting several perspective renderings to illustrate the experience of visitors moving through the landscape. Mr. White then presented additional sketch perspectives to show the viewsheds of the larger context of the nearby streets and highways. He noted that the tree canopy would screen the building from many vantage points, and the Pentagon and Air Force Memorial become the most prominent feature in the more distant views.
Architectural historian Emily Eig of EHT Traceries provided concluding remarks on the design team’s effort to respond to the Commission’s previous comments. She said the proposal combines the strengths of the previously presented concept and the proportions and classical references of the cemetery’s architecture. She described the resulting design as reverent to the memorial, connected to it, and related to the wider context of the cemetery and the Air Force Memorial. She said the visitor center would become part of a grouping that expresses the strength and importance of our nation’s past and future.
Vice Chair Edwards invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. Stroik expressed appreciation for the design modifications and the presentation drawings. He asked why the exhibits would be located on the lower level, instead of on the upper level where a taller ceiling height may be available. Mr. White said the height of the lower level is 21 feet, which corresponds to the grade change between the upper and lower parts of the site; he said this height is appropriate for exhibits, including an exhibit with the theme of a phoenix that has been an inspiration for this project. The upper level would have the program elements of the conference center and administrative offices, which would benefit from the upper level’s greater exposure to daylight; the exhibits are appropriately located on the lower level, which would have only limited exposure to daylight because it is set into the hillside. Mr. Stroik acknowledged that modern exhibit curators typically prefer not to have daylight, but architects and the general public are more appreciative of having daylight in great gallery spaces; he observed that many of Washington’s museums have daylit galleries. He said an additional advantage of placing the exhibits on the upper level could be the elevated view outward as people leave the exhibit area to descend toward the 9/11 Memorial. Mr. White responded that the design team has considered the outward view throughout the design process, including an early idea to bring visitors to the top of a high mound that had long existed on the site, possibly the remnant of earlier highway construction, in order to provide visitors with a visual connection to the 9/11 Memorial. He said that this intent has been abandoned with the decision to move the visitor center toward the lower part of the site; a view of the memorial and the Pentagon is not feasible from the currently proposed building configuration because of the intervening elevated highway and its signage. He emphasized that a benefit of the new configuration is a more direct connection between the visitor center and the memorial, with the building’s lower-level lobby 300 feet closer to the memorial and more than 30 feet lower in elevation compared to the earlier configuration.
Mr. Cook offered support for the clear development of the project, observing that the design has improved and responds to the Commission’s previous comments. Indicating the perspectival section drawing through the upper and lower lobbies and main staircase, he said the space has a clean and very light character; however, he asked if the depicted structural support for the roof has been engineered or may have to become deeper as the design is developed, reducing the height of the interior space. Mr. White acknowledged that the engineering has not yet been studied, but he said the 26-foot span across the building’s bundles is not likely to be problematic. He noted that the weight to be carried by this structure is limited to the glass roof and snow loads, less than the load of a typical floor. He compared this structural configuration to a typical 30-foot-square building bay with people on it, which is routinely spanned by a concrete slab with a thickness of 10 to 11 inches; he expressed confidence that the light character conveyed in the drawing could be achieved. Mr. Cook observed that some added depth for the beams could be accommodated at the bottom of the structure, without altering the swooping profile of the glass roof above. Mr. White said that if the height in this area is a particular concern, the Commission could specify a limit that the design team could work with.
Mr. Cook noted the location of the cafe on the upper level with an elevated view into the cemetery; he suggested greater sensitivity to the aesthetic and functional differences between these areas. He recommended careful consideration of this issue as the window design is developed for the cafe, and he said a similar concern may exist for the retail space below the café. Mr. White responded that this issue has been carefully considered, resulting in the glass selection that was illustrated in the presentation; he said the effect will be a diffuse appearance, with people in the cemetery having only a general perception of activity in the cafe. He added that the glass would generally not have a mirror-like reflection. He said the design team has been trying to balance the reverence of the cemetery with a pleasant experience for the visitor center.
Mr. Cook observed that the proposed crosswalk between the parking area and the upper-level entrance would be adjacent to the vehicular entrance point from Columbia Pike; citing a potential conflict between pedestrians and fast-moving vehicles turning into the site, he asked if a safer design has been considered, such as a raised crosswalk. Mr. Sutterfield responded that various crosswalk configurations have been studied, and a raised crosswalk remains under consideration; he agreed that traffic-calming details would be helpful to slow vehicles turning right from Columbia Pike into the site. Mr. Cook added that the drawings illustrate trees at this corner, which may restrict the sightline of drivers as they turn toward the crosswalk; he summarized the need to carefully consider pedestrian safety.
Ms. Delplace asked for clarification of the bus loading and unloading process, including the intended location of buses after passengers have been offloaded. Mr. White indicated the drop-off zone, which is sized to accommodate two large tour buses. The sidewalk at the drop-off zone is designed to be flush with the vehicular lanes, using bollards to separate the sidewalk from the buses; he said that this configuration is preferable to a raised curb because the drop-off zone has a curved alignment that may impede buses from being able to park with the door immediately at the curb line. He added that many visitors will be elderly, including veterans, and the coplanar alignment will be easier for visitors moving between buses and the sidewalk. He said the Pentagon Memorial Fund is establishing a management plan for buses; the tentative intent is for offloaded buses to wait at the Pentagon City Mall parking area instead of idling in front of the visitor center.
