Condos to replace local hospital

A new condominium complex being planned for the former Columbia Hospital for Women site will generate millions of dollars for the Foggy Bottom and West End neighborhoods.

Trammel Crow Company is finalizing plans to construct a 330,000 square-foot facility with 225 condominiums and ground-floor stores on the site, located at 2425 L St. near Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Foggy Bottom Association, a civic group that does not set zoning laws, made an agreement with the hospital’s owners about 15 years ago to set limits on future construction projects. The FBA originally limited the complex to 230,000 square feet.

When Trammel bought the hospital in 2002, it was bound by the space obligation. But the FBA allowed Trammel to go ahead with plans for a larger building after the construction company set up a $2.5 million FBA trust fund.

FBA Treasurer Robert Vogt said the association has established a committee to review spending proposals.

While the FBA has opposed many construction projects in the area, including the building of several GW residence halls, the association supports this project because of the tax revenue that will be generated by the condominium’s residents.

GW, a not-for-profit institution, does not pay property taxes. Most students who live in the neighborhood also do not pay taxes because they are not District residents.

“We want tax-paying residents in our neighborhood,” FBA President Ron Cocome said. “We want the stores (Trammel) is going to bring in.”

“The retail will make it more attractive for people to want to build apartments in the area. We’d like to bring more in,” he added. “I’ve never seen a community so united and happy and excited about what’s happening.”

Ellen McCarthy, deputy director of the District’s Office of Planning, said bringing retail into the neighborhood is important because people “may decide not to move there if they can’t get the basics of daily living more easily … but it’s probably more the size and price of these units that matter.”

Most of the condominiums will cost between $400,000 and $2 million.

Shalom Baranes, the building’s architect, said the condominiums would greatly increase the residential character of the West End neighborhood, which is home to many office high rises and hotels. He said the retail area would hopefully attract students.

“The more retail you introduce into the area, the better serviced it is,” he said. “More people will want to move into the area.”

The final architectural design will be presented to the city in November, with demolition of most of the hospital beginning in January if the plans are approved, Baranes said. The building’s completion date is tentatively set for the end of 2005.

The hospital’s original structure, designated as a historic building by the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board, will emerge unscathed from the demolition and be converted into condominiums.

Two new wings framing the original structure will be constructed on the east and west sides of the property. The structure will be composed of brick with decorative cast-stone detailing.

“The whole idea is to create an overall composition that defines a landscaped courtyard and original historical structure,” Baranes said.

The developers have made adjustments to address the board’s concerns with the size of the building, reducing it from its original 350,000 square feet. Baranes is also working to make the condominiums’ balconies and railings conform to the board’s standards.

The preservation board was concerned that the complex’s two wings would dwarf the historic building and eliminate green space, said Tim Dennee, architectural historian for the District’s Office of Planning.

Baranes said that the height issue was resolved about five months ago, when a maximum height of 90 feet was set for the two wings.

“We wanted a new construction to frame the original historic building,” he said. “(The board) felt that would be better accomplished by lower heights in the wings.”

Cocome said he does not support the size reduction because it “is costing 14 apartments,” reducing the income and property taxes the city would collect from the building’s tenants.

He said the designation of the original hospital building as a historic site was a “sad mistake” that has impeded construction approval. He also said the arduous permit process could discourage other developers from building in the area.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.