Ms. Delplace raised the issue of pedestrian safety in the visitor center’s parking area; while the site plan illustrates plentiful green space incorporated into this area, the pedestrian circulation appears to require walking through the drive aisles to reach the crosswalk at the building entrance. She said the configuration seems particularly problematic for people who park at the farthest end of the parking lot. She also questioned the extensive hardscape area at the plaza within the parking lot, which appears oversized in comparison to the amount of parking; she suggested adding more trees and other plantings in this area, reducing the amount of pavement. Mr. White acknowledged that the design anticipates pedestrians using the drive aisles to walk through the parking area; he said that sidewalks or other protected circulation routes could be considered as the design is developed. He also agreed to consider reducing the extent of paving at the plaza area and the sidewalks leading toward it. Ms. Delplace added that the pedestrian circulation in the parking area is an issue of experiential aesthetics as well as safety; walking through a parking lot is not a pleasant experience, especially in Washington’s summer heat, and she encouraged creating a pedestrian route through the parking area’s green spaces. She said that a visitor’s initial experience traversing the parking area should be considered as carefully as the experience of moving through the visitor center. She concluded by expressing her appreciation for the proposal’s responsiveness to the Commission’s previous comments.
Ms. Edwards expressed support for the design of the visitor center and the area immediately around it. For the broader site, she suggested that the landscape design should include more places for people to pause and sit as they move through the parking area; these features would be especially beneficial for visitors with physical challenges. She observed that the presentation did not address signage, and she asked if any identification signage would be provided toward the cemetery entrance and Air Force Memorial to attract people from these areas to come to the visitor center. Mr. White responded that wayfinding and respite will be considered more carefully as the design is developed; a future submission will address wayfinding for vehicles as well as pedestrians, with the goal of enhancing the visitor experience.
Mr. Stroik expressed support for the comments of the other Commission members. He observed that the strongest feature of the revised design is the curved colonnade, which has a sense of monumentality and a stone-like appearance. Although the colonnade was presented as relating to the best architecture of the cemetery, he said the more important relationship is to the Pentagon, whose architecture includes large square columns. He observed that the colonnade is shown as simply a screen, and he suggested developing its configuration to provide a space that people can occupy. For comparison, he cited the occupiable colonnade spaces within the cemetery, as well as the prevalence of great colonnades in Washington. He said that an occupiable space would be more enjoyable than the tacked-on character of the colonnade as presented; he summarized his support for the colonnade as a visual feature and his encouragement for developing it as a useable area.
Secretary Luebke observed the apparent consensus to support the character and scope of the proposal, with many issues requiring further study or development. Mr. Cook offered a motion to approve the concept with the comments provided; upon a second by Mr. Moore, the Commission adopted this action. Mr. Moore commended the development of the design, and Mr. Luebke said the staff will continue to work with the project team in the next design phase.
C. U.S. Department of the Navy / U.S. Marine Corps
CFA 21/SEP/23-2, Marine Barracks Washington Annex, 7th and L Streets, SE. Construction of new six-story housing and support facility (P-158). Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 20/APR/23-4) The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
D. D.C. Department of Transportation
1. CFA 21/SEP/23-3, William Howard Taft Bridge, Connecticut Avenue, NW, between Belmont Road and Calvert Street, NW. Installation of pedestrian safety barriers. Concept. (Previous: CFA 20/JUL/23-3) Secretary Luebke introduced the second concept submission for the addition of new pedestrian safety barriers along the sidewalks of the historic William Howard Taft Bridge, which spans the Rock Creek valley and the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway and extends Connecticut Avenue from the Kalorama neighborhood north to Woodley Park. The outer edges of the bridge’s sidewalks are lined with concrete piers and concrete pedestals that carry ornate sculptural light standards; pairs of sculptured lions, designed by sculptor Roland Hinton Perry, frame both approaches to the bridge. He said the existing pedestrian railings are at a standard height that is easy to climb over, and since 2010, 13 people have died by jumping from the bridge. The design of the new barriers is intended to reduce suicide attempts while minimizing physical and visual impacts to the historic bridge. He noted that the project team presented three concept alternatives for new barriers at the July 2023 Commission meeting: glass panels, wire mesh panels, and panels with steel rods or pickets within frames. He said the Commission advised against Option 3, the steel rods in frames, as too obtrusive, and it raised strong concerns about the transparency and maintenance of the glass panels in Option 1. For Option 2, the Commission cited an unacceptable precedent for the use of continuous lightweight metal mesh but suggested it might be further considered if other information is submitted about design detailing.
Mr. Luebke said the Commission’s main request at the July meeting was for the development of a new option that would recreate the Taft Bridge’s existing configuration of piers, pedestals, and railings in the same materials and character, but with their height increased to achieve the safety and health objectives. In response to that request, the design team has returned with a new third option that would raise the height of the pedestals, piers, and railings up to the required eight feet. Several variations explore whether new materials would be introduced or whether some concrete elements would be rebuilt in concrete, among other issues; there is also some additional information about the metal mesh of Option 2. He asked Matthew Marcou, chief of staff at the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT), to begin the presentation.
Mr. Marcou said the proposal reflects the collaborative efforts of the DDOT, the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health, the city administrator, and the Executive Office of the Mayor to address this urgent public health issue involving a historic transportation element and to thereby save lives. He said research demonstrates that barriers reduce access to lethal means such as bridges, and also provide critical increased time for people to access care. As a temporary measure, DDOT has partnered with agencies to emphasize available resources, such as by placing signage bearing the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline number on the Taft Bridge. However, data has shown that the most effective suicide-prevention measures include physical deterrence; although the signage is valuable, it is not the best or most efficient means to increase safety. He said the project team appreciated the Commission’s previous comments and has revised the concept proposal to address them.
Mr. Marcou introduced Dr. Richard Bebout, the chief of crisis services at the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health, whose work has helped to transform behavioral health crisis services in the city. He noted that Dr. Bebout oversees the city’s 988 lifeline and is working to expand mobile crisis and alternative 911 response options for people in crisis; he is also educating city agencies about behavioral health issues and providing best-practice resources while strengthening agency partnerships.
Dr. Bebout said that suicides are preventable deaths, and approximately half of all bridge-related suicide deaths in Washington since 2010 have occurred at the Taft Bridge. Research strongly suggests that barriers reduce the overall suicide rate by increasing the time and distance to lethal means, and by allowing more time to access care; however, access to care alone is insufficient. He said the urgency of the interagency team has been driven by conversations with people who have been most affected by these preventable deaths; he noted that several advocates and family members directly affected by suicide deaths at the Taft Bridge have registered for this meeting. Secretary Luebke noted that some of these groups have submitted comment letters, which he will summarize for the record after the project team’s presentation.
Project manager Wagdy Wassef, an engineer with WSP USA, provided an overview of the history and design of the Taft Bridge, emphasizing its distinctive features; a goal of the project is to retain the bridge’s beauty. He summarized the response to the three options that were presented at the July meeting. The Commission members had expressed strong concerns about Option 1, the glass panels, because of their need for maintenance, primarily to remove graffiti; he said the only means to reduce the effect of graffiti is to apply coatings or install sheets of protective material that facilitate cleaning the glass with water. He said the Commission had described Option 2, the wire mesh, as looking like a safety fence around a parking lot, an inappropriate appearance for the Taft Bridge, and the additional information received from the manufacturer has not resulted in any changes to this option. The rigid steel frame with vertical cables, previously presented as Option 3, has been eliminated entirely because of the Commission’s strong objections. In response to the Commission’s request, a new third option has been developed that would replace the existing railings and pedestals in-kind, raising the height so that the top of the railing would be approximately eight feet above the sidewalk, matching the height proposed in the other two options. He said data suggests this height would be sufficient to prevent suicides. He asked architect Yuji Nishioka of WSP to present the new Option 3.
Mr. Nishioka presented side-by-side images of the existing and proposed conditions. The new concrete and metal fence elements would begin immediately behind the lion statues. The new concrete pedestals would generally adapt the profile of the existing pedestals; because these additions would create large, plain masses, he said the proposal includes adding articulation and modulation to them to mitigate their scale. He illustrated several proposed variations: a simple extension of the existing concrete piers, with the horizontal railings raised to the same height; Option 3B, with a setback at the upper pedestal extension; and Option 3C, with the lampposts and their pedestals remaining at their existing height, but with an additional metal railing in front of the lamppost bases to achieve the necessary barrier height. He presented close-up views of these options to illustrate the recesses created in the upper register of the pedestals to add human scale, shadow, texture, and depth, with further articulation also on the vertical faces. He said the articulation of Option 3C would recall the design of the historic lampposts and pedestals in their existing height and position, with a metal fence up to eight feet high in front of each lamppost; this modulation would break up the overall mass at the midpoint of the concrete wall.
Mr. Nishioka said the project team has considered whether to rebuild all the concrete pedestals; if the existing pedestals are to remain, placing an addition on top of them might be a cost-effective alternative. For any new concrete elements, the project team would specify concrete with the same cement and the same aggregate. Another solution could be to extend the height of the existing piers with panels of painted metal, but this may be out of context for the concrete bridge; the paint color could be selected to match the existing concrete. He added that a wind load and structural analysis of the taller, heavier concrete pedestals would be conducted prior to construction.
Secretary Luebke said there are two comment letters that he would like to summarize for the record before the Commission begins its discussion. He said the letters do not address design issues but rather discuss the programmatic necessity for these changes to the Taft Bridge. The first letter is from Deborah Steinberg, representing the National Capital Area Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Ms. Steinberg thanks the Commission for its careful review and says the chapter supports all of the proposed barrier designs, urging the Commission to select one as quickly as possible so no more lives are lost. She reports that Washington has one of the lowest suicide rates in the country because the D.C. Government takes steps to reduce access to lethal means. The new design must preserve the beauty of the bridge while assuring it is safe for all, especially those at risk for suicide. Barriers are the most effective means to prevent suicide from bridges, providing time for the impulse to commit suicide to pass and to allow for intervention.
Mr. Luebke summarized a second letter, sent from Advisory Neighborhood Commission member Janell Pagats, who represents the area that includes the Taft Bridge. She writes that in April 2022, a neighbor jumped from the bridge, but his death was not reported in the media because suicides seldom are, and she did not learn about it until a month later. Research has revealed the danger of the Taft Bridge; although no one wants to add barriers to such a beautiful and historic bridge, she emphasizes that it is necessary, and the D.C. Government recognizes the long-overdue need for this safety infrastructure. She acknowledges the power of the built environment in people’s lives, an influence certainly understood by the design professionals serving on the Commission of Fine Arts. She observes that a bridge is intended to form a connection between two things; however, the design of the Taft Bridge is hurting people, and she asks the Commission to rectify this failure.
Vice Chair Edwards invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. Stroik asked for clarification of whether the Taft Bridge’s surfaces are concrete or limestone. Secretary Luebke said the piers and pedestals on the bridge deck are all concrete, with an articulation and exposed-aggregate finish giving them a similarity to stone. He said the Commission staff understands that the bridge’s masonry work was all reconstructed in the 1990s when the bridge deck was widened for the second time, and the metal railings were probably also replaced at this time; everything was built to replicate the original elements as precisely as possible. He added that the lampposts are the original elements from over a century ago. Mr. Stroik asked about the bases of the lion sculptures; Mr. Luebke said these pedestals may be limestone, and the lions themselves are concrete replacements from the 1990s that were re-cast from the original sculptures.
Mr. Stroik commented that the set of new alternatives in Option 3 is a big improvement over the previous choices—harmonious with the bridge’s design and meeting the goal of greater safety. He suggested discussing the various alternative designs under Option 3, commenting that he would like any new material, color, or details to be as close as possible to the existing.
Mr. Moore thanked the project team for its presentation and agreed with Mr. Stroik that the third option seems to be the most appropriate for this challenge. He noted that at the previous review he had raised questions about the long-term maintenance and life of the presented design solutions, and he said this third option probably has the best chance of being able to address such issues. However, he said he remains concerned about the impact on the pedestrian experience of crossing the bridge, observing that the Option 3 alternatives would create a high and very long barrier from the viewpoint of the pedestrian. He said the solution should be uniform with and as well-designed as the existing bridge; further development of the design and details should take all such considerations seriously and should be evaluated from the perspective of someone walking over the bridge next to a very high barrier, whether it is the higher railing or the concrete pedestals. He said he prefers the Option 3B alternative, describing it as well articulated; from the perspective of someone walking alongside it, this alternative would provide the benefit of scale and some degree of variation. Mr. Stroik asked if a lower height, such as seven feet, would be better. Mr. Moore responded that the design would be better by having the height as low as possible, especially for such a long bridge; Mr. Stroik agreed.
Mr. Cook expressed support for these comments, but he questioned the $4 million estimated cost for Option 3 as possibly being too low in comparison to the projected costs of the three original options. He expressed concern that budget issues might affect the appearance of the additions or changes to the bridge—such as whether the new material would match the existing color and texture, or whether these qualities would be sacrificed during a value engineering process. He also recommended considering the design not only the from the viewpoint of someone walking along the bridge but from the viewpoints as seen from the valley and roadway below. He said that if the additions reduce the aesthetic quality of the piers, a distinct band or change of color between old material and new may be visible, which he discouraged. He agreed that Option 3B is the right direction, and he supported studying the possibility of achieving the safety objectives with a lower height. In summary, he said the new set of alternatives is a big improvement and is headed in the right direction, but he is not wildly enthusiastic about any of them.
Mr. Wassef responded that a more accurate cost estimate will be prepared after a design option has been selected. He said the design of the modifications would try to minimize any differences in color between new material and old; he added that the height of eight feet is based on available research.
Ms. Delplace questioned whether the existing proportions of the railing could be maintained while extending it to a height of eight feet; the new railing could be out of proportion with the enlarged pedestals and supports, appearing almost too light for the scale of the bridge. She suggested exploring changes to the proportions of the entire barrier. Mr. Wassef responded that the dimensions will be studied as the design is developed. He said that generally in such a situation, the size of the new top rail is based on the appearance of the existing rail. The span of the top rail would not change, so its size could probably be unchanged, or the new top rail could be made slightly bigger so that it does not become too flexible. Ms. Delplace strongly encouraged looking carefully at the proportions of the existing bridge and perhaps scaling the new design to be appropriate to them, commenting that the proposal does not appear to be as well articulated at the point where the railings would connect with the pedestals; she reiterated that the top rail looks too light for the scale and mass of the bridge. Mr. Wassef reiterated that this will be looked into; he added that reusing the existing top rails may be feasible, observing that they are cast metal and may be difficult to replicate.
Secretary Luebke said that other review agencies are fairly unanimous in agreeing that the new alternatives’ significant intervention with the existing masonry piers is not a good thing to do; these agencies have expressed support for Options 1 and 2, which would not alter the existing piers. He said the staff observes that the wire mesh of Option 2 is the lightest and easiest to install, and this option would have the least impact on the bridge. He asked if the Commission would be willing to continue looking at these other options if there is an impasse among the review agencies, or whether the Commission strongly supports the new alternatives as the only way to go. He summarized the strong concerns about the glazed panels of Option 1, which would not actually be transparent; the wire mesh of Option 2 would likely be perceived as more transparent and could easily be installed. Mr. Cook agreed that Option 1 is not appropriate, while Option 2 could be viable and would have some transparency. He said the other important issue is maintenance, and he believes Option 2 would be easier to maintain than Option 1, which should be eliminated from consideration.
Mr. Luebke summarized the general agreement that the new Option 3 alternatives seem to be the best approach, particularly the articulation shown in Option 3B, although it requires more study. Ms. Delplace reiterated her concern about the scale of the railing, which is essentially taking the height of an element that is currently at about four feet and doubling the height to eight feet, while possibly reusing some of the railing elements; she asked how the increased height would affect the visual relationship of the railing to everything else. Mr. Luebke said that if the Commission members are willing to support this option, these details can be worked out in design development.
Vice Chair Edwards said she favors Option 3B. She observed that the bridge is experienced from two viewpoints—from the deck level for people crossing the bridge on the sidewalks or in cars, and from the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway below. Although the new option would be much more expensive to install, it would have better visual continuity with the existing bridge, and she would prefer this to seeing the wire mesh of Option 2 in juxtaposition with the original railing.
Mr. Moore offered a motion to approve the design of Option 3B, with further exploration of matching the concrete and re-evaluating the proportions of the railing, including its pickets. The perspectival experience of pedestrians on the bridge should be studied to minimize the degree of enclosure when crossing the bridge; the effect of this option on the view from the parkway below should also be studied. In addition, he cited the support by some Commission members for further consideration of Option 2. Upon a second by Mr. Stroik, the Commission adopted this action.
2. CFA 21/SEP/23-4, Small cell infrastructure in public space. Stand-alone pole designs for use throughout the city. Concept. (Previous: CFA 16/MAY/19-6) Secretary Luebke introduced the proposed design for a pole to accommodate the expansion of small cell telecommunications infrastructure in Washington, D.C. He said the design is the culmination of an effort begun in 2018 to deploy next-generation service throughout the city. In the September 2018 review of the guidelines for these installations, the Commission observed a fundamental inconsistency between the elegant design of contemporary telecommunications apparatus, such as smartphones, and the obtrusive appearance of small cell infrastructure. The Commission members did not support installing small cell antennas on historic poles with Washington Globe or Twin 20 fixtures; instead, they encouraged a more expansive study of best practices to create a more elegant and holistic design typology for these installations. He said that many of these comments and concerns have been addressed in subsequent versions of the guidelines, including the recognition of special areas such as the L’Enfant core of the city and the areas subject to the Shipstead-Luce Act and the Old Georgetown Act. The guidelines and D.C. Government regulations include additional requirements that affect the placement of the new stand-alone poles, such as the distance from driveways and trees.
Mr. Luebke said the focus of the current submission is a prototypical design for the stand-alone pole, intended for areas in which none of the other allowable installations is possible; the design was specifically requested by the Commission. The design consultation process has extended for several years, including the Commission staff as well as the staffs of the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT), and the D.C. Office of Planning. The proposed design builds on the existing vocabulary of public streetscape utilities and infrastructure, but reinterpreted to be as unobtrusive as possible while still accommodating a variety of proprietary technologies used by the city’s three major cell service providers. He summarized that the proposed pole design is intended to work for every service provider and to be compatible with the vocabulary of historic street installations, but with a design coherence that is more consistent with the technology. He said the Commission is being asked to approve the stand-alone pole design as an update to the final design guidelines. He asked transportation planner Kelsey Bridges of DDOT to present the proposal.
Ms. Bridges said the Federal Communications Commission requires that small cell infrastructure be allowed in the public right-of-way; in Washington, the permitting process for this right-of-way is overseen by DDOT and the D.C. Government’s Public Space Committee. The stand-alone pole has been designed in accordance with the 2019 small cell guidelines, which addressed the location and placement of these poles but did not determine their appearance. She said small cells address the growing demand for wireless technology by increasing the capacity of mobile networks. Supplementing the established system of rooftop towers, the small cell networks are comprised of small, discrete nodes that sit closer to the ground and are often attached to utility poles or streetlights. She described several advantages of distributing wireless signals via small cells: because the antennas are closer to the user, they provide a better experience and the more direct line of sight required for fast data speeds.
Ms. Bridges said that an entity intending to install small cell infrastructure must enter into a master license agreement (MLA), which includes multiple provisions to establish requirements for the installation. Before requesting a public space permit, the MLA holder must provide notice to the property owners on the block, to the ward’s D.C. Council member, and to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission member. The applications are then routed through DDOT’s permitting system, and they are available for review by the Commission of Fine Arts and NCPC. She said that DDOT hosted two special Public Space Committee hearings and attended other public meetings to collect feedback on the guidelines; she presented a table highlighting some of the comments and the response in the guidelines. Comments included concerns about the number of installation locations, their aesthetic impact, and whether a uniform design would be established; three-dimensional drawings illustrating the impact were also requested.
Ms. Bridges said that the small cell infrastructure would ideally be mounted on a third-party pole; the second preference is installation on DDOT’s pendant cobra-head poles, which exist in most areas in the city. The last preference would be a stand-alone pole, to be used only in locations where the infrastructure cannot be attached to existing poles. The infrastructure is required to be the same color as nearby streetlight poles. She presented a chart of the permissible spacing and frequency of installations per block face, with rules for installations that are within or outside areas of special interest, which include historic districts and the areas of the Shipstead-Luce Act and the Old Georgetown Act. She illustrated a representative block, the 624-foot-long block of C Street between 1st and 2nd Streets, SE, within the Capitol Hill Historic District: a maximum of two new poles per block face would be allowed, resulting in a maximum of four poles on this block.
Ms. Bridges described the limitations on locations for the stand-alone poles. They must align with the existing streetlights and cannot obstruct barrier-free access or a pedestrian clear path; they cannot be located within ten feet of an existing light pole, nor closer than ten feet to an above-grade building face, which she said may make new poles difficult to place in areas with narrow sidewalks. Installations are generally not permitted adjacent to federal property; such installations require a request for exemption through the Public Space Committee. She noted that the National Mall & Memorial Parks unit of the National Park Service has a separate working group to improve wireless infrastructure in the park areas under its jurisdiction, including the National Mall.
Ms. Bridges described the design process for the stand-alone pole, which began in 2019 and had as its goal the creation of a uniform design. She illustrated some of the different shapes that were explored. The intent has been to keep the base relatively thin and tall to minimize the visual effect as seen from the sidewalks; to provide a simple collar for the base; and to taper the pole as it rises to reduce the visual effect on the broader viewshed. At the top, the pole would support an antenna installation that would vary in design with different carriers; most antennas have a similar height but different widths. The resulting design is a pole that is 27 feet 4 inches tall rising from a 5.5-foot-high base with a 20-inch diameter; with the antennas, the overall height would be approximately 33 feet. She compared this scale to the context of existing light poles: cobra-head poles are approximately the same height; Washington Globes range in height from 14 to 18 feet; and Twin 20s are 20 feet tall. The bases of the existing and proposed poles are comparable in diameter and similar to the size of other street furniture, such as trash cans and traffic control boxes. The available colors for the pole would be black and gray. She presented renderings of how the stand-alone pole would appear in public space at several locations of varied densities: at the corners of 18th and E Streets, NW, and 13th and S Streets, NW, and along South Capitol Street near the Navy Yard. Mr. Luebke displayed on the video camera the 3D printed model of the proposed pole.
Vice Chair Edwards thanked Ms. Bridges and invited comments and questions from the Commission members.
Mr. Moore said he has reviewed the submitted guidelines and has questions about section 126.96.36.199, which discusses the goal of ensuring that all neighborhoods across Washington receive equitable consideration regarding the permitting and design process for small cell installations. He said that although this sounds good, the next section suggests there is not equitable consideration because special districts are identified, with a table listing different guidelines for installations outside and inside these areas of special interest, and he considers this difference to be significant. He said it is clear which areas in Washington are outside of special interest, including who lives there and what their environments are. As an example, he observed that the guidelines generally specify a minimum distance of 60 feet between poles, which he described as “proximate” in an outdoor urban environment; however, in areas of special interest, the minimum distance is 90 feet. He emphasized the conflict of such differences with another guideline that explicitly calls for equitable consideration. He also observed that the increased spacing would lead to a reduction in the number of installations in the special interest areas, some of which are located in the city’s core where the highest demand would occur. He asked why the same guidelines are not applied citywide.
Ms. Bridges responded that the areas of special interest include historic districts throughout the entire city. Additionally, the guidelines for the stand-alone pole focus on areas with the types of light fixtures to which the small cell installations cannot be attached, which may or may not be within historic districts; the need for stand-alone poles would depend on the type of existing poles in that space, such as Twin 20s or Washington Globes. She said the spacing of the stand-alone poles would be based on whether they are inside or outside of the special areas, but the requirements for spacing also work with the configuration of the existing buildings and the existing blocks. She summarized that the guidelines are being implemented across the city based on what type of light fixtures exist in an area.
Mr. Moore reiterated that the guidelines say that all neighborhoods get equitable treatment, and he asked for further clarification. Matthew Marcou, the chief of staff at DDOT, responded that the project team has taken great effort to ensure that equitability has been incorporated into the small cell guidelines. He said that DDOT has seven goals for its MoveDC Plan; the primary goal is safety, and the second is equity. DDOT has an entire division devoted to ensuring that DDOT and the entire D.C. Government are creating an equitable transportation network, including fixtures. He said the areas of special interest are already identified in D.C. regulations as areas that receive a special focus, particularly for design. The policy for the special areas would not be subject to the decision of any individual reviewer or applicant; it would be a standard applied specifically in the areas that have already been identified in law and regulation regarding particular treatment for their design elements.
Mr. Moore continued to question the guidelines’ consistency regarding equitability. He reiterated that the table in the guidelines provides two different standards for where these poles would be placed, not one standard. He cited the inherent inequality in determining the areas that are designated as historic districts. He said is asking a very simple question: For a technology that has certain requirements for its distribution, why are two different distribution standards being proposed for different areas of the city, dependent on whether they are designated as special?
Mr. Marcou said the different rules for the layout and alignment of design components in special areas were requested by reviewers with expertise on these areas—the D.C. Historic Preservation Office within the D.C. Office of Planning, the Commission of Fine Arts, and NCPC. Also, he said the small cell carriers, who are the MLA holders, have said that they can provide the same level of service in these areas. He said another consideration is that different areas have different streetlights. While standard streetlights are used throughout the city, the historic Twin 20s and Washington Globes, are used in the special interest areas and have different alignments; twice as many stand-alone poles would be required in areas with historic streetlights, with resultant visual clutter. He summarized that the guidelines were written to balance the existence of historic light fixtures with the ability to deliver cell service to these special areas.
Mr. Moore said that in New York City the same conversations have taken place concerning equity and which neighborhoods would get 4G and 5G cell service, and he understands the parameters involved. However, he recommended further development and articulation of what this distinction is from the perspective of the minimum required to provide this service. He said an answer should be provided to the question of why, if a specified minimum spacing works in certain sectors of the city, it does not work in others; this information is necessary to understand how to evaluate the two different guidelines. He added that studies with documentation and illustrations should be provided to demonstrate the distinction because he finds the information provided to be inadequate.
Mr. Moore said his second question concerns the appearance of the new pole. He said he understands the reasons for specifying a tall, slim equipment cabinet and a uniform pole, and the options for detailing are fine. However, he observed that the antennas themselves are very different in shape, presumably because the different companies have different technologies. He said that New York City requires a uniform shroud that does not reveal which cell service provider uses a particular pole, and he asked if a uniform shroud of the smallest possible size has been discussed with the cellular service companies operating in Washington. Ms. Bridges responded that this was considered; but because the antennas have different dimensions, a single uniform shroud would need to be large enough to accommodate the largest antenna system, and she said the design intent has been to avoid having a pole with a wide base and also a very wide top.
Mr. Moore asked whether there are maximum size guidelines for antennas, or if there is a single design for the pole and then the existing antennas can be replaced with larger ones as the technology evolves. Ms. Bridges said the stand-alone pole will provide one design in a uniform size for all carriers; the antenna design is being approved for other installations, and the guidelines would be amended if there are changes to the technology. Mr. Moore observed that the dimensions and form of three specific antennas from three carriers are part of the guideline submitted for approval. He asked whether, if a carrier returns in a few years with a new technology that requires, for example, larger antennas, they would have to get a new approval. Ashley Greenspan, representing Crown Castle, responded that the equipment is external to the pole in order to allow the pole to have a tapered profile. She said that as the technology continues to evolve, new antennas may be required in the future, in which case a company would request a permit from DDOT to install them.
Mr. Moore summarized that his primary concern is the equitable application of the infrastructure across the city. He strongly recommended that the project team return with additional information about the technology and the minimum number of installations needed to serve spaces, which he said should be the standard guideline; he reiterated that he does not see a clear reason why there should be any distinction between areas. For the question of providing a shroud for the antennas, he acknowledged that using a uniform shroud design would require a large shroud to accommodate the largest antennas, which would be used everywhere, and he therefore understands the decision to allow the different configurations to be exposed; however, he emphasized that a particular, specific configuration is being shown in this presentation, and if there are changes in the technology, these would need to be reviewed by the Commission.
Ms. Delplace recalled that the Commission had recently reviewed Washington’s street furnishings, and the proposed stand-alone pole is a new element that would be added to public space. Although the presentation noted the poles would not obstruct pedestrian areas or barrier-free access, she said the presentation did not address the visual impact of adding yet another element into the streetscape; this omission was evident when the proposed poles were described as having the same diameter as a trash can, approximately 20 to 24 inches. While the height of a pole has less impact on a pedestrian’s view, she emphasized that the proliferation of infrastructure objects at the sidewalk creates visual noise for the pedestrian. She noted that the Commission has commented on this issue before. She recommended developing some kind of logic for how the infrastructure elements are knit together. She said the city has done extremely well in creating wonderful public spaces and incorporating green spaces along many of its streets. However, the proliferation of elements in public space has become visual noise, and this issue needs to be addressed across the city, particularly in neighborhoods that have less green space. She encouraged careful consideration of the experience of pedestrian in introducing the additional element of a large, tall stand-alone pole, particularly for its appearance in the range of six to eight feet above the ground. She suggested consideration of reducing the height of the pole’s base to bring down the overall scale so that this pole is not the largest thing on the street.
Mr. Stroik agreed with these concerns about visual noise. Indicating the illustration of placing the pole in a wide and open area with existing light fixtures, he asked whether the height of the stand-alone poles in such areas could be limited to the height and scale of the existing lights. He reiterated the concern that has been raised about excessive height and bulk from the antennas at the top of the stand-alone pole as well as the height and width of the base.
Ms. Bridges responded that the cavity within the base of the new pole needs to accommodate any carrier’s equipment, and specific technological elements have to be stacked within the base in a particular way and to have a certain amount of space surrounding them. She said the design has to take into consideration how to shape the array within the amount of space available within the height and width of the base; the result is the proposed design for a tapered pole on a relatively tall, slim base. Ms. Greenspan added that the base has been reduced to the lowest and smallest form possible, and the radios and meters in the base are required. While other areas of the country have external cabinets, these are prohibited in Washington, and a base of the proposed height is required.
Mr. Luebke said the question is what alternative exists. The equipment related to the pole’s antennas needs to be either integrated as part of the pole, resulting in the base dimensions as presented, or placed separately as a box or some other object that would have many other impacts. He said that the staff has worked with the project team to ensure this pole is the smallest possible streetscape element; the only alternative to this base would be stand-alone boxes set next to the poles, or simply to have no cell service at all. He added that the closer the antennas are to the sidewalk, the more they become a health risk because of the radiation they emit. He said the process has worked well in trying to accommodate the work of several different carriers with a design that draws on the profile character of existing infrastructure without replicating it precisely. He also clarified concerns about the potential proliferation of the stand-alone pole: the general approach is to place the small cell antennas on existing telephone poles and other utility poles instead of on historic light poles, and the stand-alone poles would be used for only a small percentage of the city’s antennas; Ms. Bridges confirmed this description.
Ms. Delplace asked about the height of the bases of existing light poles; Ms. Bridges said it is 16 inches for the cobra-head poles, which is the only type that could have antennas attached to it. Observing that the base of the stand-alone pole is presented as being much taller, Ms. Delplace asked how the infrastructure to support the small cell antennas can be accommodated within an existing pole that has a shorter base, or whether the infrastructure at a Cobra-head pole would be placed underground or in a separate box.
Warren Naylor with Network Building &Consulting, representing Verizon Wireless, responded to the question. He said that currently, cobra-head poles only allow for 5G installations, which do not require an equipment cabinet; these installations have just three antennas at the top and very minimal ancillary equipment. However, 4G installations require an equipment cabinet, which cannot be placed on cobra-head poles; with the stand-alone poles, the 4G equipment has to go in the base. Ms. Bridges added that the stand-alone pole has been designed to accommodate technologies that may change in a few years.
Mr. Moore said that New York City officials were similarly told that most of the antennas would be placed on existing poles, but subsequently the city is seeing a significantly greater number of stand-alone poles because companies are responding to improvements in technology. He said cellular companies just want to be able to implement their services, and the response about the different requirements for accommodating 4G and 5G service points to the importance of getting this design for the stand-alone pole right.
Mr. Cook asked whether information is available on the procedures that other cities are following in installing this new technology. Ms. Bridges said the development of Washington’s small cell guidelines involved a robust discussion with other cities in the U.S. and internationally. Mr. Marcou added that the project team will follow up with information about other jurisdictions that were considered during development of the guidelines; he confirmed that the process was thorough and included national and international assessments. He added that the small cell carriers in Washington have to sign a document agreeing to the established requirements; the carriers engaged in the guideline development process and provided the project team with valuable information. He said there was also robust public outreach: a dozen or more public meetings were held before the pandemic, and many of the questions about clutter, visual noise, and adequate coverage for all communities were raised. Additional meetings were held following the adoption of the guidelines. He said the project team will provide the Commission with information documenting the public outreach and the research informing the guidelines. Mr. Cook said it would be helpful to know what lessons were learned.
Vice Chair Edwards asked whether a motion was appropriate at this point; Secretary Luebke said it depends on where the Commission wants to go with an action. He said the question before the Commission is whether the stand-alone pole design is acceptable; the staff believes that it is the minimum that can be designed to accommodate the programmatic requirements. He said the project team can return to the with more information, but his opinion after staff participation over several years is that the design has been pushed very far, and the technology for this public infrastructure in Washington is more restrictive than in any other jurisdiction that DDOT has considered. He said the staff supports the resulting design.
Mr. Moore said he trusts that the size and at least some of the dimensions of the proposed stand-alone pole design are correct. He reiterated that he questions the requirements of the technology, and that he does not understand the argument that this technology requires two standards for installation in different neighborhoods. Mr. Luebke said he can ask for more information on this, and there may be some aspect of it that was not touched on in this complicated discussion. Mr. Moore said he would need that information before he would feel comfortable voting to approve the location criteria, but he is comfortable approving the design of the stand-alone pole; questions about the pole’s exact height relative to other street furniture could be considered further.
Ms. Delplace said part of the problem with the presentation is that the purview of the Commission is both the aesthetics of the proposed pole, and also how it will be deployed within the city. The Commission members have been given a lot of information on the technology of the pole, but not on the aesthetic strategy of how this pole would fit into the city’s public space, nor about ensuring that this insertion is distributed equitably throughout the city. She said the Commission does not question the need for the poles but wants to be sure that their addition would maintain Washington’s visual character, which sets it apart from many other cities. She emphasized that every choice made about Washington’s public space needs to focus on maintaining this aesthetic quality, along with the need for the equitable distribution of aesthetic elements within the public realm.
Secretary Luebke said that if the Commission chooses not to approve the pole, it does not need to take an action; it can provide commentary and ask for more information. Ms. Delplace said the design of the stand-alone pole itself is fine, but the Commission wants to see how it would be implemented across the area and how it fits within the aesthetics of neighborhoods; Mr. Stroik agreed.
Ms. Bridges asked for further clarification on what additional information is required. Mr. Moore said that, for example, in the presentation’s renderings only one new pole is shown within the field of view in each urban environment depicted. He said the illustrations should show the proposed spacing in areas where poles would be as close together as 60 feet to understand what the guideline’s parameters would actually look like if implemented in different contexts in public space. He said the Commission members have raised other questions about how the addition of these poles would look with existing streetscape elements, as well as how the guidelines can address their equitable installation across the city.
Ms. Delplace commented that she can think of several streets in Washington where it would be difficult to add another fixture—for example, parts of I Street, NW, that are so narrow they are barely accessible, or U Street between 12th and 14th Streets, NW, which has a hard urban edge with many projecting stairways. She asked how many new poles would be needed to provide cell service for the entire city, compared to the existing number of Cobra poles; she said that clarifying these issues might allay the Commission’s concerns. Ms. Greenspan responded that of the three carriers working in Washington, only Crown Castle would be using the stand-alone pole, and it plans to install approximately 80 of these across the city. Ms. Delplace asked if that means some neighborhoods may not have coverage; Ms. Greenspan said that Crown Castle will prioritize the use of the other existing infrastructure, as required by the guidelines. Secretary Luebke clarified that the new technology will be installed wherever it is needed, but the stand-alone poles would be used only in those areas where no alternative pole exists. Ms. Bridges added that restrictions are already in place that limit the placement of poles in relation to distance from existing infrastructure, such as building faces, street trees, and bike racks. For areas that do not have a public space zone for street furniture, an exception would need to be requested from the Public Space Committee.
Noting the apparent consensus not to take action on the submission, Vice Chair Edwards thanked the project team for the presentation and the Commission members for their thoughtful commentary. Secretary Luebke added that the comments will be provided to DDOT, which will need to return for a future review with more information on the topics raised by the Commission. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
E. D.C. Department of General Services
1. CFA 21/SEP/23-5, Stoddert Elementary School, 4001 Calvert Street, NW. Renovations and additions to building and landscape. Concept. The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
2. CFA 21/SEP/23-6, Kenilworth Elementary School, 1300 44th Street, NE. Renovations and addition to building and landscape. Concept. The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
3. CFA 21/SEP/23-7, Truesdell Elementary School, 800 Ingraham Street, NW. Renovations and additions to building and landscape. Final. (Previous: CFA 20/APR/23-6) The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
F. D.C. Department of Buildings—Shipstead-Luce Act
SL 23-020, 2065 Trumbull Terrace, NW. New single-family house. Concept. The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 12:32 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA